Pirate Manager Chuck Tanner was comparing Kevin McReynolds’ leaping catch in the third inning of Thursday’s game to memorable World Series catches made by Willie Mays in 1954 and Joe Rudi in 1972.
That may be stretching things a bit, but it is a play that will be remembered by the crowd of 24,882 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium years after it forgets that Mark Thurmond’s tossed a three-hit 1-0 shutout, and Tim Flannery hit a seventh inning game-winning single to right-center field.
“If that play was made in the World Series,” Tanner said, “they’d put it down as one of the best. He showed no fear and wasn’t worried about hitting the fence.”
With two out and Marvell Wynne at second, the Padre center fielder raced to the right of the 370 mark in left-center field for Bill Almon’s blast.
In one motion, the 6-foot 1-inch outfielder snared the ball just before it hit the yellow line at the top of the fence. It would not have been a home run, but it definitely would have been a run-scoring extra base hit.
“That was the ballgame,” Tanner said.
In retrospect, that was the closest the Pirates came to scoring against Thurmond. The left-hander faced just 29 batters and did not allow a walk while picking up his first win of the season.
“He pitched brilliantly,” said Padre Manager Dick Williams. “And there were a lot of outstanding plays on both sides.”
Thurmond (1-2) said he was quite nervous before the game, and quite relieved to get that first win under his belt.
“This breaks the monotony,” said Thurmond, who was 14-8 in 1984. “But without the defense, we wouldn’t have won today. They should get a lot of credit for the win.”
After McReynolds set the tone for the day, the gloves were warmed up.
Graig Nettles made two fine plays on ground balls hit by Bill Madlock in the fourth and Mike Bielecki in the sixth.
In the eighth, Flannery mad a diving backhand stop just moments after he drove in the only run of the game.
Flannery dove to his right to snare a grounder by Wynne, and then threw the runner out while sitting on the ground.
Madlock, playing first base for only the second time in the last two years, made an inning-ending stab of a liner by Nettles in the third. And right fielder George Hendrick made a fine running catch on McReynolds’ fly in the eighth.
After scoring 24 runs in consecutive wins over St. Louis and Pittsburgh, the Padres were stymied by rookie Mike Bielecki. He allowed only six hits, walked two, hit a batter, and struck out five in seven innings.
It was an impressive performance for Bielecki, who was making his fifth major league start. Last year, he had a 19-3 record and a 2.97 earned-run average at Hawaii. He was named Baseball America’s 1984 Minor League Player of the Year.
“His ball explodes,” Flannery said, “and we were swinging through pitches and popping up.”
The Padres stranded two men on base in the third and fourth innings. They finally broke through in the seventh.
Carmelo Martinez led off the inning with a walk. One out later, Thurmond bunted Martinez to second.
Then cam Flannery, who endured a bout with the flu and a crying new-born son, Danny, early Thursday morning.
“I threw him a forkball,” Bielecki said later, “and it was the kind of pitch I wanted to throw. It wasn’t that bad a pitch. Maybe a little high.”
Flannery lined it off second baseman Johnny Ray’s glove into right-center field and Martinez scored easily.
Flannery, buoyed by the opportunity to play more, isn’t worried that additional pressure has been placed on him to replace Alan Wiggins.
“It’s a lot easier going to the ballpark knowing you are going to play,” Flannery said. “No doubt about it, if a guy’s a surgeon and he operates every day, he’ll get better. It’s the same for me.
“I know I can’t steal 70 bases,” Flannery said in response to his replacing Wiggins. “I have to do other things to win ballgames.”
Thurmond retired the side in the eighth, and took the mound in the ninth, knowing Goose Gossage was warmed up and ready to come in.
The first batter to face Thurmond was pinch-hitter Rick Rhoden. That’s right, the right-handed pitcher who hit .333 last year and was 2 for 13 entering Thursday’s game.
“I thought he might hit one,” Tanner said in defense of his move. “He has the highest lifetime batting average of any pitcher (entered the season at .240).”
Rhoden hit a grand slam and drove in five runs in an exhibition game against a Pirate minor league club two weeks ago. But Thursday, he struck out.
After Almon singled to center, Thurmond said he knew he might be down to his final batter.
“If he didn’t get the double play,” said Williams, “I would have brought in Gossage to face Madlock.”
Fittingly, a smooth Flannery-to-Templeton to-Garvey double play ended the game.