LOS ANGELES -- Had things been different Friday, Padres pitcher Clayton Richard might have spent his postgame wrap with reporters talking about one of his most satisfying and, to be sure, most impressive victories of the season.
It's not a big stretch to suggest this could have happened, either.
"Everything today was close ... but not quite good enough," Richard said.
On the night Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier returned from the disabled list, Richard tamed the Dodgers for six-plus innings, getting them to pound ground ball after ground ball into the natural turf covering the infield at Dodger Stadium.
But it wasn't Kemp or Ethier who ruined Richard's night.
Instead, it was pesky Mark Ellis who spoiled one of Richard's finest starts of the season, as his two-run home run in the sixth inning stood up for a 2-1 victory over the Padres in front of a crowd of 43,873 as San Diego opened the second half much like the way it ended the first half -- with a loss.
Richard (6-10), who now has 12 quality starts this season, took a shutout into the sixth inning before he left a slider up and out over the plate to Ellis, who turned on the 1-2 pitch and hit it over the fence in left field to erase a 1-0 deficit with one fell swoop.
Afterward, Richard lamented the location of the pitch. But it was the batter before Ellis who might have had the most critical piece of contact of the game before the home run, as his line drive up the middle caught Richard off-guard.
With a runner on first base and one out, Jerry Hairston sent a ball up the middle that Richard nearly caught. He did knock the ball down and got a force at second base. Had he caught the ball, which would have been a difficult play, he could have doubled the runner off first base easily, according to replays.
Instead, the inning continued, allowing Ellis a chance to hit. He responded with his third home run of the season as the Dodgers maintained their half-game lead over the Giants in the National League West.
"I got it good. It was just keeping it fair. It was a hanging curveball or slider, a pitch I'm sure he'd like to have back. He had really good movement, a lot of deception and a funky way of coming at you," Ellis said.
That proved to be enough to bury the Padres (34-54), who got an early run off starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw but little else.
Kershaw (7-5) allowed one run on six hits with three walks and six strikeouts. The Padres made him work as they drove up his pitch count with several long at-bats. What they lacked, of course, was that big hit with runners in scoring position.
For the game, the Padres were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
"We had some good at-bats against Kershaw," Padres manager Bud Black said. "But we couldn't get the ball in the outfield to add on [to the 1-0 lead]."
The Padres got their lone run against the Dodgers (48-40) in the second inning as rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal had the first of his two hits, a double, to start the inning. After Yonder Alonso walked to end an at-bat that lasted 10 pitches, Cameron Maybin moved the runners along with a ground ball.
Everth Cabrera then knocked in a run with a ground ball of his own as the Padres took a 1-0 lead with Richard settling in.
All told, Richard allowed two runs on five hits with no walks and two strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. He got 22 outs with 96 pitches and got 14 ground-ball outs.
"It's great," Black said. "I like the fastball down, he's producing grounders, his walks are down and his efficiency is great."
Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly got the impression that his hitters were never quite able to feel comfortable at the plate against Richard.
"He's been tough on us all year. He gives you a different look with a rough motion," Mattingly said.
Richard benefited from his defense, and not just on the 14 ground-ball outs he induced. Case in point: a diving catch in the left-center-field gap by Maybin, who stole an extra-base hit from A.J. Ellis to start the fifth inning.
In the ninth inning and with Alexi Amarista on first base, Logan Forsythe -- who had two hits earlier in the game -- lined a ball down the first-base line that Juan Rivera snagged and carried to the bag for the final out.
Had Rivera drifted off the bag after Amarista lit out for second base and left that area unoccupied, then things might have been different, especially with Amarista's speed and a ball potentially in the right-field corner.
"I got tie game and a man on second," Black said.