Combine the enthusiasm of youth with the courage of hang gliders at Torrey Pines or surfers during a big swell at Windansea Beach.
You’ve got the makeup of Padre reliever Lance McCullers, who faced 10 batters and got 11 outs to gain his fifth save in the Padres’ 5-1 win over the Montreal Expos on Sunday afternoon.
It takes a certain type of character for a 21-year-old relief pitcher to throw a slider to a veteran hitter who three days earlier blasted a similar pitch more than 400 feet for a game-winning hit.
On Thursday, Andre Dawson hit a three-run double on an 0-2 slider that didn’t break. Sure, center fielder Kevin McReynolds might have caught the ball if he hadn’t gotten a late jump, but Dawson hit the ball hard.
It was hit hard enough for McCullers to remember the sound of Dawson’s bat crushing his pitch.
In the sixth inning of Sunday’s game at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, McCullers strutted confidently to the mound. So what if he was coming off two consecutive poor performances?
“I was glad I got in there to face him,” McCullers said. “Last time, I tried to overthrow a slider and he got it.”
This time, McCullers threw Dawson a low-outside slider that broke wickedly.
With the Padres leading 4-1 and runners on first and second and one out, Dawson grounded McCullers’ first pitch to third baseman Graig Nettles. The result was an inning-ending double play.
“I made a good pitch and beat him with it,” McCullers said.
He didn’t surprise Dawson, but he also didn’t allow him to get the good part of the bat on the ball.
“He threw me three breaking pitches last time and I was sort of looking for another one,” Dawson said. “I was hoping to get a pitch over the plate that I could drive.
“I saw it good, but I just got out in front and hit it off the end of the bat. I was a hair slower this time.”
Same pitch, but different location.
The break on the slider could have been the difference between McCullers not dragging his arm and not hooking his leg.
“In his last outing, I noticed he was getting in too big a hurry to run the ball loose,” said Galen Cisco, Padre pitching coach. “He has a lot of enthusiasm and he was getting ahead of himself.”
Cisco said McCullers was the first to recognize the mechanical problems, which made correcting them a lot easier. The two worked together in the bullpen Saturday night.
Bingo. The mechanics were corrected on Sunday.
“It made all the difference in the world,” Cisco said. “Now, he’s back to where he was.”
McCullers had been nearly flawless during his first few weeks after being called up to the major leagues on Aug. 9.
Was he worried that he might not regain that magic?
“I never figured I was losing it,” McCullers said. “It was just that I had started throwing instead of pitching.”
That’s a problem shared by most young pitchers.
Just ask Sunday’s starter and winner Andy Hawkins, who didn’t get his game together until the postseason last year. He allowed three hits and one run in 5 innings Sunday and improved his record to 17-4 and 4-0 against the Expos this season.
Actually, you couldn’t ask Hawkins anything on Sunday. He stayed in the training room, and refused to talk to the media.
Thanks to a two-out, RBI single by Nettles in the first and a two-out, two-run single to right by Garry Templeton in the second, Hawkins had an early 3-0 lead.
The Padres were the beneficiary of Floyd Youmans’ wildness. He walked five and was behind for most of the five innings he worked. Youmans is 1-2 and both losses have been to Hawkins.
Hawkins was helped in the second by a slick double play, started when second baseman Tim Flannery darted to his left to grab a hard one-hopper hit by Terry Francona. In the fourth, Hawkins stranded Tim Raines at third when he got Dawson to fly to shallow left and Hubie Brooks to fly to center.
In the sixth, the Expos cut the lead to 4-1 on a single by Sal Butera, walk to pinch-hitter Razor Shines, a sacrifice by Raines and run-scoring infield single by Vance Law.
On Raines’ drag bunt toward second, which appeared to be an attempt for a hit, Flannery’s throw barely beat Raines. Or did it beat him? On the replay, it appeared that Raines was safe.
After Law’s run-scoring hit, Padre Manager Dick Williams took Hawkins out of the game.
“He looked like he was coming up with his pitches,” Williams said. “Hawkins was probably upset to come out, and he might have been surprised to see me. But I guess it’s better to go get them before it’s too late.”
Williams was criticized in the media for not relieving starter Dave Dravecky earlier in Thursday’s game. The Padres led 5-0 going into the seventh and lost 8-5.
On Sunday, Williams quickly went to his bullpen, which is bolstered by the addition of Goose Gossage, who was activated Sunday. Gossage was warming up in the ninth, but there was no need to use him.
Baby Goose was in control.
Scorecard FIRST INNING Padres--Templeton singled to center. Gwynn forced Templeton. Garvey flied to right. Gwynn advanced to second on Youmans’ wild pitch. Nettles singled to right, Gwynn scoring with Nettles taking second on Dawson’s throw home. Kennedy struck out. One run, two hits, one left.
SECOND INNING Padres--With one out, McReynolds walked. Flannery walked. Hawkins sacrificed. Templeton singled to right, McReynolds and Flannery scoring. Templeton stole second. Gwynn grounded to first. Two runs, one hit, one left.
FIFTH INNING Padres--With one out, Garvey beat out an infield hit. Nettles singled to right, Garvey stopping at second. Kennedy walked to load the bases. Martinez flied to center, Garvey scoring with Nettles taking third. McReynolds popped to first. One run, two hits, two left.
SIXTH INNING Expos--Butera singled to left. Shines, batting for Youmans, walked. Raines sacrificed. Law singled to third, Butera scoring with Shines holding at second. McCullers replaced Hawkins. Dawson grounded into a double play. One run, two hits, two left.
SEVENTH INNING Padres--With two out, Kennedy singled to right. Martinez singled to left, Kennedy taking third. Kennedy scored on Roberge’s wild pitch. McReynolds grounded to third. One run, two hits, one left.