Williams Clears Air; Thurmond Strikes Back in 4-1 Victory

Times Staff Writer

Mark Thurmond had a career-high eight strikeouts, leading the Padres to a 4-1 victory, but the primary subject here Tuesday night became the career highs and lows of Padre Manager Dick Williams, who answered once and for all the claims that he was losing control of his ballclub.

Actually, he cleared the air in Tuesday morning's Philadelphia Daily News, having told Rich Ashburn, a former ballplayer and current columnist, about the circumstances that led to his firings in Boston, in California and in Montreal and also about his resignation in Oakland. Yes, Williams said, "I'm a tough taskmaster, there's no question about it."

But of his situation with the Padres, which hasn't been too pleasant for a month or two or three, he said: "This Padres club was a perennial last-place ballclub when I took over (in 1982), and in three years with Jack McKeon, we won the National League title.

"And now, everybody's up in arms with three-quarters of the season gone a year later. Well, I'm glad they put the pension in, baby, 'cause I'll see you later."

Is he ready to quit? No, he said after the game. And then he cleared the clubhouse air even further.

" . . . I have another year on my contract, and I plan on honoring the contract."

Asked if he has felt pressure from anyone within the organization, he said: "Not that I know of, but if there was, I wouldn't worry about it. Everyone is making statements around here (about him losing control of the team), so I thought I'd make one. I'm entitled . . . I thought I'd set the record straight."

And now that it's done, now that he feels better, how about Thurmond's record? Suddenly, it's 6-7 (he has won two straight), and all this indirectly affects Williams, since victories bring team happiness which brings job security.

Thurmond, asked for an explanation of his success, said he's throwing harder because he's standing in the middle of the rubber (last year, he stood on the far left end). It's a mechanical thing, really, but it has made a difference, he says.

Certainly, it also made a difference that he was facing the Phillies, the winners of this year's unofficial "Whiff Award." Thurmond becomes the 17th pitcher this season to get their career-high in strikeouts versus Philadelphia. What makes Thurmond unique is that he doubled his previous high of four. That's right, four.

And this was a night to remember for left fielder Carmelo Martinez, who still sometimes makes bonehead plays on defense (he had an excuse, Tuesday, though), but who also hit the longest home run of his career.

With the score 3-0 in the ninth, Martinez hit a Dave Rucker slider into the upper deck here at Veterans Stadium, which happens to be the fifth level. In 15 years of baseball at the Vet, only 30 balls have been hit that far.

"Best ball I ever hit in big leagues," Martinez said. "I hit a few in Puerto Rico, but they don't have upper decks there, if you know what I mean."

Now, about that excuse for his defense. Martinez and the Phillie left fielder John Russell, together, misplayed three balls. But, seriously, the lights at the Vet are situated lower than at most stadiums, and, thus, Phillie Manager John Felske said that even infielders have been known to lose ground balls in the lights.

Said Martinez: "They are real low, and you can lose it for a minute, and when the ball comes out, it's almost over your head . . . I feel bad if I make an error, but as long as they don't score a run is the big difference. I don't want to make mistakes that hurt us."

And Martinez's error didn't cost the Padres. In the sixth, Rick Schu lined a single to left. Martinez tried backhanding it, bobbled it and Schu took second.

On the contrary, Russell's mistakes helped the Padres. In the second, Kevin McReynolds hit a ball hard to left, but one that could have been caught. Russell turned his back on the ball, and it hit at the base of the wall. Had he looked at it, he could have caught it. Tim Flannery then stepped up (with runners on second and third) and hit a two-run single off starter and loser John Denny.

Flannery and Denny had been involved in a brawl back on June 5.

"I just hit it to the right side to get the run in," Flannery said. "I'm just doing my job, like I would against Denny or any other pitcher . . . But it did feel good against him, though."

Thurmond left with two outs in the eighth after Schu singled and Mike Schmidt walked, but reliever Roy Lee Jackson struck out Glenn Wilson. Jackson gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth.

Thurmond, mobbed by reporters for once, was talking about how he had been removed from the rotation this year and how it hadn't depressed him.

"I think the team respects me, and management respects the way I throw," he said. "I'm not in the game to be popular. As far as publicity goes, there are a lot of veterans here who deserve it. And if I hang around here around 10 years, maybe I'll get it. I'm not envious or jealous. I just want to help the team win the pennant."

So does Dick Williams.

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