The Padres faced a pitcher Wednesday night who may be the next Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants.
Then again, almost any pitcher can look like Marichal, Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson against the Padres.
The latest to beat San Diego was Kelly Downs, a second-year pitcher who recorded his first major-league shutout. Downs pitched a three-hitter as San Francisco recorded its sixth straight victory over the Padres, 1-0, in front of 14,616 fans at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Downs ruined a strong performance by Padre starter Storm Davis, who allowed one run on four hits in eight innings. Davis' mistake was Candy Maldonado's one-out home run in the seventh.
The Padres have lost eight of nine games for their worst start ever, but things could be worse. Steve Garvey was hit on the chin by a fastball from Downs in the second inning. He received eight stitches to close the cut but may be able to play today against the Dodgers.
Meanwhile, the Padre offense needs a lot of patching up. It has scored 24 runs in nine games, 11 coming in two games.
"I can't do anything about it," Manager Larry Bowa said. "I'm not up there swinging."
The question Wednesday was whether Downs' good pitching or San Diego's poor hitting was the more important factor.
"It wasn't like a Mike Scott performance," Gwynn said. "He was making good pitches and we weren't making adjustments. He has an average fastball and slider and a pretty good split-fingered fastball. Most of the night, he got us with his changeup. Things go like that sometimes."
Downs, pitching with anything but a comfortable lead, is used to such situations. The Giants averaged 3.21 runs in his starts last year, second lowest for any National League pitcher.
Downs, a right-hander, led the NL after Sept. 1 last year with a 1.74 earned-run average. Then, as Wednesday night, he was as effective as Marichal used to be.
Downs actually pitched the last four innings against the Padres with a stiff neck.
Nights like these already are becoming too common for the Padres.
"They kind of expected it, didn't they?" Tim Flannery asked. "They decided to go with youth and have patience. It's frustrating, I'm sure, for everybody. (General Manager) Jack McKeon said we started well the last two years and tailed off. Maybe we'll take our lumps now, do well in August and September and carry it into next year."
Nine games into the season, are the Padres already talking of next year?
Not really, Flannery said.
"We have a lot of young talent," he said. "You have two options. You can come back the next day or jump off the pier. I'm going to go down a beer, then maybe I'll jump off the pier."
Bowa may want to follow him.
This hasn't been the most pleasant time for a rookie major league manager. Bowa figured the Padres would have difficulty scoring runs, but not this much difficulty.
"I'm not just going to watch guys not swing the bat," he said. "You have to change things. I'm not going to watch guys do the same thing."
Bowa at least enjoyed watching Davis, whom he said "was outstanding."
It's just that Downs was a little more outstanding.
Davis was cruising with a three-hitter until Maldonado's one-out homer on a changeup.
"It was low," Davis said, "and maybe that's what he was waiting for."
Coming into the game, the Padres weren't the healthiest team in the world.
Reliever Goose Gossage (pulled rib cage muscle) had been placed on the 15-day disabled list. Center fielder Stanley Jefferson (sprained left ankle) had been placed on the 21-day disabled list. Catcher Bruce Bochy (bruised left hand) already was on the 15-day disabled list.
So, the last thing the Padres needed was another injury.
In the second, it didn't look as if they would escape unharmed when Downs hit Garvey with a 2-2 fastball.
Garvey immediately left the game, being replaced by Carmelo Martinez. An inning later, the Padres were informed Garvey would only miss the remainder of the game and no longer.
That was good news for a team whose trainer's room is overcrowded.
In the third, the Padres escaped another near injury.
While Davis was attempting to bunt, Downs threw a pitch headed for his face. Davis put the bat in front of his face and fouled a ball off his left hand.
"When I hit Garvey, I thought it was a situation where he was looking for a slider," Downs said. "When he looks slider, he'll dive across the plate. I got one too far in on him, just like I did with Storm Davis. It took me an inning or two to get that stuff out of my head."
After Davis had allowed one runner through three innings, he needed help in the fourth when the Giants had runners on first and third with one out.
On a rare play, two Giants were caught stealing after the same pitch.
With Maldonado running from first, Davis threw a pitchout. Maldonado was tagged out at second by shortstop Garry Templeton after Benito Santiago's throw.
Meanwhile, Chili Davis strayed too far off third. Templeton threw the ball to Kevin Mitchell, who tagged out Davis to end the inning.
There weren't too many other good signs for the Padres.
However, Garvey thought there might be a glimmer of hope. In 1978, he had 22 stitches in his chin after being hit by Bob Welch's pickoff throw.
"Two days after that, I was the most valuable player in the All-Star game here," Garvey said.
Before Wednesday's loss, General Manager Jack McKeon said it was too early to panic over the Padres' slow start. "Let's look at the Reds last year," McKeon said. "They were 2-14 and 6-19, then they challenged Houston until the last week or two, didn't they? They overtook the Giants after the great start the Giants got. You hate to see a 1-7 record; it looks like the end of the world. But the great thing about baseball is you can win five in a row and turn it around." . . . McKeon said he was impressed by utilityman Luis Salazar's play for the Padres' Triple-A team in Las Vegas. "I see the same Salazar I saw before when he was here," McKeon said. "He tore up his knee, but I can't see any major change. If he ran 4.1 (seconds) to first base before, he might run 4.2 now." Salazar was recalled when center fielder Stanley Jefferson was placed on the 21-day disabled list Wednesday. Salazar played for the Padres from 1980 to 1984 before being traded to the Chicago White Sox. He had major reconstructive knee surgery after the 1985 season, causing him to miss all but four games with the White Sox in 1986. The Padres signed Salazar as a free agent this spring after he was released by Chicago.