Padres Get Taste of McBaseball and Take Starch Out of Mets

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Keith Moreland squinted down the third-base line from the batters box, picking out coach Sandy Alomar from a back drop of 46,189 screaming New Yorkers. He squinted again.

Where was it? Where was the bunt sign? With runners on first and second and none out in the seventh inning of a scoreless game, there had to be a bunt sign. There had always been a bunt sign before. Larry Bowa would have bunted.

Moreland squinted one last time, tugged at his shirt, and turned to face New York pitcher Bob Ojeda.


“No bunt sign,” Moreland recalled. “I can’t say I wasn’t surprised.”

Hitting away, three pitches later, Moreland indeed hit away. He doubled into right field to score a run. Fifteen minutes later the Padres had scored five runs, the season high for one inning.

Welcome to the happy, smiling, aren’t-you-swell world of Jack McKeon and McBaseball. In his second try, the new Padre manager won his first game in 10 years Sunday with a 6-3 victory over the New York Mets.

The smile was big, the cigar was lighted, but the rust showed. Where ex-manager Bowa would have run to the mound afterward, McKeon sort of walked, taking about two days to get there and congratulate Mark Davis on his sixth save and everyone else on a stunning road series victory. The last time they took two out of three from anybody on the road was last Sept. 18-20 in Houston, 10 series ago.

“I was going to run out to the mound,” McKeon said. “But I didn’t want nobody thinking I’m training for a marathon.”

McBaseball. Sunday was more than a victory, it was a sign of what happens when McKeon’s methods work.

McBaseball is allowing Moreland to swing away because he wants to give his middle-lineup hitters confidence. It’s allowing John Kruk not to feel bad about hitting a ground ball with runners in scoring position, which he did, and which accounted for two runs.

McBaseball is allowing starting pitcher Jimmy Jones to keep pitching through a homer, two doubles and a triple before finally coming out with one out left in the game. It’s allowing Davis to throw a minimum number of bullpen pitches before coming in, and having only one other reliever, Lance McCullers, even leave his seat. Davis needed a couple of pitches to pick up his sixth save.

McBaseball means talking to players who are in the dugout, talking loudly to the ones in the on-deck circle, and hollering to the ones at the plate. And all of it encouragement.

“Put it this way,” Kruk said. “The man patted me on my back after I struckout. A strikeout.

Said Jones, who allowed three runs in 8 innings to lower his ERA to 2.96: “I’m on the bench and I’m hearing Jack yell, ‘Let’s get them, these guys aren’t nothing.’ I don’t know if the Mets aren’t nothing , but hey, it gets you fired up.”

“It’s different,” said Tony Gwynn, who went 1 for 4 in his first appearance since being disabled May 8 with a sprained thumb. “He’s talking all the time, everywhere. It takes some getting used to.”

It didn’t take the Padres any time at all to get used to enjoying a victory. The Padres clubhouse was truly feeling full of itself within minutes of embarrassing what many say is the best team in baseball on its own property.

“When you play here, I don’t care who you are, you can go 0 for 3,” McKeon said. “It’s a great win.”

Said Moreland: “Shoot, it’s a big deal for our ballclub to win two out three anywhere .”

Moreland entered the game with just 3 RBIs in the last 17 games, and just 11 all season. How McKeon handled him was typical of how he handled the game, which boiled down to the Padre seventh. San Diego opened the seventh against a pitcher (Ojeda) who had had a perfect game for 5 innings. Considering it is the first time in the Padres’ 49 games that they have batted around the order in one inning, it is worth recounting.

In order:

-- Roberto Alomar, coming off a 1-for-14 skid, hit a single up the middle.

-- Gwynn, who had not had a hit since May 7, hit a single to right.

-- Moreland lofted his double.

“I would have bunted, but I wanted Keith to generate something,” McKeon said. “Their guy was tiring, we had to get to him.”

-- Kruk hit a grounder up the middle to second baseman Keith Miller. It looked like a sure out except Miller threw wild to first base for an error. Gwynn was going to score anyway, but Moreland took advantage of bad position by catcher Mackey Sasser to score a second run.

“One of the things I stress is how you can make an out and still win a ballgame,” McKeon said. “Get a ground ball to the right side, move the runner, don’t always think of big base hits.”

Said Gwynn: “From third base I could hear Jack shouting at Kruk, ‘Grounder, grounder.’ ”

-- Benito Santiago, in a 1-for-12 slide, then hit an 0-and-2 pitch into left field for another single and another run. In came pitcher Terry Leach, who struckout Chris Brown to bring up Shane Mack, in a 2-for-21 slump. He hit a single to right to score another run to make five.

Padre Notes

The starting time for the Monday, June 5 game against Cincinnati has been changed from 5:10 p.m. to 7:05 p.m. because network television has decided not to telecast it . . . As expected, outfielder Shawn Abner was demoted Sunday morning to make room for Tony Gwynn. Abner, the last player to make the club with a great final week of spring and an overall .302 spring average, had struggled against the major-league curveball. Abner, in his last outing against the Mets Friday, went 0 for 4 with not one ball out of the infield against a couple of side-armers, left-handed Sid Fernandez and right-handed Terry Leach. He failed to get a hit in his last 19 at-bats, which dropped his average to .181 in 37 games. He was the regular starter for a week after Gwynn was hurt, but finally was rotated with Marvell Wynne. “If he doesn’t get enough playing time, it will hinder him,” McKeon said of Abner. “He needs the at-bats that he’ll get down there.” The other option was to send down Shane Mack, who is hitting .224. “But his defense gives him the edge,” McKeon said. It appears that, at least until Stanley Jefferson is recalled from triple-A Las Vegas, Mack will be the regular center fielder. Wynne will be a spot starter and pinch-hitter.

One of the first visible changes of McKeon’s regime will be seen today in Philadelphia. For the first time in two years, there won’t be an early batting practice, in which the extra men and slumping regulars are be expected to attend. Unlike former manager Larry Bowa, McKeon doesn’t believe his players should always think just baseball. “We’re only going to have extra hitting with a purpose,” McKeon said. Batting coach Amos Otis said, “No more 10 or 11 guys out there. Just the players who really need it, just in special instances.” At least one notable player is thankful. “It was hard to get here at 2 (p.m.) and get done at 3 and then sit around until 6,” John Kruk said. “Some guys can do it, but some guys can’t. Either way, it’s good to give us a choice instead of saying the workout is optional and then having a meeting and yelling at guys who don’t come out. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Larry, but there were times I came out for early hitting and I was dead tired. But I thought that was what Larry wanted.” . . . Despite a bad ankle, Ed Whitson will start for the Pades today as scheduled. He threw for pitching coach Pat Dobson Saturday and, though his right ankle still is swollen, he looked good enough to at least start. “We’re going to let him start, but we’re going to watch him very closely,” McKeon said.

Chris Brown Watch: In his second straight start Sunday, he went 0 for 4 with two weak strikeouts and will be benched again Monday. With left-hander Shane Rawley pitching for Philadelphia, Kruk also will be benched in favor of Carmelo Martinez, perhaps indicating that McKeon will stick with Bowa’s formula of keeping Kruk out against tough left-handers.