It would be inaccurate to describe the scene inside the Dodgers clubhouse on Thursday evening as raucous. It was hardly a scene at all.
The players celebrated claiming first place of the National League West, which they did after a 3-2 victory over the Padres, by scampering toward the exit, focused on catching rides back to Los Angeles for the final series of the first half of the regular season against the Angels.
After taking three of four from San Diego, the Dodgers (51-42) pulled a half game ahead of Arizona. The milestone of reaching first place, here in the second week of July, hardly registered.
“I saw some of the stuff that this is the first time all season we’ve been in first place,” said starting pitcher Ross Stripling, who turned in six scoreless innings. “That’s cool.”
The bigger concern involved Justin Turner, who tweaked a muscle in his leg while running to first base in the ninth inning. Manager Dave Roberts expects Turner to sit out on Friday. He will undergo further testing at Dodger Stadium.
The worry about Turner followed an otherwise agreeable evening at Petco Park. Stripling scattered six hits and struck out five. He operated under stress for most of the game but avoided major calamity. His offense stayed quiet until the seventh, when the Dodgers broke through against San Diego pitcher Tyson Ross, who had held them hitless through five innings. He departed in the seventh as Andrew Toles, Matt Kemp and Joc Pederson all hit RBI singles for a 3-0 lead.
The lead shrank in the bottom of the seventh as Daniel Hudson faltered for the second day in a row. He let two base runners aboard before handing the ball to Scott Alexander. A two-run double by Padres outfielder Wil Myers cut the Dodgers’ lead to one.
Earlier in the day, Arizona lost to Colorado. The Diamondbacks held a nine-game lead in the division back in May.
“Do we pay attention? Yes,” Roberts said. “Does it occupy too much of our time? No. We understand there’s a lot of baseball to play. We’re in tune with those teams. Is it important to be at the top of the division by the break? No, but that’s our goal. And that’s our expectation.”
Stripling made his first outing as an official member of the All-Star team. The National League added him to the roster to replace St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas. Stripling spent a portion of Wednesday asking former All-Stars like Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Kemp for advice. He pondered the logistics of helping his family and friends join him in Washington.
By Thursday afternoon, Stripling had settled into his usual pre-start routine. He studied a scouting report at his locker. He sank into a chair in the center of the room and leafed through a novel by Sandra Brown.
On the mound, Stripling did not operate with his usual crispness. He gave up a double in the first inning and another double in the second. He worked around a single in the third.
“It was just kind of a battle,” Stripling said. “I felt like they put together some good [at-bats].”
San Diego formulated a two-out opportunity in the fourth when shortstop Freddy Galvis singled and outfielder Manuel Margot checked his swing in enough time on a full-count curveball to take a walk. The Padres loaded the bases on an infield single by catcher Austin Hedges.
Stripling benefited from the pitcher Ross coming up next. Ross took a slider and then a fastball for a strike. Stripling finished him off with a curveball to strand the runners.
“I thought it was a little bit of a grind for him,” Roberts said of Stripling. “Those guys put some good at-bats together against him. But I thought he competed like he always does.”
Ross did not enter the game in the midst of a string of dominance. In his last two outings, he had given up 15 runs. Yet the Dodgers could produce only a slew of soft contact swings, a parade of balls thudding into the ground.
The offense delivered its first hit with one out in the sixth. Pederson tagged a well-placed cutter. The ball raced into the left-center gap for a double. Ross did not immediately wilt. He got Max Muncy to fly out and scooped up a comebacker hit by Cody Bellinger to end the inning.
The Dodgers cracked Ross in the seventh. Chris Taylor ripped a double. San Diego manager Andy Green let Ross face Toles. With the count at 1-1, Toles splashed an 89-mph fastball into center and Taylor sprinted home. Toles grinned at first base. The rally had just begun.
Padres reliever Craig Stammen replaced Ross. Stammen hit Enrique Hernandez, and then watched Chase Utley bend his thigh to get hit by a slider. Kemp arrived as a pinch-hitter and cracked an RBI single. Hernandez got cut down at the plate, but Pederson followed with another single to expand the lead.
Hudson and Alexander opened the door for San Diego in the bottom of the inning. After Dylan Floro pitched a spotless eighth, Kenley Jansen closed the door for his 26th save of the season. He allowed himself to savor first place, even as his teammates hustled out of town.