Second Verse, Same as the First

This is nuts. How have the Padres won 90 games this year? How have they come back from the brink of oblivion to make Sunday’s regular-season finale mean something?

Here are the Cool Standings playoff odds:

    9/29 9/30 10/1 10/2
SF  90.6 96.3 94.3 94.1
Atl 92.2 96.1 85.1 53.6
SD  17.3  7.6 20.6 52.3

Like I said, nuts.

On Saturday, San Diego product Barry Zito issued two bases-loaded walks in the first to give the Padres an early lead for the second straight game. Zito’s wildness bailed out Ryan Ludwick, who again came up in a crucial situation and again did nothing. Bases juiced, one out, and you hit an infield fly? Hey, the way he’s been going, I’m grateful he didn’t ground into a double play.

Still, the Padres blew the chance to knock Zito out of the game early — Giants skipper Bruce Bochy had someone warming up in the ‘pen in the first. When Zito escaped with just the two runs, I said to Mrs. Ducksnorts, over a lovely sushi lunch: “That is going to cost us the season.”

Mrs. D, who is tolerant to a fault, has her limits: “Okay, Mr. Bitter,” she shot back and laughed.

“No,” I replied a bit testily… and by “no” I meant “yes.” The English language is so confusing sometimes… by which I mean, I can get grouchy.

The Padres managed to scrape together a couple more runs and, as in the previous game, hold a comfortable (by their standards) lead headed into the middle innings. Tim Stauffer shut down the Giants through six, allowing just a scratch infield single to Mike Fontenot in the first.

Stauffer eventually surrendered a solo homer to Juan Uribe in the seventh that landed just beyond the reach of Chris Denorfia in left field. Stauffer’s story is incredible enough on its own, but to see him come out and pitch like an ace in a game that meant everything to his team was impressive beyond my ability to describe it. As reader LynchMob noted in the comments:

The Padres need to make sure they overpay Tim Stauffer on his next contract … he just earned back every penny they saved when they signed him after he admitted his injury.

Yeah, dude is nails.

Luke Gregerson, as he has done so often this year, put out the fire in the seventh. Mike Adams breezed through the top of the Giants order in the eighth, which left a presumably exhausted Heath Bell to work the ninth (again, this is where putting Zito away early and letting the crappy part of the bullpen pitch the final few innings would have been nice).

The self-proclaimed Drama King got Buster Posey to ground to shortstop for the first out. Two doubles and single later, the Giants were down two runs and had runners at the corners. Jose Guillen came up to bat for Guillermo Mota, and I had a very bad feeling. Showing great mercy, Guillen whacked the second pitch he saw right to Miguel Tejada, who gloved the ball, stepped on second, and fired to first to end the game.

And exhale.

There will plenty of time to reflect later, but it’s worth noting that the Padres now have reached 90 wins four times in their history (1984, 1996, 1998, 2010). This team has more wins than the 2007 squad, which blows my mind. That was a very talented bunch. This year’s version is a very… persistent bunch.

If I were a fan of the Braves or Giants, I would be livid. The Padres have no business being in this race, but they won’t take the hint. Even if the Padres don’t pull off yet another miracle, one senses that the prevailing emotion among the survivors will be one of relief and not of triumph.

Meanwhile, we’ve got at least one more game. David Pinto outlines the possible scenarios (reader Didi notes that Joe Posnanski provides even greater detail), including the nightmare three-way tie possibility. If the Padres win and the Braves lose, life is good… any other outcome and things get irritating.

The Phillies and Braves play at 10:35 a.m. PT. San Diego product Cole Hamels goes for Philly, while Tim Hudson gets the call for Atlanta. Hudson threw well his last time out against Florida but has stumbled down the stretch, going 2-4 with a 4.86 ERA over his past eight starts.

Meanwhile, the Padres and Giants send Mat Latos and Jonathan Sanchez into battle at 1:05 p.m. PT. Two young pitchers with big arms and big mouths. Latos, like Hudson, has thrown far more innings this year than last and has been far less effective recently (0-4, 10.13 ERA over his past four starts) than he was earlier in the year (14-5, 2.21 ERA to that point).

Latos turned in one of the season’s dominant performances against the Giants back in May. I don’t know if he’s got anything left in the proverbial tank, but now would be a good time to find the form that made him baseball’s best pitcher from May through August.

Nuts? This is beyond nuts. It’s the whole damn tree.

Go Padres, go Phillies! Enjoy…