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DODGERS HAVE A BLANK STARE NL WEST LEAD NARROWS TO 2 1/2 GAMES SAN DIEGO 3, DODGERS 0.

Byline: Rich Hammond Staff Writer

The footsteps, almost inaudible two weeks ago, must now seem deafeningly loud to the Dodgers. The San Francisco Giants are coming, and the Dodgers' grip on first place is becoming increasingly tenuous.

For the fourth time in five days, the Giants picked up ground on the Dodgers in the race for the National League West title. With the knowledge that the Giants had won earlier in the day, the Dodgers were shut down by San Diego's Adam Eaton and lost 3-0 Thursday night before 43,185 at Dodger Stadium.

When they awoke Sunday morning, the Dodgers led the Giants by six games. But the Padres took three of four games from the Dodgers, who now lead the Giants by only 2 1/2 games with 16 remaining.

This is the Dodgers' slimmest division lead since July 31, thanks to an outstanding effort from Eaton (10-13), who pitched seven strong innings and combined with Akinori Otsuka and Trevor Hoffman for the shutout, the 10th pitched against the Dodgers this season.

Hoffman struck out Robin Ventura with runners on second and third to end it for his 38th save in 42 chances, and the third of this series. The save was the 390th in Hoffman's career, moving him into a tie for third place on baseball's all-time list with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.

Jeff Weaver (Simi Valley High) had inspired some concern with his last two outings, in which he allowed a total of nine runs in 13 innings, but Weaver has been far and away the Dodgers' most consistent starter of late. He hadn't lost since July 25, a span of nine starts, and had enjoyed good results against San Diego this year.

The Padres hit Weaver hard in April, but in three other outings against San Diego, Weaver allowed a total of four earned runs in 22 innings, and he turned in another mostly solid effort Thursday, as he allowed three runs in seven innings, with one walk and three strikeouts. Weaver (12-11) had only sporadic trouble.

With two outs in the first, Brian Giles hit a towering home run to right field off Weaver for a 1-0 lead. Weaver quickly settled down and retired the next eight Padres, but Giles started the trouble for Weaver again with one out in the fourth.

Giles crushed a double down the right-field line, which was followed by a walk to Phil Nevin. Ryan Klesko then singled sharply to center to advance both runners and bring up Ramon Hernandez.

Hernandez flied out sharply to right field and Giles easily beat the throw to the plate for a 2-0 lead. Weaver then got Dave Hansen to ground out to end the inning.

Weaver didn't get much luck in the seventh. With one out, Hansen dribbled a single through the left side, then moved to second when Jay Payton's broken-bat dribbler evaded Adrian Beltre's bare-handed grab. With two outs, Ramon Vazquez singled sharply to center to score Hansen for a 3-0 lead.

Eaton, 7-2 lifetime against the Dodgers, left after he walked Jason Grabowski to lead off the seventh. He allowed five hits, walked one and struck out six.

In their first three meetings, the Dodgers managed almost nothing against Eaton, who beat them twice and allowed a total of three earned runs and 11 hits in 22 innings. But on July 30 in San Diego, the Dodgers pounded Eaton for seven runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings.

The early innings strongly suggested that Eaton had rediscovered his rhythm against the Dodgers. Eaton retired the side in order in the first, then got even better, as he struck out five of the next six Dodgers.

Eaton got Cesar Izturis to ground out to open the fourth, but then Jose Hernandez crushed a double off the wall in left-center field. Steve Finley then lined out to center and, on the first pitch, Beltre fouled out to the catcher, Hernandez, to end the inning.

The Dodgers' best scoring chance came in the seventh, with Beltre on third and one out, but Bradley popped up and Ventura hit a liner that second baseman Mark Loretta dove and caught.

Rich Hammond, (818) 713-3611

rich.hammond(at)dailynews.com

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PADRES 3, DODGERS 0
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 17, 2004
Words:716
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