For Padre Rookie, a Game-Winning Homer Says It All

Times Staff Writer

Thwap .

People don't always understand what Benito Santiago says, but they understand that sound.

Thwap .

Santiago--a rookie catcher from Puerto Rico, a kid who sometimes is afraid to speak up because he's sure everyone will laugh at his English--hit a two-out, 10th-inning home run Wednesday night to lift the Padres over the San Francisco Giants, 5-4.

Hordes of reporters engulfed him, and where in the world was Carmelo Martinez to interpret? But Santiago smiled and quietly made perfect sense--all by himself.

"That's what I look for--fastball," he said. "I tried to hit it over (the fence). Two outs, no people on base. Tenth inning. You know if you hit it good, you finish the game."

He hit it good. And everyone, including Manager Steve Boros, raved about him. There are those in this organization who are sure he'll be the Padres' opening-day catcher next season. Funny, but during spring training those people said he wasn't disciplined, that he had poor work habits.

"He has that nice and easygoing attitude," said first base coach Sandy Alomar, who has seen him play for years in Puerto Rico. "A lot of people think he's lazy, but he's not. A few guys play like that. But he has a great ability to play ball. He runs well for a catcher, has a great arm and good power. If he keeps his attitude, he should be a great catcher."

Around his neck are two large chains. He said his mom gave them to him for good luck.

"I wear them to bed, to play, to chow," he said. "I wear them no matter what."

An hour before game time, pitcher Ed Vosberg was saying: "I'm not as nervous as I thought I'd be." But he was tapping his toes.

And he was flicking his fingers.

"Then again, I think you've got to worry if you're not nervous," Vosberg was saying.

At the time, he was sitting at his locker. He was about to make his first big league start. His eyes were bloodshot.

He said: "I'm just surprised I'm not (he moved his fingers wildly, as if he were having a seizure). . . . I remember the first time I pitched in spring training this year. I was very, very nervous. I remember warming up. I couldn't throw a strike. I said, 'Sheesh, I hope I'm not going to go out there and embarrass myself.'

"But I went out there, and Ron Cey was the first hitter for the Cubs, and he hit the first pitch for a fly ball to center, and that really helped."

Alomar, the Padre coach, walked by and said: "Don't screw the kid up! Leave him alone."

"I'm all right," Ed Vosberg was saying.

An hour later, he went out and even threw a strike in warmups. Great. Benito Santiago, his catcher, ran out to give him final instructions. Great. His first real pitch was a strike. Great. He got out of the first inning. Great.

He went five innings, gave up two earned runs and wound up with no decision. Great.

But the key here for Vosberg was that he didn't embarrass anyone--not himself, not his mom and dad, who were in the stands.

His only problem came in the fifth inning. Chili Davis, one of the batters he was most worried about, grounded to the shortstop for the first out. But then he walked Bob Brenly, another batter he was worried about--too worried about.

And then came the true test.

Kevin McReynolds dropped a fly ball in center field.

Would the rook go berserk? Would he get wild out there?


Instead, he threw strikes, which may or may not have been good because Giant hitters swung at these strikes and made nice contact.

Jose Uribe doubled in two runs.

Vida Blue, the opposing pitcher, doubled in another run.

Robby Thompson walked, but Vosberg got out of the inning.

Then, he got out of the game--lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning.

Afterward, he was saying: "I did all right. Maybe I got a little tired in the fifth."

Meanwhile, the Padres came back from a 4-2 eighth-inning deficit. In the bottom of the eighth, John Kruk's infield single was followed by McReynolds' single to the center field, which was followed by Marvell Wynne's pinch-hit two-run double.

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