Winning Half Is Like Losing Half, and Vice Versa

When last we spoke, the Padres had won 10 straight games. They finally lost on Tuesday, but not without a serious fight.

Kevin Correia breezes through 4 2/3 innings, then runs into trouble. Ryan Roberts bloops a single in front of Chase Headley that a more accomplished left fielder might have caught. The inning continues, and Correia gives up back-to-back doubles that put the Diamondbacks on top, 2-0. Correia falls apart the following inning and the score is now 6-0.

Arizona starter Max Scherzer has the Padres chasing high fastballs all night. Then Chris Burke (!) homers to left to lead off the eighth. Tony Gwynn Jr. follows with a pinch single, ending Scherzer’s evening. Left-hander Doug Slaten comes on to face Brian Giles, who lines Slaten’s first pitch hard toward left field. Unfortunately for Giles and the Padres, third baseman Roberts leaps and intercepts the ball for the first out.

Esmerling Vasquez enters, and this happens:

  • Eckstein singles to right
  • Hairston walks
  • Kouzmanoff hit by pitch, Gwynn scores

Then it’s Juan Gutierrez’s turn:

  • Headley singles to right, Eckstein scores
  • Hundley strikes out swinging
  • wild pitch, Hairston scores
  • Macias, batting for Edgar, walks
  • Adrian, batting for Chris Burke, flies to deep right

Adrian is a late scratch from the starting lineup due to flulike symptoms, but almost comes through in a pinch. He just misses a grand slam. Gets under the pitch.

The offense gets back to work in the ninth. With Gutierrez still on the mound, the Padres load the bases with nobody out. Scott Hairston steps to the plate… and grounds into a 5-4-3 double play that plates Gwynn, making the score 6-5.

With Giles on third and two out, Kouzmanoff dumps a 1-2 pitch down the right-field line… foul by inches. Then he hammers a ball to right-center that Chris Young hauls in just shy of the wall. Game over, streak over, heckuva ride.

If Headley gets a better jump in the fifth… If Giles’ drive in the eighth is a little to the left… If Adrian doesn’t get under the pitch that same inning… If Hairston’s grounder in the ninth isn’t hit quite so hard or if Eckstein can take out the second baseman (oh, if that had been Giles running!)… If Kouz’s bloop stays fair or his subsequent drive carries a few feet further…

None of these things happen, so instead we look back fondly at a most improbable winning streak, thank the guys for their effort, and hope they’ll win the next one.

* * *

This is the second time in my life I’ve had to use crutches. When I was 15, I crashed into another kid while playing softball at school. He broke his nose, I broke my ankle. I was in a cast later that day and out hitting tennis balls the next because I’d planned to try out fot the team and wanted to maintain my stroke. I rested the crutch under my left armpit and hit forehands. When I told the doctor, he was horrified. In retrospect, it seems obvious that I shouldn’t have done that, but when you don’t spell things out for a kid short on common sense…

* * *

Back to winning on Wednesday, 8-5, to take the series in Phoenix. Jake Peavy looked strong early before hitting the wall. Guys started smacking him silly. Turns out he was pitching with a bad ankle. Well, he was pitching with his arm, but as anyone who has ever used a body knows, it’s all connected.

Up 5-4, the Padres erputed for three runs against a shaky Arizona bullpen in the eighth. They should have scored more. Leo Rosales and Vasquez couldn’t find the plate. Between them, they walked four batters in the inning. With the bases loaded, Drew Macias jumped ahead in the count, 3-0, before being called out on strikes. After Henry Blanco singled home a run to make the score 8-4, Gwynn hit a ground ball to third that forced the runner at home. Giles then took strike three on a full-count pitch to end the frame.

To Giles’ credit, he battled back from 0-2. He had quality plate appearances all night. Triple, walk, couple loud outs.

Adrian homered. Yawm.

Kouzmanoff looked good again. Flirted with a homer in the sixth (settled for a sac fly), hit some hard foul balls. I feel like he’s about to go off, but I often feel that way. Don’t listen to me when I talk about Kouz.

* * *

Watching a lot of TV, which I don’t normally do unless it involves baseball, spaceships, or both. During the day, options are sparse, so I end up flipping back and forth between SpongeBob Squarepants and Dog The Bounty Hunter. Also managed to catch a lot of the French Open, which is cool because tennis is the one sport I almost didn’t suck at back in the day. What those people can do on a court is unbelievable to me. So is the fact that someone beat Rafael Nadal on clay. Or the fact that the Padres are hovering around .500 this late in the season.

* * *

Glad to see ex-Padre Russell Branyan enjoying a breakout campaign (.323/.413/.614) in Seattle. Funny what can happen when a guy gets a chance. I’ve been advocating on Branyan’s behalf for a long time. It’s good that someone finally looked past the strikeouts and recognized him for the productive hitter that he is. Too bad it didn’t happen earlier in Branyan’s career, but better late than never.

* * *

Death by paper cuts against the Rockies on Friday night. Chris Young was in nibble mode from the get-go. To desecrate a lyric from the late John Lennon, if you go walking six in six innings at Coors Field, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone, anyhow. Lennon’s line is better because it rhymes. Also, it isn’t stupid.

Young gave up three runs, two of which were unearned thanks to Kouzmanoff’s first error of the season… Kouz had a terrible night. Came up four times and hit four weak grounders, three with runners on base.

Kouz wasn’t alone in failing to produce. When you get blanked in Denver, that is a team effort. Give credit to Jason Marquis, who hit his spots, but yuck.

On the flip side, the Rockies had four hits all night: a grounder up the middle, two bunts, and a grounder to shortstop. Yeah, they hit the tar out of the ball.

The walks, though, ruined Young’s night. Ruined mine, too.

* * *

Mrs. D. bought me the first two seasons of Psych on DVD, rescuing me from daytime television. I’ve also been listening to minor-league baseball on the Internet, which is a great way to pass the time. Caught the Great Lakes Loons versus the Kane County Cougars the other day. Couldn’t tell you what happened because I don’t care, but the sounds of a ballgame are always welcome. Tim Wallach’s kid played in the game. So did Josh Barfield’s little brother, for whatever that might be worth.

* * *

It’s funny that both the Padres (88-124) and Rockies (94-117) have stunk since that fateful 163rd game in 2007. Sure, the Rockies reached the World Series that year, but they were terrible enough in ’08 and the first two months of ’09 that it cost manager Clint Hurdle his job…

The Padres activated Cliff Floyd from the disabled list and optioned Macias to Portland. Macias and Headley are the only outfielders on the roster with options remaining. Macias is more useful to the big club right now because he’s a more disciplined hitter who can play all three spots. But Headley has the brighter future, so he stays despite the fact that he looks lost in left field and gets himself out chasing pitches a foot off the plate.

Speaking of looking lost, on Saturday night, Gwynn gave a clinic on how not to play center field. We’ll cut him slack for not tracking down Clint Barmes’ first-inning triple to right-center. If Gwynn lays out for that ball, maybe he catches it. I’ve got enough other gripes that I don’t want a missed highlight reel opportunity to be a sticking point.

What are those other gripes? Glad you asked:

  • In the third, Barmes drives a ball to deep left-center. It’s uncatchable, but when Gwynn gets to the ball, he gives it a couple good kicks before picking it up and returning it to the infield. Garrett Atkins follows with a fly ball to medium center that plates Barmes. Padres starter Josh Geer retires the next batter to end the inning, but if Gwynn fields that ball cleanly, Barmes never scores.
  • Troy Tulowitzki leads off the seventh with a routine fly ball to center. Gwynn starts back, throws his hands out to his sides in the universal sign for “I have no clue where the ball is,” spots it, races in, slides, short hops the ball, and kicks it toward left field. Shortstop Josh Wilson retrieves the ball, but not before Tulowitzki is standing on third base. On a ball that Gwynn misses and kicks, Tulowitzki is credited with a triple. Geer retires the next two batters, although one drives home Tulowitzki to make the score 6-5. Geer should be up, 7-3 (sloppy baserunning cost the Padres a run in the fourth), and out of the inning. Instead, he is lifted for Gregerson, who serves up a game-tying double to Barmes.
  • Gwynn saves his best for last. With the Padres back on top, 7-6, courtesy of a Scott Hairston pinch-hit homer in the top of the ninth, Bell is called upon to seal the victory. After retiring the first batter, Bell allows a single to Barmes, who lines the ball just past Kouzmanoff’s outstretched glove. With Helton up, Barmes steals second. Helton then grounds to third. (Yes, it would have been a game-ending double play had Barmes still been at first.) Atkins follows with an 18-hopper up the middle that drives home Barmes and reties the game. Bell jumps ahead of the next batter, Brad Hawpe, 0-2. Hawpe then fights off a high fastball and pops up to shallow center. Perhaps fooled by the big swing, Gwynn gets a late break. He charges hard and dives for the ball, but misses, allowing it to trickle behind him. By the time Headley comes over from left to retrieve it, Atkins — who was running on contact with two outs — is rounding third. He scores comfortably ahead of Eckstein’s relay home, and the Rockies win. If Gwynn cannot catch that ball (and a big-league center fielder should), his one remaining responsibility is to make sure it doesn’t get past him. Then Bell can take his chances with Seth Smith and maybe push the contest into extra innings. Instead, everyone walks away frustrated by an avoidable loss.

Gwynn’s defense wasn’t the only problem. The Padres also had trouble running the bases. We’ll ignore Wilson getting thrown out at third by 20 feet on a Geer bunt attempt in the second (dude, it’s not a force play) and Headley nearly getting doubled off first on a hit-and-run foul popup to Helton (replays showed that Headley was out) because they had no bearing on the outcome. They made the Padres look stupid, but they didn’t cost anything beyond pride.

The killer came in the fourth, when Nick Hundley led off with a double to left-center and immediately was picked off second by Jason Hammel. Because, you know, Hundley is such a threat to swipe third. After Wilson struck out, Geer beat out an infield single. Gwynn then tripled over the head of a too-shallow Dexter Fowler in center to drive home Geer. If Hundley doesn’t brain-lock, he also scores on Gwynn’s hit. That extra run would have come in handy.

Positives from the game? A few. Adrian launched his 19th homer of the season — one of his opposite-field specials. Just missed #20 in the fourth, driving Seth Smith to the 390 sign in left.

Geer pitched a beautiful game. Don’t let the final line fool you. After the first inning, he stopped the Rockies cold. Geer deserved to win. Gwynn and Hundley owe him, big time.

This gets my vote for stupidest game of the year. Oh well. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

* * *

I had it in my head to play with numbers, but ran out of time and energy. Here are some random questions and observations that you may wish to consider:

  • Is Gregerson being overworked? He has pitched in 26 of the Padres’ first 50 games.
  • Is Luis Perdomo wasting a roster spot? He hasn’t made an appearance since May 16, and he had to wait until the 14th inning to get into that game. Wait, here’s a card:

    Dear Luis,

    I hope you like San Diego. You look rested.

    Regards,
    Kevin Cameron

  • To those who thought the ’09 Padres would threaten the ’62 Mets record of futility, San Diego needs to go 16-96 the rest of the way to make it happen. That’s hard to do. If the Pads go 50-62 (.446), they finish with 75 wins, which is more than many experts predicted. They need to go 39-73 (.348) to exceed 2008′s win total. Anything is possible, but biven what we’ve seen of these guys so far, I’m liking their chances.
  • Why are the Padres home/road splits so much more severe this year than in recent seasons?
  • Petco Park is helping Gregerson (17 IP, 0.00 ERA at home; 12.1 IP, 8.03 ERA on the road) and Young (32 IP, 2.25 ERA at home; 30.2 IP, 6.75 ERA on the road). It is killing Adrian (99 PA, .259/.364/.459 at home; 114 PA, .313/.421/.802 on the road). I’ve been saying this for a while, but if he plays half his games at any other venue in the big leagues, Adrian becomes an instant MVP candidate. He deserves consideration anyway, but I wouldn’t expect voters to understand that. His RBI total is too low, his overall numbers don’t match up well with guys who call Philly or Milwaukee home, and the mediadvertising industry has little use for San Diego other than as a place to get away from it all. Hey, that’s life.

* * *

More solid pitching in Sunday’s win, from an unexpected source. Something or someone (Greg Maddux?) possessed Chad Gaudin, who pumped strikes into the seventh inning. I didn’t know he could do that.

Gaudin worked 6 1/3 innings, striking out nine and walking none. He entered the contest averaging 7.02 walks per 9 innings. His previous low in walks this season had been three, so yeah, this caught me by surprise.

Gaudin pounded the bottom of the zone early. He struck out the side in the first and again in the second. Through four innings, his line looked like this: 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 SO. Then the Rockies caught up with him; from that point forward he did this: 2.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO. (The unearned run came on a fly ball to center that Hairston clanked; maybe he’d been watching Gwynn a little too closely on Saturday?)

Adrian hit another opposite-field homer. It’s what he does. He also got thrown out at the plate by a laughable margin trying to score on a Kouzmanoff two-out double to left-center that I thought was gone when it left the bat.

Gaudin got help from Wilson, who started a beautiful double play to end the sixth. He backhanded Helton’s grounder, spun clockwise on one knee, and fired to Eckstein, who somehow eluded the onrushing Fowler and threw to first.

Watching Wilson on that play reminded me of Khalil Greene, who has been placed on the disabled list by the Cardinals for social anxiety disorder. What a shame. I hope Khalil is okay.

Bell sealed the victory, giving the Padres a split on their road trip. They could’ve swept both series, but let’s not get greedy; after 11 straight losses on the road, 3-3 looks just fine. So does a .500 record headed into June.

* * *

It was good to see Bell rebound from his first blown save. It was good to see the Padres finish their road trip with a win. It was good to see them finish May with a win. It was good… it was good… It’s baseball; by definition, it is good. Right?