Win has Dodgers on verge of title

Win has Dodgers on verge of title

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are only a magic number of one away from clinching the first title of the Torre Era and Wednesday night, while still working to finish off the current task, began preparing for the next.

Hours after Arizona lost again in St. Louis, the Dodgers pounded the Padres into submission, 12-4, with home runs from Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra and a decisive six-run eighth inning. One more Dodgers win or D-backs loss will give the Dodgers the National League West title.

The way the game unfolded allowed manager Joe Torre to take the wraps off Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal, each receiving raucous welcomes back to Dodger Stadium. Kent, out since Aug. 30 with knee surgery, had a pinch-hit single. Furcal, out since May 6 with back surgery, struck out and played one inning of shortstop without a chance to touch the ball.

Both are under consideration for the NL Division Series postseason roster, although based on the way they came out of the game, Furcal is more likely as a utility infielder. Despite the line single, Kent's left knee is still painful and he's more likely to be ready if there's a second round.

"That was the first time I hit in spikes and it was painful coming out of the box," Kent said. "It's still sore. It was a locked-up knee, not just a small tear. I'm still recovering."

Furcal has finally shaken the lingering nerve sensation in his leg that delayed his comeback.

"I felt a little nervous," he said. "I've never been away that long. It was exciting to go back, to have the people stand up for me. It made me feel good. Now, I have four more games to play and show I'm healthy again and I can help my team."

Despite the lopsided final score, this was a close game most of the way, rookie winner Clayton Kershaw (5-5) leaving with a one-run lead in the sixth inning. That required Torre to dip into a bullpen that still doesn't have a completely healthy Takashi Saito or Hong-Chih Kuo.

In fact, with a two-run lead, rookie Cory Wade was the eighth-inning setup man with Jonathan Broxton warming up for the save until the blitzkrieg, which included a two-run double from James Loney, put the game away.

The Dodgers clinched no worse than a tie and one-game playoff at home. They are a season-high eight games above .500, leading by four games with four to play. Seven players drove in runs, five had multiple hits, four scored multiple runs.

"So many guys are stepping up," said Loney, the team RBI leader who has watched Garciaparra homer in the past two games starting ahead of him at first base against left-handed opposing pitchers. "It's not just one or two guys we have. That's the great thing about this team, the biggest thing. We seem to have all the right pieces -- speed, defense, power and pitching."

Torre insisted before and after the game that Loney is his first baseman and he doesn't have a platoon, but the manager doesn't apologize for going with the hot hand, as Garciaparra is 9-for-19 with four doubles, two homers and six RBIs.

"I don't want to get into that," Torre said. "I'm trying to nurse Nomar. I don't want to fall into that trap where we overuse him. He's a nice weapon to have."

That's nothing, of course, to Ramirez. He has 17 homers in less than two months with the Dodgers, already tied for second on the club, and 37 on the season. Since he arrived, he's hitting .397 and the club is eight games above .500.

"He's ridiculous, day in and day out," Loney said of Ramirez. "You watch what he does, it's just amazing."

As for Kershaw, this was his last regular-season start and he made it 5 2/3 innings, leaving with a one-run lead, enough to even his record to 5-5. The 20-year-old is 3-0 in his past five starts, which probably is good enough to get him on the postseason staff, although it's not clear for a five-game series if he will break into a rotation that figures to include Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda, if not Greg Maddux.

"I had good stuff tonight, but I gave up two-out hits and you can't do that," Kershaw said. "It was the best I felt all year. I felt really comfortable on the mound. I put us in a 2-0 deficit, but the guys came back with two runs and I knew I had to keep them at bay the rest of the game."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.