Padres prep for another big series; Reds fading quickly

CINCINNATI (AP) -- With another pursuer bumped to the roadside,
the San Diego Padres packed up their wild-card lead and headed for
a first-place showdown on the West Coast.

This is going to be some weekend in Los Angeles.

"It's a great way to get on an airplane," manager Bruce Bochy
said Thursday, after a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds turned
the Padres' next series into exactly what they wanted.

With the NL West-leading Dodgers losing to the Cubs 6-5, the
Padres left town only a half-game out -- their smallest deficit
since Aug. 10.

Up next: Four games with first place up for grabs.

"Oh, man, it's about as big as it can get around here," said
Mike Cameron, whose bases-loaded single broke open a scoreless game
in the seventh inning. "We've got a little bit of energy and
momentum going into LA. I'm sure they're going to be ready to go
and everything. And it's going to be a big Friday night matinee in

Before they could think about moving up, the Padres had to take
care of a team that's all but out of it. Cameron's two-run single
off Aaron Harang (13-11) could go down as the hit that finally
toppled the Reds, who lost two of three in a pivotal series.

Since they moved within a percentage point of first place in the
NL Central on Aug. 24, the Reds have lost 13 of 18. Cincinnati
stands fifth in the wild-card race, trailing the Padres by 4 with
16 games left.

"We've battled all year and showed a lot of heart and
character, but we're not in a good spot," manager Jerry Narron

The Reds have no more games with the Padres or the
Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals, making it difficult to make up
ground. The three games against San Diego amounted to a last

And they blew it.

"Before, it was in our hands," first baseman Scott Hatteberg
said. "It would have been nice to take two out of three or sweep
these guys. That's what we wanted to do, and we didn't do it. It
makes it hard to play in October."

The Padres' pitching staff, among the NL's best, had a lot to do
with it.

Clay Hensley (9-11) struck out a career-high seven and retired
14 in a row over one stretch. The right-hander gave up two runs in
6 2/3 innings, then let one of the league's deepest bullpens take

Trevor Hoffman struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 474th
career save, leaving him four shy of Lee Smith's record. Hoffman
has converted 38 of his 42 chances this season, a big reason why
the Padres are in playoff contention.

"Fortunately I was here last year when we made it," said
Hensley, who pitched in three playoff games. "That's the best
thing that could have happened to me. Anything less than that is a
failure in my mind. So we're making a good push at a good time."

The Padres sent nine batters to the plate in the seventh,
scoring four times on two hits. San Diego loaded the bases on a
single, a walk and catcher Jason LaRue's poor decision -- he threw
to third base too late to get a forceout on Geoff Blum's sacrifice

Cameron, only 3-for-12 against Harang, then worked the count
full before lining a single to left to score two runs. As he
rounded first base, Cameron slapped his gloved hands together so
hard that the smack was heard throughout the ballpark.

Alan Schwarz and Jerry Crasnick preview the four-game Dodgers-Padres series. Also, who is the Phillies' leader: Ryan Howard or Chase Utley?

" Baseball Today

Cameron played despite a painful left knee he bruised fouling
off a pitch the previous night.

"When you're part of something like this, you've just got to be
in there," Cameron said. "It turned out to be a good day for me
to be in there."

Harang, who had never lost to his hometown team, later walked
Hensley to force in another run and end his outing. Dave Roberts'
run-scoring groundout completed the rally.

Game notes
LH David Wells will make his third start for the Padres in
the series opener against the Dodgers. Wells is 1-1 in three career
starts against LA with a 7.04 ERA. ... Hensley has given up only
one home run in his last 10 starts. ... Hensley's previous career
high was six strikeouts, accomplished twice. ... San Diego 1B
Adrian Gonzalez went 7-for-12 in the series with a pair of doubles.
... CF Ken Griffey Jr. was out of the Reds' lineup for the eighth
straight game after dislocating a toe. ... Batting coach Chris
Chambliss was ejected in the ninth by plate umpire Rob Drake for
arguing balls and strikes. ... The Reds tried to entice big crowds
with offers of half-price tickets and $1 hot dogs for the series.
They sold only 54,379 tickets for the three games.