Very frustrating loss in the opener Tuesday afternoon at Petco Park. The Padres, on the national stage for the second straight post-season and commanding more positive attention than perhaps they are accustomed to, came out flat against the Cardinals and never really were in this one.
Jake Peavy matched Chris Carpenter pitch for pitch through the first three innings before faltering in the fourth. After Chris Duncan led off that inning with a base hit, Albert Pujols stepped to the plate. Peavy induced Pujols to pop up behind the plate for an apparent out. Unfortunately, Mike Piazza didn’t pick up the ball immediately off the bat and misjudged it, the ball falling harmlessly to the grass beneath his feet. Pujols proceeded to battle Peavy and, as great hitters will do, eventually found a pitch to his liking and drove it out over the fence in center field, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
Not Pitching but Throwing
Peavy, whose intensity on the mound usually works in his favor, struggled after the Pujols homer, becoming more of a thrower than a pitcher. Whether Peavy was still thinking about the dropped popup is something only he knows, but the results were not good, as the Cardinals scored another run in the inning to take what would prove to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
Peavy’s accomplishments as a big leaguer at such a young age are impressive and not to be dismissed. That said, his first two career playoff starts have been nothing short of disastrous. Last season a broken rib suffered during the division-clinching celebration helped explain his poor performance. In Game 1 of this year’s NLDS, an inability to make quality pitches when needed proved to be Peavy’s downfall.
Unfortunately for the Padres, the Carpenter they faced Tuesday afternoon wasn’t the same pitcher they knocked around in his final regular-season start. Instead, it was the version that won the NL Cy Young Award in 2005 and that should receive serious consideration for same this year.
Poor Roster Management, Wasted Opportunities
The Friars did have their chances late, loading the bases with one out in the seventh. With a lefty reliever on the mound and Rudy Seanez due up, Bochy sent Mark Bellhorn to the plate. The only real fault with this strategy is that Bellhorn hasn’t reliably hit big-league pitching for a long time. Since the beginning of the 2005 season, Bellhorn’s line is a staggering .201/.306/.351 in 553 at-bats. It’s possible that he might run into one or the pitcher might walk him, but you don’t count on it. We are talking about a batter who has failed to make contact in over 31% of his plate appearances over the past two seasons.
Given what we know about Bellhorn, it came as no surprise to see him strike out in that at-bat. It’s easy to get down on the guy, but we shouldn’t — he was doing what he does. The thing that boggles the imagination is that Bellhorn was brought into that situation at all. It’s not like his inability to hit just snuck up on everyone. We’ve had plenty of advance warning.
So, why was Bellhorn at the plate at such a critical point in the game? A good question, although not necessarily the right one. The likely answer is that Bellhorn was the one available player on the roster that Bochy was most comfortable calling on at that time. And now you see the right question: Why is Bellhorn even on the post-season roster?
I have no clue.
What I do know is that, as a result of Bellhorn’s and — let’s be honest — virtually everyone else’s inability to execute on offense, the Padres offered precious little resistance against a St. Louis ballclub that looked, at least for one day, much stronger than advertised. The Cardinals may have backed into the playoffs, but on Tuesday, they backed up and over the Padres. It was not a proud day for the Pads or their fans, which raises another point: We need to stop complaining about the lack of respect given the Padres by the national sports media. For one thing, respect isn’t given, it’s earned. What, exactly, have the Padres done to earn anyone’s respect? Obviously you and I love them because we are fans, and we’re justifiably proud of what they’ve done because we understand the context — three consecutive winning seasons is unprecedented in this franchise’s history. It’s a big deal.
Perception Is Reality
And now, a brief refresher course for the faithful on how I imagine the average baseball fan perceives the Padres:
- They’re owned by the guy who invented McDonald’s, right? Oh, he’s dead? Sorry, I didn’t know.
- Isn’t that the minor-league team Dave Winfield played for before he joined the great and glorious Yankees?
- Isn’t that the minor-league team Ozzie Smith played for before he joined the Cardinals?
- Oh yeah, they’re the team that got spanked by the Tigers in the 1984 World Series.
- Right, and then they got spanked by the great and glorious Yankees in the 1998 World Series, hallelujah, praise be Richie Garcia.
- What’s up with Roseanne Barr butchering the Star-Spangled Banner? Is that a west coast thing? I don’t get it.
- Sure, I remember Tony Gwynn — he’s that Ichiro Suzuki wannabe who hit one out at Yankee Stadium one time.
- Trevor Hoffman? He’s that Mariano Rivera wannabe. You know what would make Hoffman good? If he played for the great and glorious Yankees.
- Wait, which part of LA is San Diego? Is it near Long Beach or am I thinking of some other place?
In other words, the Padres aren’t exactly on everyone’s radar. You and I may love ‘em, but most folks feel about them the way I feel about, say, the Yankees or the Red Sox, which is to say, not at all.
The other reason we need to stop complaining about “lack of respect” (you knew I’d get back to that, right?) is simple and goes a little like this: Who cares what anyone else thinks? We know that our Padres are a solid ballclub and that’s good enough for me — at least until they do something a little more worthy like, I dunno, win the World Series. For now, though, the focus should be on watching these guys battle and not on what some yahoos in Connecticut think about our team.
Put it another way: What do you think about Connecticut?
Last I Checked, “Series” Means More Than One
Okay, so what else do we know about the Padres? We know that they’ve been remarkably resilient throughout the season, that they never do things the easy way, and that they got beat by the best St. Louis had to offer. And I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that the Padres can take these guys. After all, what has changed? The Padres lost a game. And it sucked. I mean, it really sucked. But these things happen. Off day on Wednesday, then we’ll all meet back at Petco Park on Thursday and watch the Pads get out there and do what they do.
With any luck, we end that day laughing at our misery over Game 1 and see the boys off to St. Louis tied in the series. Plenty of baseball yet to be played. Time will let us know whether Tuesday marked the beginning of the end or merely served as a bump in a much longer road. Until I see good, hard evidence to the contrary, I’ll stick with the latter theory.
So. Who’s with me?