Bad Start Too Much for Grant : Padre Pitcher Has Early Exit in Loss

Times Staff Writer

For Mark Grant, it had been five starts, and three losses, and two instances of not surviving past the the fifth inning. It had been an earned-run average of 5.52. It had been one victory.

For the happy and smiling and always going lucky 23-year-old pitcher, his month with the Padres had quietly been murder.

Sunday, it showed.

Matched against the best pitcher in the National League, Mike Scott of Houston, and his own hard pride, Grant couldn't handle either. He faced only 13 Astros, leading the Padres to a 6-0 defeat.

Of the 13 batters Grant faced, he retired six. In two innings, he allowed five runs on nine hits. In one of those innings, he made two errors.

After the first inning, he smashed a bat into a dugout runway wall. The entire afternoon bothered him so much, he couldn't wait to leave. After Manager Larry Bowa removed him in the third inning with no out and two runners on base, he sprinted into the dugout, made a quick left before anyone could touch him, and continued up the ramp and into the clubhouse.

"He really got disgusted with himself," said Bowa.

After the game, Grant didn't want to talk.

"Sorry," he said, staring at a paper plate filled with food. "The line score says it all."

That, and his posture.

"You can just look at him and tell, he's starting to press," said Tim Flannery. "He had one game, maybe another good game, but he's not getting anything in the win column. I'm sure it's getting to him."

Grant, who was traded from the San Francisco Giants as part of a seven-player deal July 5, came with only two career major league victories, but with such high hopes. While his first start for the Padres was a 7-0 defeat to the Cubs on July 6, he had rebounded to beat Pittsburgh five days later allowing no earned runs in 7 innings. But in his last three starts, the Padres scored more than three runs only once, and he had allowed 13 earned runs, and nothing had made sense.

"He works so hard, he wants to prove to everybody that he can pitch up here . . . and today he wasn't sharp and just lost his composure," said Bowa. "He has to learn how to deal with all that stuff."

Sunday he had to deal with Scott, last season's Cy Young Award winner. He and his split-fingered fastball had never lost to Padres in the Astrodome (8-0, 1.60 ERA). Even with the Padres hitting well (.333 in the previous five games on this trip, with an average of 7.2 runs per game), it figured to be, at best, a three-run afternoon. Grant gives up three runs, the Padres don't have a chance.

Scott, who leads the league with 176 strikeouts, whiffed three of the four batters in the first. The other one (Tony Gwynn) walked.

Scott wouldn't allow a Padre hit until Gwynn's bouncing single between first and second in the fifth. He would leave after eight innings of allowing just three hits.

But his first inning was the most effective. Grant had a good seat for all of it and promptly went out, squeezed the ball tight, and allowed a leadoff single to Gerald Young. He tried to pick Young off at first, threw the ball into right field, and Young went to third.

Grant then walked Billy Hatcher, tried to pick him off first, threw the ball into right field, and Young scored while Hatcher went to third.

This getting old? Alan Ashby then added variety with a drive to left field that just popped over the fence for a two-run homer and all the Astros needed.

One batter later, facing Kevin Bass, home plate umpire Paul Runge shouted to Grant to switch balls. Grant threw his ball over Runge's head and to the backstop. He caught Runge's ball, turned to walk toward the mound, and dropped it behind him, nearly falling on it.

Many of the 22,292 at the Astrodome laughed. For all that mattered, Grant was finished.

"You could tell right away something was wrong," said first baseman John Kruk.

"He lost his poise," said pitching coach Galen Cisco. "You go out there thinking you have to pitch a shutout, you are thinking about things you have no control over, like the amount of runs you get. He never got his feet on the ground."

Padre Notes

In the eighth inning, Carmelo Martinez put an exclamation point on the afternoon with, as he said it, "The most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me." After a high fly out to left field, he exited the baseline between first and second, ran across the diamond toward the Padres' dugout--and fell flat on his face. The players on the Padres bench could not control their laughter. Tony Gwynn, holding his sides, fell to the dugout floor in tears. "I fall over my legs," said Martinez. "What can I say?" . . . The Padres are 3-3 on this nine-game trip with three games remaining in Atlanta, beginning Tuesday. "Don't say I'm not happy with 3-3, I am happy, but . . ." said Padre Manager Larry Bowa, who never forgets losses. "We let that game in Cincinnati get away." He's referring to the first game of the trip, when the Padres blew a 3-1 lead in the sixth for an 8-7 loss. . . . While the hitting on the trip is superb, the pitching continually gets worse. In six games, the staff has allowed 38 runs on 72 hits for a 6.63 ERA.

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