"It was a line drive off a pretty good high pitch," Padilla said. "He hit a pretty good pitch, you can't really do anything about it."
Padilla has gone 9-3 since the Dodgers picked him up off the scrap heap last season, almost exactly one year ago. No-hitter, shutout, whatever it ended up as, his performance put the Dodgers in position to take three out of four from the Padres. They trail by seven games.
"I don't think we're quite all the way out of it, but we knew what this series represented," said Andre Ethier, who went 3-for-5 and hit a two-run homer in the Dodgers' five-run eighth, his 17th of the season. "We definitely let some of our advantage and position in the standings slip away the last couple weeks, but it's not too late to go out there and find a way back into this thing."
Padilla let up one more single right after Ludwick's hit, but a mound meeting from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt led to Yorvit Torrealba's inning-ending double play, and nothing but outs the rest of the way. Padilla struck out nine on 105 pitches, 77 of them strikes and 10 of them his Eephus pitch, that slow looping curve. The Padres' only other baserunners both reached in the second inning: Ludwick drew a full-count, leadoff walk and Will Venable was intentionally walked with two down.
"I'm very happy today because I didn't throw that many pitches," Padilla said. "The last game in four innings I threw a lot of pitches, but I was able to minimize pitches. I was very happy."
With Russell Martin on the disabled list, the starting catcher was playing in just his fifth game this season: 41-year-old Brad Ausmus. Ausmus said he didn't know it was a no-hitter until he heard some fan yell it in the seventh.
"As is standard, he immediately gave up a single," Ausmus said.
The thing was, Padilla didn't even have his best stuff until halfway through the game.
"Early he did not have his offspeed stuff, especially his curveball," Ausmus said. "It took him a good three or four innings before he started to get the command of the curveball back where he could flip it in there for a strike. Speaking to him in the dugout, he didn't feel good about his curveball and he wanted to go after them more with fastballs early until he got the feel back, which he eventually did."
The Dodgers' starting pitching has been phenomenal, with a 1.69 ERA in the last 12 games. The offense hadn't scored nine runs since July 9. But Wednesday, it gave Padilla an early lead.
Scott Podsednik drove in two with a soft liner off Wade LeBlanc to make it 3-0 in the second, and Ronnie Belliard's double off the wall made it 4-0 an inning later. By the time Ryan Theriot drove in two and Ethier homered in the eighth, Padilla had the game well in hand.
He even got it done at the plate, matching the Padres' output with two hits, one of them an RBI single. "I wanted to erase those hits that they hit off me," he said.
Padilla only found his groove, though, once he found that Eephus pitch. Chase Headley, the final batter in the top of the fourth, took the pitch for strike one. Padilla went to the well again on 0-1, and all Headley could do was foul it off. Both pitches were 53 mph. The next was a 94 mph fastball, and Headley went down swinging.
Padilla uses the pitch early in counts, usually on the first and second pitch. And he also uses it to draw a rise. With two out in the ninth inning, the first pitch he dropped in to Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres' best hitter, was that slow looping curve. The game ended on a weak groundout to short one fastball later.
"I think the fans are really enjoying it more," he said. "In some situations I don't really hear the fans, but in most of them, I can hear them."
Mechanically, though, the curveball could've been the key for everything else.
"It was about the fourth inning that he got the slow curveball working, and after that his release point with his fastball just got in line," Honeycutt said. "The early curveball, one actually had kind of a turn to it. It wasn't a slider, it was just coming in different than when he throws it right, where his release point is pretty much top to bottom. When he gets that release point down, his body stays in line. I think we saw as the game went on, he had his two-seamer, he had a lot of movement on his fastball. Those are the two pitches he really depends on. In some ways, finding the curveball released point helped the rest."