LOS ANGELES -- Brad Penny knew how important Sunday's game was if the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to have any chance of winning the NL West, so to struggle like he did in the first inning was pretty depressing.
But the 27-year-old right-hander knew he felt good -- it was just a matter of finding his rhythm.
That's precisely what happened.
Penny overcame a shaky start to pitch six solid innings, Jose Cruz Jr. and rookie Dioner Navarro hit back-to-back homers in the fourth, and the Dodgers beat San Diego 7-3 to move within six games of the division-leading Padres with 20 remaining.
The win was the fourth in five games for the Dodgers, who finish the season with a three-game series in San Diego. The Padres dropped to .500 by losing two straight in Los Angeles after winning the opener of the three-game series.
Penny (7-9) gave up three runs on four hits and a walk in the first before settling down. He blanked the Padres on one hit after that, retiring his last 11 batters before being relieved by Giovanni Carrara to begin the seventh.
"We had Brad on the ropes, but he battled out there and competed," San Diego's Dave Roberts said. "When you have a chance to put him away, you have to before he gets comfortable and settled in. He pretty much dominated once he got settled in."
Penny, who threw 117 pitches, walked three and struck out seven.
"A couple bad breaks, a bloop hit, then a groundball to third," Penny said of the first inning. "I don't know how that's a hit -- the scorekeeper must not like me. (But) it worked out today."
The Dodgers have won 10 of 15 games against the Padres this season.
"It seems to me watching, we're a better team than the Padres are," Penny said. "We just don't play the other teams as well."
Penny realizes how difficult it will be for the Dodgers to overtake the Padres.
"It's possible. Somebody was telling me if they go 10-10, we have to go 16-4 just to tie," he said. "I don't know if they'll go 10-10."
Said Dodgers manager Jim Tracy: "There's a lot of things that can happen in 20 games. The thing that we know is that of the 20 we play, we have to win a bunch."
The Dodgers battled back to tie the game at 3 before Scott Cassidy (0-1) walked Jeff Kent with two outs in the fourth, and Cruz greeted Chris Hammond by hitting a 2-2 pitch into the left-field bullpen for his 16th homer. Navarro followed with his second of the season to give the Dodgers a 6-3 lead.
Los Angeles got an unearned run against Craig Breslow in the sixth when Kent drew a two-out walk and scored on errors by shortstop Khalil Greene and third baseman Joe Randa.
The Padres had only one baserunner after that against Carrara and Yhency Brazoban.
Roberts, Mark Loretta and Robert Fick opened the game by hitting singles to give the Padres a 1-0 lead. San Diego scored two more runs in the inning when Penny issued a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to Randa, and Ramon Hernandez grounded into a forceout.
The Dodgers got a run off Chan Ho Park in their half on an RBI single by Kent, another off Park in the second on Penny's run-scoring single, and tied the game against Cassidy in the third on an RBI single by Jayson Werth.
Park, who pitched for the Dodgers from 1994-2001, lasted only 1 1/3 innings in his first outing against his former team, allowing three hits and two runs. He also walked two, hit two and threw a wild pitch.
"He was out of synch," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "It just looked like he didn't have a feel of where the ball was going, and he couldn't get on track out, there so I had to go get him."
Cassidy relieved with the bases loaded and one out in the second, and pitched out of trouble by striking out Oscar Robles and retiring Kent on a popup to the catcher.
Padres RHP Jake Peavy is expected to throw on the side before Monday night's game in San Francisco. Peavy, 12-6 with a 2.93 ERA, hasn't pitched since Sept. 4 because of pain in his right shoulder. The Padres hope he'll be able to start Friday night against Washington. "We think he's going to be fine," Bochy said. ... Dodgers LHP Odalis Perez, sidelined since Aug. 18 with a strained right oblique muscle, has played catch several times recently. Tracy said he hopes Perez will be available before the end of the season in a relief role. ... Park experienced an embarrassing moment in the top of the second when he fell down while leaving the batter's box after hitting a grounder to short. He was still on the ground when the out was recorded at first. ... Penny was 6-for-46 with one RBI this season before his second-inning single drove in Mike Edwards.