Dodgers Make It Seven in a Row : Baseball: Karros hits two solo home runs as L.A. holds off Padres, 5-4.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was this time last season that things started to go well for Eric Karros.

Same thing, different season.

On his one-year anniversary of winning the first base job, Karros celebrated by hitting two solo home runs Monday night and the Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres, 5-4. The home runs ended a long drought and, coupled with a clutch hit in Sunday's game, gave Karros the confidence that his slump is over.

"Tommy (Lasorda told me before the game he wanted to see my hard work pay off," Karros said. "He's been throwing batting practice to me before the game and I think he was getting tired of not seeing the results.

"But I said before, this is one night, I need to have a month of productive nights to catch up. I'm just thankful that Tommy kept me in the lineup more than anything and stuck with me."

It was the Dodgers' seventh consecutive victory, all coming in the current home stand and inching the team closer to the .500 mark at 21-22. The big difference has been in their offense--they have outscored their opponents, 40-14, during the streak.

But after seeming as if they would breeze to another victory, the Dodgers blew a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when the Padres scored four runs. So in the seventh inning, with one out and the tying run on second base, the Dodgers turned to their bullpen.

The relievers have been the most consistent facet of the team. They haven't blown a save in 10 opportunities and have an earned-run average of 2.19.

And Monday night, the bullpen had Pedro Martinez, who, after Omar Daal relieved Kevin Gross (4-3) to pitch to one batter in the seventh, worked out of a 3-0 jam by throwing three consecutive fastballs to Gary Sheffield to strike him out.

Martinez retired the next six batters to earn his first save.

"I was surprised Tommy sent me out instead of Jim Gott," Martinez said. "Being a rookie and just starting to be a reliever I didn't think they would put me out there with a one-run lead. But thank God they did.

"I'm not looking to be the save man, but I will take it."

Gott, who is the closer until Todd Worrell comes back, said the bullpen is so sky-high with their success and the team's streak that all of them can't wait to get into a game. "When Martinez struck out Sheffield with Tony Gwynn on second base, that was the save right there," he said. "That's was awesome, for us, he's one of our brothers out there."

Before Monday, Karros had not hit a home run in 78 at-bats. He was batting .231 with 15 runs batted in and two home runs, fueling speculation that his intense strength training program over the winter might have added too much bulk for his type of swing.

His swing looked OK Monday in the third inning, when Karros drove Greg Harris' first pitch deep into the Dodger bullpen in left field to put the Dodgers up, 1-0.

Someone asked him what he was thinking when he saw that first home run go out.

"I was thinking that I would still be in the lineup," Karros said.

Then he led off the fifth inning by driving Harris' 1-and-2 pitch into the left-field pavilion. By the end of the inning, the Dodgers had scored three more runs and taken a 5-0 lead.

"I knew it was this time last year that things started to happen for me, so I was kind of expecting something to happen," Karros said. "If you keep working at it and keep working hard, good things will happen."

Gross was good early, retiring the first nine Padres and pitching out of a fourth-inning jam by striking out Fred McGriff and Phil Plantier. But Gross gave up four singles and a walk in the sixth and the Padres cut the lead to 5-4.

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