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Padres Fall to Miracle Mets, 5-3

Times Staff Writer

Only the Mets could win a game like this, a game in which their starting lineup had a combined batting average of .203, where their starting pitcher had absolutely no control.

They won because they’re the Mets, because their manager sleeps with a computer and because they spell relief pitching M-C-D-O-W-E-L-L and O-R-O-S-C-O.

Really and truly, their 5-3 victory over the Padres Saturday night made no sense. Met starter Ron Darling, a pretty pitcher to watch when he’s on, was off. He walked five batters in three innings, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch.

“He (Darling) wasn’t sharp at all,” said Met Manager Dave Johnson, otherwise known as The Wiz. “It was his worst game of the year. He was all over the place. He didn’t throw many close.”

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And Darling (5-1) got the win.

Why? Because of relief pitching and shrewdness. Tim Flannery had scored twice to put the Padres ahead, 2-0, but the Mets rallied for three runs in the sixth, led by Kelvin Chapman and Ray Knight.

Then, in the seventh, after Darling had finally left, Mookie Wilson scored an insurance run. Rusty Staub, age 41, got the RBI on a pinch-hit single down the first-base line, a single he hit with one hand because he was so far out in front of the pitch. Johnson should be commended, too, because knowing his relief pitching, one more run would’ve likely been enough to win. He used Staub at a perfect time.

Said Staub: “You’ve got to go up and just hack, man. But the biggest reason why veterans handle it (pinch-hitting) better is because of the belief in themselves. The odds are against you. If you’re outstanding, you’re wrong 70% of the time. But you can’t get down on yourself so it turns into a negative.”

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Said Johnson: “Ah, shucks.”

And he shouldn’t be so modest. The Mets lead the National League in one-run victories (15), and have won 23 of their last 26 extra-inning games. Part of this is Johnson, a mathematics major, who lives and dies with his computer. Some people don’t like this. Once, Johnson, when he played in Baltimore, went to talk to then-Manager Earl Weaver about computer baseball. He carried printouts.

Weaver threw the printouts in the trash.

But Johnson carried on.

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Of course, a large part of the Mets’ success is relief pitching. Roger McDowell, 24, relieved Darling in the seventh. He had thrown 21 consecutive scoreless innings before Saturday, his outstanding sinker being the reason.

That streak came to an end in the ninth, but Jesse Orosco was there to replace McDowell, and Orosco got the final out with a Padre runner on base. Steve Garvey flew out to left to end the game.

Yet, these weren’t the real New York Mets out there. Since they’re in the midst of a 12-day road trip, Johnson, who consults his computer before he makes his decisions, decided to rest some people. One of those who sat Saturday night was Keith Hernandez, the computer apparently saying he was tired.

This was the first time Hernandez hadn’t started a game this year, too. Actually, he’d played every inning but one, having been ejected in the eighth inning of a game in San Francisco.

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So there were changes. Gary Carter, the regular catcher, moved to first, and Clint Hurdle moved to catcher. Hurdle, one recalls, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated many years back, called a can’t-miss prospect by the magazine. He missed, but he tries hard anyway.

For instance, there were Padre runners on first and third in the first inning when Ron Darling threw a wild pitch. Hurdle ran wildly for the ball as it bounced behind him, as Tim Flannery tried to score from third. His throw to Darling was late.

Then, in the third, with Padre runners on first and second with two outs, Hurdle couldn’t handle a routine low pitch from Darling. The runners advanced one base apiece, but no runs came in because Terry Kennedy struck out to end the inning.

Said Johnson: “Gary (Carter) would’ve had trouble with Darling’s stuff, too. Darling was all over the place.”

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And Hurdle does have an arm, still. He threw out Tony Gwynn stealing in the fifth.

Meanwhile, Carter was comfortable at first base, where he started 23 times last year for the Montreal Expos. In the Padre first inning, the bases were loaded with one out for Kennedy, after Darling had walked two consecutive batters. Kennedy grounded to shortstop Rafael Santana, who flipped to second baseman Kelvin Chapman. Chapman hesitated before throwing to first, and consequently he threw low to Carter.

Carter scooped it out, just like a low fastball.

And this was nice of Carter to do because the Mets needed defense behind Darling, who was terribly wild early in the game. Darling is 4-1 on the season, his hard slider and fastball being his not-so-secret weapons. But the problem with Darling is his control. A season ago, he was third in the league in walks (104), and he had 22 prior to Saturday’s game.

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And with Darling, he’s either walking guys or he isn’t. On Saturday, he was. He walked three in the first inning and another in the second. Then, he hit Flannery in the third (Flannery eventually scored on Graig Nettles’ sacrifice fly), although Flannery is known to lean into pitches, something his high school coach taught him.

Still, Darling escaped early. That double play was a big help.

Perhaps the play of the night, though, was in the first inning, after Darling had walked Flannery, the first batter he faced. Tony Gwynn, up next, singled to right, and Flannery attempted to reach third base. There was no throw, but Flannery still did a head-first dive into third, getting great lift on it.

The Mets scored three runs in the sixth to overtake the Padres, and the runs came from the most unlikely of all people. Kelvin Chapman led off the inning with a single, unique in that Chapman was almost out of baseball in 1979. He played 35 games for the Mets that year, but did nothing positive. They sent him to the minors, and later actually felt sorry for him and offered him a managing job at Little Falls last spring.

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Anyway, after his single, Ray Knight, hitting .179 before this game, singled to center, unique in that he had shoulder problems and kidney stones last season and had the worst year of his career.

Anyway, after that, Carter was walked by Padre starter Mark Thurmond, loading the bases. Luis DeLeon was up in the Padre bullpen, but Manager Dick Williams stayed with Thurmond, who promptly gave up a two-run single to George Foster.

Eventually, DeLeon made it into the game, and he gave up an RBI single to Santana. The Mets led by one.

Their relievers were warming, waiting.

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Typically.

Padre Notes

Goose Gossage was throwing in the Padre bullpen even before Saturday’s game began, but only to test his tender right bicep muscle. Apparently, it’s fine because pitching coach Galen Cisco said before the game, “He’s getting close. He said he’s still feeling it, but not while he’s throwing. If it doesn’t flare up between now and the latter part of the game, he could even pitch an inning.” Said Gossage: “It’s much better. I could’ve pitched before, but why? It’s early, and we’re sitting pretty.” Manager Dick Williams, while standing around the batting cage, said, “I doubt we’ll use him. There’s no rush.”

PADRES AT A GLANCE

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Scorecard FIRST INNING Padres--Flannery walked. Gwynn singled to right, Flannery taking third. Flannery scored on Darling’s wild pitch, Gwynn taking second. Garvey grounded to short. Nettles walked. McReynolds walked, loading the bases. Kennedy grounded into a double play. One run, one hit, two left.

THIRD INNING Padres--Flannery was hit by a pitch. Gwynn singled to left, Flannery stopping at second. Garvey grounded to first, Flannery taking third, Gwynn taking second. Nettles flied to center, Flannery scoring. McReynolds walked. Gwynn and McReynolds advanced on passed ball. Kennedy struck out. One run, one hit, two left.

SIXTH INNING Mets--Chapman singled to left. Knight singled to center, Chapman stopping at second. Carter walked, loading the bases. Foster singled to left, Chapman and Knight scoring, Carter taking third. Christensen lined to the pitcher Thurmond, who threw to first to double up Foster. Hurdle walked. DeLeon replaced Thurmond. Santana singled to left, Carter scoring, Hurdle out at third. Three runs, three hits, two left.

SEVENTH INNING Mets--With one out, Wilson doubled to left. Staub, batting for Chapman, singled down the first-base line, Wilson scoring. Blocker ran for Staub. Knight grounded into a double play. One run, two hits, one left.

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NINTH INNING Mets--With Stoddard pitching, Backman doubled to left center. Santana popped to second. Hernandez walked, Backman stealing third. Wilson forced Hernandez, Backman scoring. McDowell grounded to the pitcher. One run, one hit, one left.

Padres--Templeton singled to right. Bevacqua, batting for Stoddard, forced Templeton. Flannery singled to right, Bevacqua taking third. Orosco replaced McDowell. Gwynn grounded out to second, Bevacqua scoring, Flannery taking second. Garvey flied to left. One run, two hits, one left.


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