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Wednesday at the races

Wow, did the Padres need that one. Did the Padres need that one.

That's a statement, by the way, not a question. And so true it needed to be said twice.

The reeling Padres, an out away from dropping into a three-way scrum in the race for the National League wild card, wrote their own reprieve Tuesday night/Wednesday morning when Brian Giles blasted a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning to beat the Giants 6-4. At just a minute or two before 1 a.m. on the East Coast, Giles may have saved the Padres' season.

Yeah, the win was that important. It was that important.

San Diego, which hasn't lost five games in a row all season, had dropped four straight before its clutch comeback. The skid had forced the Padres into sharing their wild-card lead with the Phillies and all but eliminated hopes of a third straight division title. In their last loss Milton Bradley blew out his knee in a bizarre confrontation with an umpire and Mike Cameron ripped a ligament in his hand in a fluke outfield accident. Both are gone for the season.

Things were not looking good for the Padres. In fact, they were looking terrible.

But San Diego scored four runs in the ninth, the first on Brady Clark's fisted bloop single off Brian Wilson down the right-field line and the last three on Giles' big fly off Wilson on a 2-0 count. And so the Padres pushed a game ahead of the Phillies and Rockies in the run for the wild card. All three teams have five games left.

"This is what gets the blood pumping," Padres manager Bud Black said after the game.

It's hard not to get too carried away about the importance of this one because the Padres, clearly, will need every one of these wins to squeak into the postseason. On Wednesday the Padres send out their ace, Jake Peavy, against the Giants. He's scheduled to face rookie Patrick Misch.

After that, though, San Diego will be in full-out scramble mode.

• Thursday in Milwaukee, 27-year-old rookie right-hander Jack Cassel is supposed to start for the Padres against the Brewers and their current ace, Yovani Gallardo.

• On Friday the Padres will start Greg Maddux, blasted in two of his past three starts. He's fighting a bad back.

• On Saturday they'll start Chris Young, still recovering from a sore oblique. He's 0-3 with a 7.00 ERA in five September starts.

• On Sunday, it's supposed to be Brett Tomko again. He gave up four early runs to the Giants on Tuesday.

Nothing's going to come easily for the Padres in this last week. Nothing has all year. But Giles at least made things a little less arduous with that home run.

The Rockies remained a game back in the wild-card dash with their 9-7 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles. It was the ninth straight win for the Rockies, the longest winning streak in their 15-year history. The last eight have come over the Padres and Dodgers. It's time, baseball fans, to take this team seriously. Very seriously.

The Rockies, I mean. Not the Dodgers.

Maybe the most encouraging part of the win for Colorado fans (or anyone pulling for the underdog, I guess) was the presence of Matt Holliday. The left fielder, who is trying to fight through an oblique strain (or, as I saw it called somewhere else, a good old-fashioned "side pull"), looked like his old self, mostly. He scrapped through a 10-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning before reaching on an infield single, he slid hard into third base later in the inning and, for the night, he had two hits to raise his average to .338.

Don't send in those MVP ballots just yet, voters.

The Phils dropped back in the wild-card race and failed to gain ground on the Mets in the NL East after a 10-6 loss to the Braves in Philly. It was, in many ways, a typical Phillies game. A lot of home runs. Some not-so-good pitching. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard -- those guys should be mentioned in the MVP debate, too -- and Jayson Werth all homered for the Phils. The problem was, the Phillies got only two other hits.

Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer lasted just 5 1/3 innings and the Philly bullpen -- which had a 1.60 ERA in its last 33 innings coming into the game -- couldn't handle a suddenly amped-up Atlanta lineup. The Braves got an early home run from Mark Teixeira and a late monster shot from Chipper Jones, and in between they ran the bases aggressively, challenging center fielder Aaron Rowand twice in a key four-run sixth. They scored both times on close plays at the plate.

The Braves are pretty much done -- three games from the wild-card lead with five to go -- but they may be playing their best ball of the season, winning eight of their last nine. Jones, gunning for his first batting title, had only the ninth-inning homer and saw his average drop to .340. But, hitting left-handed against righties, he has 25 hits in his last 40 at-bats -- that's .625, for those without a calculator -- with 11 extra-base hits.

Rollins' homer, by the way, was his 30th. He joins Barry Larkin (1996 with Cincinnati) and Alex Rodriguez ('98 with Seattle) as the only every day shortstops in the 30-30 club -- at least 30 homers and 30 steals. (A-Rod was a 40-40 man that year.)

The Yankees had a chance to clinch a postseason spot but blew an early lead and lost 7-6 in 10 innings to the Devil Rays. Jeff Karstens -- the seventh reliever Joe Torre used to back starter Kei Igawa, who went five innings -- gave up a walkoff homer to Dioner Navarro, the first hitter he faced.

As good as the Yanks have been in the second half, Tuesday's loss underlined what could be their fatal flaw -- that bullpen. The Yankees badly need another reliable relief arm to go with Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, and Torre auditioned a bunch of them in this game. Strangely, the most effective was Kyle Farnsworth, who was throwing 96 mph and struck out two in a perfect eighth inning.

If Torre could count on a trio of Farnsworth, Chamberlain and Rivera, the Yankees would be in great shape. But Farnsworth, as Yankees fans well know, has been notoriously unreliable. It was just Saturday, against the Jays, that he gave up three hits and three runs in the eighth inning to blow a save.

The moral: Keep looking, Joe.

The hate mail from Milwaukee keeps on coming. It won't die. Much like the Brewers. The Crew trimmed the Cubs' lead in the NL Central to two games with their 9-1 spanking of the Cardinals, with the Cubs falling to Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins 4-2.

To quote one hate-mailer: "To answer your pathetic question in your latest 'Brewers Are Frauds' column (following the ridiculous 'obituary' column that preceded it) -- you are not an idiot. You are, however, a jerk. A joke of a 'journalist.' An embarrassment who, with a laser focus, made it his mission to denigrate a franchise that frankly did nothing wrong except give its fans hope that for once, autumn would be meaningful and joyful." -- Zach G.

Honestly, I haven't hated on the Brewers all season, despite Zach's contention. They'd be great to see in the postseason. But I have been reluctant to give them the credit Zach thinks they deserve. After that 25-11 start, they just haven't shown enough. That's all. I do think they'll be better next season. And I think that Ned Yost should be the guy who gets them through it.

On a related note: What can you say about Prince Fielder, who crushed a couple more homers on Tuesday to become the youngest player ever to crank 50 in a season? He'll be fun to watch for years, and postseasons, to come.

Just not this postseason.

It's sayonara to Barry Bonds in San Francisco on Wednesday night, his last game in front of the most loyal fans anyone could ever hope to have. Man, does Bonds owe those guys a decent effort against the Padres. For the record, he has three homers against Peavy in 46 plate appearances... The Yankees' loss to the Rays kept the Tigers alive for another night. They beat the Twins 8-0... The Yanks' Igawa started because of Roger Clemens' latest injury, a sore hamstring. That goes with the achy elbow and the foot blisters. Clemens won't pitch for the rest of the regular season, and his status for the postseason is iffy. It's as if the guy is 45 years old or something... Good to see Manny Ramirez back in the lineup for the Red Sox. They were 12-12 since he last played, on Aug. 28... How hot is the Phillies' Utley? (Glad you asked.) Well, as it turns out, about as hot as he was. During his current 19-game hitting streak he's hitting .333. And he has the same batting average today (.336) as when he started the streak on Sept. 5... Is this any way to win a division? The Diamondbacks' loss to the Pirates didn't kill them. They still have a two-game cushion over the Padres. But now the Rockies are just three back... As good as Arizona has been all year long, it's now just a .500 team on the road. And that's where it plays its final five games... I have absolutely no faith in the Mets, who lost to the Nationals 10-9. You don't have to be rolling into the postseason, as the Cardinals proved last season. But for Pete's sake, show us something! ... Moises Alou stretched his hitting streak to 29 games... In some places, this week means nothing. In Cincinnati on Tuesday night the Reds drew 13,261 for a game against the Astros.

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