Obviously, he wasn’t happy. Still, he couldn’t honestly say he was sad.
For Benito Santiago, reaching the end of his 34-game hitting streak Saturday night was a mere matter of inevitability. As he so accurately put it, “I knew it would be over sometime.”
Even though he batted second, Santiago went to bat only three times in the Padres’ 1-0 victory over the Dodgers, which broke their nine-game losing streak before a crowd of 21,955 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. He struck out, grounded out and flied out, and that was it. He fell two batters short of getting a fourth time at bat.
Santiago’s problem was twofold. First, the Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser not only shut him out; he retired all but three of the 27 Padres he faced. Stan Jefferson hit his eighth home run of the season in the second inning provided all the scoring. Second, Jimmy Jones and Lance McCullers pitched so well for the Padres that their teammates didn’t have to go to bat in the ninth.
“How often do you see a No. 2 hitter not get at least four at-bats?” asked Padre Manager Larry Bowa.
Here is a pitch-by-pitch account of Santiago’s three times at bat:
First inning--Took a ball, hit a long foul, then swung and missed twice. Chased an outside pitch for the third strike.
Fourth inning--Took a ball, missed in an attempt to bunt, then grounded to shortstop Glenn Hoffman. The ball was hit hard, but Hoffman had to move only a step to his left.
Sixth inning--Swung at a bad pitch, took a ball, fouled off a pitch, then flied to right fielder Mike Marshall.
The Dodgers came within a whisker of giving Santiago one more chance in the ninth. They launched a threat against McCullers, only to have pinch-hitter Steve Sax strike out with runners on second and third and Danny Heep fly to Jefferson in left field with the bases loaded.
When Jefferson clutched the ball for the final out, Santiago’s teammates rushed onto the field to congratulate him and the fans gave him one last standing ovation.
When Santiago faced reporters afterward, he almost seemed relieved. But not quite.
“Well, guys, this is over,” he said. “I will have to say thank you for the fun. I’m not really relieved, but it has been tough game after game. This will give me something to go after next year. If I start another streak then, that’s all right. There are a lot of games, and I can maybe go more than that.
“I just knew that sooner or later, somebody was going to get me out. He (Hershiser) didn’t give me a good pitch to hit. He moved the ball around a lot. He’s a tough pitcher.
“But really, I feel great about this whole thing. No matter I go 0 for 3. I go 34 games in a row, and that’s not easy to make. I’ve got records for rookies, catchers and Latins. There are no more records to break.”
Of course, there were two records left unbroken, and nobody knew it better than Santiago. He fell 10 short of the National League record shared by Willie Keeler and Pete Rose, and 22 shy of the major league record held by Joe DiMaggio. He wound up in a tie for 12th place on the all-time streak list with George Sisler, George McQuinn and Dom DiMaggio, Joe’s younger brother.
Santiago batted .346 during the streak (47 for 136), which started Aug. 25 and was the longest in the National League this year and five short of the major league high, set by Paul Molitor of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Santiago is now hitting .297, and Bowa said, “I plan to give him just one at-bat tomorrow (today), but if he gets a hit, I’ll let him try to get up to .300. That sounds a lot better than .299.”
In the Dodger clubhouse, Hershiser said: “Naturally you bear down more on a hitter with a streak like that going. What made it even tougher for him is that the crowd got me pumped up.”
Hershiser, who pitched a three-hitter despite aggravating a right-knee injury that may require off-season surgery, finished with a 16-16 record despite the National League’s second-best earned-run average, 3.06.
“I’d like to see us dip into the free-agent market this winter and break that tradition,” he said. “I don’t think we have the talent to trade. That would be just treading water.”
Notes Dodger pitcher Ken Howell, who has missed the last six weeks of the season because of a sore right shoulder, threw for 15 minutes before Saturday night’s game and was encouraged by the results. He will be examined in Los Angeles Monday by Dr. Frank Jobe. Surgery is still a possibility, but if Jobe rules that out, Howell will pitch in the Arizona Instructional League. He said after his workout, “This was the best I’ve felt since I hurt my shoulder. Tomorrow (today) is when it’s really important. The next day is when it always gets inflamed. I’m hoping it doesn’t happen this time.” Randy Ready, who has been one of the Padres’ most pleasant surprises with his .300-plus hitting and steady defensive work as a utility man, feels that he has “re-established” himself as a major league player. “I never really got a chance when I was in Milwaukee,” he said. “As a result, my confidence was shaken a bit, but what’s happened this year has reinforced my confidence. I never doubted my ability, and that’s important.” Ready is finishing the season at third base with Chris Brown out, but may get a shot at the second base job in 1988.
Padre Manager Larry Bowa, who had delayed picking a starting pitcher for today’s season finale, decided to go with Ed Whitson against Dodger rookie Shawn Hillegas. Whitson (10-12) will be trying to break a five-game losing streak and a victory drought that dates back to July 29. Hillegas (3-3), who has been one of the Dodgers’ most dependable pitchers since being called up from Albuquerque, will be facing the Padres for the first time.