Three home runs later, Padre fans, in their infinite wisdom, rooted for the other catcher. For there stood Gary Carter at the plate in the seventh inning, his Tuesday night stats mesmerizing the 14,960 people at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Three homers in three at-bats.
Watch out, Willie.
Truthfully, Willie Mays, a pretty famous fellow, was the last guy to hit four home runs in a nine-inning game, and he did it in 1961. Mike Schmidt hit four in 1976 (one of 10 players to ever do it), but he had 10 innings to do it.
So the people here screamed and screamed. The Padres trailed 7-1 at the time in a game they eventually lost, 8-3. But who cared? How about a little history?
The pitcher was Graig Lefferts, he of the screwy screwball. Carter walked up quietly, obviously hearing little urging from his teammates, who knew not to mention a word. Quite superstitious, these baseball players.
“It’s like a pitcher who has a no-hitter,” Carter said. “You don’t say a word.”
First pitch: A slider. Where was the screwball? Called strike.
Second pitch: Swung at. Bounded to the shortstop, Garry Templeton, who began a double play.
The crowd, the smallest home crowd of the year no less, booed Carter, who had failed them.
But wait. A ninth inning at-bat was feasible, although not likely. Still, Lenny Dykstra tripled with two outs, bringing Keith Hernandez to the plate. Carter was on deck.
“I was pulling for Keith,” Carter said. “It would have been nice to get one more try.”
Hernandez, though, wasn’t aware of the magnitude of his at-bat.
“The thought never crossed my mind,” he said.
And he struck out on a 3-2 pitch.
But it was nothing to boo about. Carter had given them thrills that the Padres wouldn’t, although San Diego did homer three times themselves (Steve Garvey, Carmelo Martinez and Terry Kennedy). But none of those came with anyone on base.
Still, the ball was carrying Tuesday. That was the consensus. And, for Carter, it was the second three-homer game of his career, and only he and teammate Darryl Strawberry have been able to do it in the National League this year.
“That’s a thrill of a lifetime,” he said. " . . . It’s the greatest feeling in the world to have a night like this. There was no disappointment. Only 10 players in the history of the game have hit four in a game. I’m just proud to hit three.”
And the Mets were supposed to be all pitch and catch and no hit. Last weekend in San Francisco, this was sort of true, as the Giants took two of three. But in the game New York won, Keith Hernandez hit a two-run homer in the ninth to put the Mets ahead. This was on Sunday.
And now they’ve scored 12 and eight runs here in San Diego. Are they that hot? Or are Padre pitchers that bad?
THE HOT THEORY--A good case could be made, here. The meat of the order--Hernandez, Carter and Strawberry--is in rare form. Hernandez had six consecutive hits before grounding out in the third inning. Strawberry has six homers and 16 RBIs in his last 16 games. Carter has six homers in his last five games.
THE PITCHING THEORY--Mark Thurmond yielded two homers Monday night, one to Ray Knight and another to Hernandez, and it was his best buddy, Dravecky, who was lifeless on Tuesday. Normally, Dravecky has little trouble with the home run, giving up just 12 in 181 innings before Tuesday. But when he doesn’t have it, he doesn’t have it. In Chicago this year, he tired and gave up back-to-back homers in the seventh to Davey Lopes and Keith Morleand. Then, last Thursday, he held a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning, but gave up five runs.
And now this. Carter’s first homer came in the first inning on a 2-and-2 pitch, a shot to left on a fastball that was supposed to be inside, but sailed up. Home run No. 2, in the fourth, came on a 1-2 pitch, a changeup that also hung.
“I’ve had fairly decent success against him,” Dravecky said, “but it doesn’t make a difference. In certain situations, you’ve got to be cautious.”
Just after Carter’s second blast, Strawberry followed with a homer to center. They both had 22 homers for the year, tied for the team high. And just as Carter stepped up with two men on in the fifth, Manager Dick Williams came to get Dravecky.
Luis DeLeon, just up from Las Vegas, walked in.
Swat. Home run No. 3 drove in three runs.
It came on an 0-2 slider. Actually, DeLeon had thrown strikes with two fastballs and had wanted to throw a third. But catcher Terry Kennedy kept signaling for sliders, and three times, DeLeon shook him off.
Finally, he said, “What the hell.”
“I’m the pitcher,” DeLeon said. “I’m on the mound. The catcher helps sometimes, but sometimes you’ve got to pitch on your own.”
Kurt Bevacqua, who says he writes an eloquent weekly column in the Oceanside Blade-Tribune, noticed recently that Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda ordered third baseman Bill Madlock to shave his beard. And, in Tuesday’s column, Bevacqua wrote: “Lasorda said it’s against team policy to have a beard on the Dodgers. He said he personally dislikes beards and that only ugly people have them so they can hide their faces. Lasorda said he thought all these years that Madlock was ugly because he had a beard and now that he shaved, he discovered the third baseman is quite handsome. Well, all I can say is that if Lasorda really believes in his theory about the relationship between beards and ugliness, he should grow hair on his whole body.”. . . . Tim Flannery picked up Monday’s Times, looking for a Padre story, but first came upon his brother’s name in a front-page article. It seems that Gregg Flannery, a policeman in Montclair, was investigating two murders there that might have involved the “Night Stalker.” Said Tim Flannery: “I called him up and said, ‘I’m supposed to be in the paper, not you’ ” . . . .