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Padres Lose 3-2, as Reds Take It Away

Times Staff Writer

At the crack of the bat, Tony Gwynn swung around and spit. “No, no, no,” he said. “No!”

Whether it’s April, May, June July or October, these kind make you ache. The Padres lost, 3-2, to Cincinnati Saturday night when Nick Esasky hit a two-run ninth inning homer off Tim Stoddard. And then, when Graig Nettles seemingly had tied the game with his own blast to left in the bottom of the ninth, little Max Venable--5-10--reached over the fence and took it away.

He caught a home run.

The image of Nettles pounding his right fist into his left palm will stay a while. Home runs are not a dime a dozen, especially when you’re down a run in the ninth.

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“Ah, it wasn’t that high over the fence,” Venable said.

Nettles, who walked ever so slowly back to the dugout, said: “I was astonished.”

Maybe some of the 21,796 fans here were astonished, too, that Goose Gossage failed to make an appearance. For it was in that ninth inning that the Padres let it get out of hand. Steve Garvey’s sixth-inning homer had made the score 2-0, and starter Dave Dravecky (who was working on a four-hitter) eventually had given way to reliever Lance McCullers in the eighth, the score still 2-0.

But it was pinch-hitter Venable who hit a one-out double off McCullers in the ninth. And with Dave Parker--he singled and doubled earlier--coming up, San Diego Manager Steve Boros turned to left-handed Craig Lefferts, who had retired Parker 15 straight times in his career.

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Quickly, Lefferts made Parker look foolish with two sliders. The count was 0 and 2.

“I haven’t picked it (the ball) up good against him,” Parker said. “But . . . I’m not that bad a hitter. Zero for 15 is ridiculous.”

The third pitch was another slider, ridiculously outside, but Parker leaned out and slapped it to right field. Venable scored, and Parker went chugging around to second base. Right fielder Gwynn threw and seemed to have Parker out at second, but the ball fell short and skipped by shortstop Garry Templeton, waiting to make the tag.

“Terry (Kennedy) and Craig (Lefferts) said Parker’s hit wasn’t even a strike,” Boros said.

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Parker: “He (Lefferts) did his job, especially with an 0 and 2 count. I just went into my defensive stance and flipped my bat out there.”

The lead was down to one.

Immediately, with the right-handed Esasky coming up, Boros motioned to Stoddard, not the Goose.

“Goose had the night off,” Boros said. “He wasn’t on my list. He had pitched two nights in a row and been up the third night in L.A. (Wednesday) and also the second night in L.A. (Tuesday).”

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Pitching coach Galen Cisco: “It’s still early in the year, and if you want the guy (Gossage) all year, how far can he go? The other guys have got to pick up their ends.”

So it was up to Stoddard, who had a 1-6 record and a 4.65 ERA and one save last season. Already, though, he had picked up a victory this season, just Friday night, and so he had the chance to match his season totals on the sixth night of the season.

His first pitch was a wild pitch.

Parker took third.

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Esasky hit his next pitch, an inside fastball, for a home run to deep left.

Gwynn turned and spit.

Stoddard turned and did nothing.

The game had turned.

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“Hey,” Cisco said, “he (Stoddard) is a .500 pitcher (1 and 1) this year. He wasn’t .500 at any time last year, so that’s an improvement.”

Boros: “Maybe a part of it is mental. He (Stoddard) had a tough time pitching in this park last year.”

Stoddard could not be reached for comment.

Anyway, Stoddard managed to retire the next two batters--Buddy Bell and Dave Concepcion. And the Padres had one last chance.

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Nettles, the first batter to face reliever Ron Robinson in the ninth, hit the ball the opposite way to left, and Venable, who had stayed in the game, made the great catch. The night before, Red center fielder Eric Davis had robbed Gwynn of a homer.

Templeton then struck out, and pinch-hitter John Kruk did the same.

This was the Padres’ sixth straight one-run game. They have three wins, three losses.

For a while, it looked to be their night. Dravecky had an RBI single to left in the second, the sixth hit by a Padre pitcher this year. The sixth hit by a pitcher last year came on May 12.

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Garvey’s homer came off starter Mario Soto. Garvey tipped his cap.

“I’m pleased to entertain them like that,” he said.

Soto turned his left ankle in the sixth when he slipped making a throw while Nettles was caught in a rundown. He looked to be in agony, but stayed in the game. Robinson replaced him to start the eighth.

And then came that ninth.

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“They just stole that game,” Gwynn said quietly in a quiet clubhouse. “Parker hits a pitch that can’t be hit for a double. Then Esasky. . . . These are tougher to swallow. I know it’s early, but when you have a team down, you’ve got to keep them down.”

Gwynn left, his head down.

Padre Notes Some Padres aren’t so sure about this new 24-man roster, because in Friday’s extra-inning game, Dave Dravecky ended up being a pinch-runner and Mark Thurmond ended up as a pinch-hitter. General Manager Jack McKeon’s response: “Last year, we got by with 18 players.” Former Manager Dick Williams didn’t use his bench very much last year. . . . New Manager Steve Boros on Friday’s game: “If I’d had an NFL roster (45 players), I would’ve used them all.” . . . The Padres’ first five games were decided by one run. “I’ve never, never seen anything like it,” Boros said Saturday. “Remember that (1972) World Series between the A’s and Reds? Remember all those one-run games (six of the seven games were)? That’s the last time I remember so many.” . . . Tim Flannery has made this proclamation: “I feel like a veteran. I’ve never in my life felt that way. During spring training, there were a couple days when I had to push myself to get up for exhibition games. Before, I’d get up for any game. It’s a shame it took me six years to feel that way. I used to get so nervous for spring games because when you’re trying to make the team, they’re big for you. But I’ve been up here six years now. Wow. It doesn’t seem that way.” . . . Boros on Goose Gossage: “I tell you, he’s a amazing. He was the first guy at the clubhouse door to shake everybody’s hand (Friday night). And he screamed to me, ‘Don’t you ever pinch-hit Thurmond for me again. The guys are getting on me about it.’ ”

McKeon held a quick meeting with his team Saturday, during which he read them major league baseball’s gambling policy. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth wrote the memorandum. It begins: “The annual volume of illegal gambling on team sports is tremendous. For that reason, we must all be continually on guard concerning gambling figures who may attempt to fix professional sports events.”

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