Padres were down 5-0 with two out in the ninth. The game, for all intents and purposes, was over.
My wife and I had gone out to dinner with a group of friends, and the Pads were sinking fast in the seventh when we got home. We kept the TV on because Chris Oxspring was pitching, and he was one of our favorites when he was at Elsinore a few years ago.
Eric Young drew a walk to start the ninth, and it seemed a nice gesture, but nothing more. Hernandez proceeded to strike out and, after a pitching change, Brian Giles flied out to center for the second out. No cause for hope at all.
Then Xavier Nady singled and Nats manager Frank Robinson went to his bullpen again. This was an interesting choice, as the reliever that got pulled had thrown all of three pitches. I don’t know how Robinson normally operates, but the ninth inning felt overmanaged. I couldn’t figure out why he kept trotting different guys out there, but he knows his staff a lot better than I do so presumably there’s a reason.
Next guy comes in and throws two pitches to Joe Randa, who lines a single to score a run. Shutout is gone, so I’m relatively happy. Maybe if the Pads at least put up a little fight, they can come out strong on Sunday and avoid the sweep.
Greene steps up to the plate representing the tying run. But I’m not going there because, I mean, nobody just comes up and hits a game-tying grand slam against the best closer in the league. This isn’t some scrub just up from the minors, it’s the guy leading the world in saves this year. Why harbor hope? It can only lead to disappointment.
Cordero misses with the first offering, and then the unthinkable happens. He leaves one out over the plate and Greene hammers it to left. But even this I’ve seen before and I’m assuming it will die on the track and we’ll go home, if not happy, then at least glad that the home team didn’t completely pack it in at the end.
But the ball doesn’t die on the track. It just keeps carrying and lands in the seats.
We’re stunned. We’re screaming, and we’re stunned. Folks in other parts of the country probably feel the same way about the Padres as I do about the Yankees or Red Sox, which is to say, not at all. If anything, they’ll tell you what an embarrassment the NL West is, which it is, and that will be the extent of their “analysis.”
But in these parts, every game is a battle. And the battle isn’t over until the final out has been recorded. Greene has kept the battle alive. His homer has allowed the Padres to play a little longer. Win or lose, the Pads have not gone gentle into Dylan Thomas‘ night, and I resolve to be okay with the outcome because, a few minutes earlier, it was all but decided.
You were as good as gone, living on borrowed time. Whatever happens after coming back from the dead is gravy.
What happens, of course, is that the Nats have used seven pitchers through nine innings. Six of them were needed to record what they presumed would be the final nine outs.
The Padres, meantime, haven’t used any of their top relievers because, frankly, they haven’t been competitive at any point throughout the game. This means Bruce Bochy has Trevor Hoffman, Scott Linebrink, Akinori Otsuka, and Rudy Seanez all available.
Robinson has Jon Rauch.
No disrespect to Rauch, but if you’re the Padres, you’ve got to like your chances. Sure enough, the clubs trade volleys for a while longer before the Nats eventually give in, with Rauch serving up a three-run jack to Hernandez to end it in the 12th. The crowd is going nuts, the players are going nuts, my wife and I are going nuts.
This game, which had been utterly out of reach not long ago, has inexplicably turned in the Friars’ favor and now counts in the win column. The magic number is reduced to 10.
The team is still under .500 for the season, and folks around the country still won’t give the Pads a second thought when discussing the playoffs, but here we are. It’s the middle of September and the Padres are in the drivers’ seat, inching slowly and somewhat unsteadily toward the finish line.