Backup catcher front and center

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Backup catcher David Ross has emerged as one
of the more pleasant surprises and key role players for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His hitting and his work behind the plate have allowed Paul Lo Duca to pace himself during the grueling stretch drive. Ross had
the first two-homer game of his career Sunday as the Dodgers beat
the San Diego Padres 5-2 behind Hideo Nomo to complete a
three-game sweep.

"We've never ever questioned his ability. He has as much raw
power and can hit them as far as anybody that we have in a Dodger
uniform," manager Jim Tracy said. "He's been given opportunities
this year, and he's taken advantage of them."

Ross, who began the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, was recalled
May 5 when backup catcher Todd Hundley went on the disabled list
with a back ailment that required surgery and sidelined him for 2½

Ross has nine homers, 17 RBI and a modest .248 average in 36
games since his promotion. But his ability to handle pitchers is
what allowed Lo Duca to play first base and left field while Fred
McGriff and Brian Jordan were out with injuries.

"You've got to wait your turn. I'm behind an All-Star and I'm
learning a lot from him, so I'm not complaining," Ross said. "I
try to work hard when I'm not playing so that I'll be ready when I
get in there.

Nomo (16-11) tied a career high for wins with help from a
four-run third inning that included home runs by Ross, Robin Ventura and Jeromy Burnitz against rookie Ben Howard (1-2). It was
the first three-homer inning this season for the Dodgers, whose 113
homers are the fewest in the majors.

"That's pretty amazing -- and none of the home runs were hit by
Fred McGriff, Shawn Green or Adrian Beltre," Ross said. "But
that's what veteran players like Robin and Jeromy do. They get in
there and spark young guys like me."

Los Angeles won for the 13th time in 17 games and closed within
2½ games of Florida, the NL wild-card leader. The Dodgers, whose
26-13 record since Aug. 3 is the best in the major leagues,
outscored the Padres 15-2 in the series after losing nine of 12
previous meetings this season.

"The biggest difference to me was their offense. They scored
some runs in this series," the Padres' Gary Matthews Jr. said.

Nomo, who hadn't pitched since Sept. 1 because of rotator cuff
inflammation, allowed two runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings with
six strikeouts and no walks. He reached 16 wins for the third time
-- all with Los Angeles.

"I don't know what anybody else's expectations were for him
today, but mine are always high," Ross said. "The guy has been
solid for us all year, and if he wasn't sharp, I don't think he
would have let himself go out there."

Eric Gagne got four outs for his major league-leading 51st save
and record 59th in a row. Gagne, who struck out two after hitting
his first batter, worked more than one inning for the eighth time
this season.

Ventura hit a two-run homer after Cesar Izturis reached on a
fielding error by second baseman Mark Loretta and Green hit into a
forceout. Burnitz added his 28th homer -- his 10th since the Dodgers
acquired him from the New York Mets during the All-Star break.

Ross followed with a drive into the left-field pavilion. It gave
the Dodgers consecutive homers for the first time in 174 games
since Sept. 2 last season.

"I faced him last year in Las Vegas, and I had pretty good
success with him. But he's here for a reason, and today he showed
why," Howard said.

San Diego's Brian Giles homered in the fourth, his 18th overall
and second in 15 games since Pittsburgh dealt him to the Padres. It
ended a streak of 36 innings by Dodgers' starters without an earned
run allowed.

Sean Burroughs homered in the sixth to make it 4-2, but Ross
homered off Scott Linebrink in the bottom half.

Howard allowed four runs -- one earned -- and nine hits in five
innings. He has given up eight homers in 22 1/3 innings.

Game notes
Green and Jordan connected back to back against Rick Helling in a 19-1 win at Arizona. Ross hit his first big-league
homer that day -- off Mark Grace in the ninth inning. ... The loss
was the Padres' 300th against the Dodgers, against 276 victories.
... San Diego had not been swept by the Dodgers in a three-game
series at Los Angeles since May 1994. ... Nomo's second-inning
single was his ninth hit this season. His career high was 12 in
1999 with Milwaukee. ... Padres CF Mark Kotsay prevented a run in
the first with a perfect throw to the plate after Dave Roberts
tripled and tried to score on a flyout to right-center by Izturis.
... The Padres have hit only one more homer this season than the