"We've got to win every day," manager Don Mattingly said. "To me, our only chance is to put pressure on St. Louis to win every day."
In something of a payback for weeks of non-support, Chris Capuano was credited with his first win since Aug. 12. Given a 6-0 lead, he held the Padres to one run for 5 1/3 innings while flirting with disaster nearly every inning.
"It wasn't the prettiest start, not getting through six innings you don't feel good about it," said Capuano, who issued three leadoff walks. "But it's great to get a win. They've been hard to come by over the second half."
Capuano (12-11) has one start remaining and he's on pace for the lowest ERA of his career at 3.69. He also gave the Dodgers wins by starting pitchers in back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 18-19.
The offense was led by the torrid Cruz, who had three more hits and has been the Dodgers' top hitter over the last six weeks, raising his average to .308. With his father in from Mexico to watch his son for the first time this year, Cruz went 0-for-4 Wednesday night.
"After the game, he said, 'What? You're trying to hit home runs every time?' He was right, I was trying to do too much," said Cruz, who hadn't seen his father since leaving for Spring Training.
"He can tell me in a word or two and I understand what he's telling me. That's how we are in winter ball [where Cruz's father is his hitting coach]."
Cruz, who won the third-base job for the stretch run, has worked his way into the conversation for next year's Dodgers plans, while convincing Mattingly that he's for real, despite a 12-year Minor League apprenticeship.
"At first, what he was doing was just great, but he's forced himself into the lineup every day," said Mattingly.
"I'm just feeling good that he's giving me the chance," Cruz said. "Nobody gave me the chance to play in the Major Leagues every day for 12 years. But he did."
Ellis got the Dodgers on the board with a fourth-inning RBI single, Cruz singled home a pair in the fifth inning and Ellis followed Cruz's hit with an RBI single.
"Just trying to follow Luis Cruz's act," Ellis said. "He kind of shows the way. It's fun to hit behind him because you know there will be a lot of traffic on base."
Matt Kemp had a pair of doubles and an RBI as the Dodgers scored at least eight runs in back-to-back games for the first time in more than a month.
"We kept getting a little closer and then they nicked us. We just couldn't hold them down," San Diego manager Bud Black said.
Capuano was bailed out twice by double-play grounders. His only 1-2-3 inning was the third and he needed a diving catch by Nick Punto, filling in again for Mark Ellis at second base. Punto also made the key stop and glove-flip on the first double play.
"This is why you play the game, to compete in September," Punto said. "You never know what can happen here. We dug ourselves a hole and it's not really in our control except to play solid baseball and see what happens."
Capuano's third leadoff walk was Chase Headley in the sixth inning and he eventually scored when reliever Jamey Wright hit pinch-hitter Carlos Quentin with a pitch and the bases loaded. Mark Kotsay had a two-run pinch-double and Will Venable an RBI pinch-single off Ronald Belisario in the eighth.