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Dodgers beat Cubs, 4-0, as Justin Turner continues to be a big hit

CHICAGO — Justin Turner shrugged.

"Game of inches, huh?" he said.

Turner fell an inch short of his 11th home run of the season Thursday, as replay officials ruled the ball he hit in the seventh inning hit the top of the short protruding fence in front of the left-field wall before bouncing back on the grass at Wrigley Field.

The original home run call was overturned. The final verdict: triple.

"I'll take it," Turner said.

Why not?

With a 4-0 victory, the first-place Dodgers salvaged a split of a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs. Turner was the $270-million team's No. 3 hitter for three of the games.

He batted there Thursday, as Manager Don Mattingly elected to field an entirely right-handed-hitting lineup to face Cubs left-hander Jon Lester. Turner drew a first-inning walk and scored on a two-run double by Howie Kendrick. Lester lasted only four innings.

Even with the replay system wiping out his latest would-be home run, Turner has homered in four of his last six starts. He is hitting a team-best .324 and has driven in 35 runs. The former utility player is now the Dodgers' primary third baseman and the team's public relations department has started to push him as an All-Star candidate.

"We saw what kind of hitter he could be last year and he's proving it again this year, solidifying himself as an everyday player," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said.

Only two winters ago, Turner was lost, a player without a team. He wasn't tendered a contract by the New York Mets and became a free agent.

"It's probably the worst off-season I ever had," he said. "I was going nuts. I don't know where, or if, I was going to be playing. That was hard."

Shortly before the start of spring training, he was signed to a minor league contract by the Dodgers.

He made the team out of camp as a utility player and responded with the best season of his career, batting .340 with seven home runs and 43 runs batted in as a part-time player.

In addition to playing well, Turner was home. He graduated from Mayfair High in Lakewood and won a College World Series with Cal State Fullerton.

His performance has been as much of a surprise this season as it was last, as there were widespread expectations that his numbers would regress.

What he's done this season made Juan Uribe expendable — he was traded to the Atlanta Braves last month — and pushed $28-million infielder Alex Guerrero to the bench.

Turner is hitting with substantially more power this season.

"I just kept working on the mechanics of my swing in the off-season and progressing," Turner said. "For whatever reason, the ball seems to be flying for everyone, not just myself."

He credited his recent surge to batting in front of Gonzalez.

"Getting better pitches to hit," he said.

An off-season of stability also helped.

Not only was he under contract — he agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million — he was able to use Dodger Stadium as a training facility.

In previous winters, he said, he would hit, take grounders and lift weights in different locations. Now, he was able to do everything in one location.

"I could knock everything out in a couple of hours," he said.

Turner said he doesn't take any particular delight in having proved the Mets wrong.

"That book's closed," he said. "That chapter's closed."

And as much as his life has changed in the last couple of years, Turner said he doesn't view himself any differently than he did before.

"Just try to play hard and do things the right way," he said. "When you do stuff like that and play the game right, you'll be rewarded for it."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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