Face it, the surprise was not in how it happened, or even that it happened. The surprise was only that it took this long.
One-hundred forty-four games after they started this miserable season--started it with five straight losses you'll remember--the Padres have finally, officially been eliminated from contention in the National League West.
It was appropriately formalized Tuesday when they were defeated, 13-3, by the West-leading San Francisco Giants. The Padres are 19 1/2 games out of first place with 18 to play. In losing their second in this two-game series, the Padres spent a long night in front of 16,252 at Candlestick Park, embodying every type of bizarre frustration this season has offered.
"I knew if they took two, we'd be gone, so we're out," Tony Gwynn said. "It isn't like we didn't know it beforehand. They're just rolling. They keep doing a lot of things right. I thought we might have a chance to take two here, but they just blew us right out."
It was a night for records.
San Francisco's Chili Davis set an NL record by homering from both sides of the plate for the third time in his career. In the third inning he hit a two-run homer right-handed off Padre lefty starter Eric Nolte. That gave the Giants a 6-0 lead. In the sixth, he hit another two-run homer, this time left-handed, off Andy Hawkins to give the Giants a 12-3 lead.
Hawkins was making his first appearance since coming down with shoulder tendinitis July 25. In two innings, he allowed two runs on four hits.
By way of another first, Padre reliever Keith Comstock was put into his first game since Sept. 1. And he pitched like it. He bore the brunt of the Padres' problems, allowing four runs on five hits in just 1 innings.
"Everything is falling into place for the Giants," said pitcher Mark Davis, who allowed one run on one hit in one inning of work against his old teammates. "When I was there, I thought they might end up doing this, and they have. It's like the Mets last year."
Giant Manager Roger Craig must have set some sort of record for substitutions in an inning--six. To open the fifth, he replaced all but three players in his lineup, and he got to them shortly.
By the time the sixth inning started, the Giants had an entirely new team on the field, including a battery making its big league debut, pitcher John Burkett and catcher Kirt Manwaring.
Nolte had the worst outing of his young career, allowing three runs each in the second and third innings. It all started when, with a runner on first and one out in the second, he couldn't get a Will Clark bunt out of his glove. Both runners were safe and .188-hitting reserve catcher Bob Melvin followed with his ninth homer of the year--five which have come against the Padres--and the rout was on.
"They hammered me, that's all," Nolte said. "Every ball they hit was hard. I've just got to say, 'To heck with it' and think of tomorrow as a new day. But it's the first time I've really been lit."
There were a couple of bright spots for the Padres. Catcher Benito Santiago's fourth-inning double off Giant starter and winner Atlee Hammaker gave him a hit in 19 straight games, tying Cardinal Terry Pendleton for the NL high this season.
Carmelo Martinez hit his third homer in three games, a solo shot in the sixth. And Shawn Abner hit his first major league homer in the seventh, a two-run blast.
Manager Larry Bowa and Padre President Chub Feeney had lunch in San Francisco Tuesday, likely to finalize a 1988 contract for Bowa, whose current pact expires Oct. 4. Neither would reveal the details of the meeting, but Feeney has said there will be an announcement of Bowa's status "sometime during the last home stand." Because Feeney is not going on the final trip, which begins Friday in Houston, this may have been their last meeting before a decision is announced. Although Bowa has spent the last month talking as if he will be managing the Padres another year--although admitting he knew nothing--Tuesday he talked as if he finally knew something. He spoke of a letter he will mail to the team during the off-season. It will include the notice that anyone who reports to next spring' camp overweight will not be allowed to participate in drills until they reach their weight. Bowa said he would also like to include weight clauses in each new contract. "I would like to fine players next spring for every pound they are overweight," Bowa said ."I'm going to write that letter myself, personalize it." That is, if he's back, right? . . . For the club's final 18 games, Chris Brown's third base spot will be taken by Randy Ready. Tim Flannery and Joey Cora will platoon at second base. Bowa won't begin this system until tonight, because he didn't want to play Cora against the Giants in the middle of their pennant drive Tuesday. He played Luis Salazar at third base Tuesday. . . . Brown was downcast Tuesday after breaking his hand Monday on a pitch from Mike Krukow. Brown will be out for the season, and probably won't be able to remove the cast and start work again until November. In the last year, Brown had suffered a detached tendon in his right shoulder (surgery), a broken jaw (missed 38 games), and now this. "I've got to look at this positive--if I didn't have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all," he said. "At least this is one of those injuries where nobody can say I'm faking it." Brown, who will rehabilitate the hand this winter at his home in Woodland Hills, met with Bowa Tuesday. "I told him that maybe this is a blessing in disguise," Bowa said. "This will give him a chance to re-dedicate himself, reflect on the season and on his goals. He's been through a lot already. It will give him a good start on next year."