If there was one man in Houston's lineup whom Ed Whitson seemingly didn't need to worry about, it was right fielder Kevin Bass.
Bass had a .176 career average in 17 at-bats against the Padre right-hander. As for the Astros' other starting players Wednesday night, six had career averages of more than .300 against Whitson.
So what happened? Bass took Whitson out of the park twice--both times with a man on--to lead Houston to a 4-1 victory at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The loss snapped the Padres' 11-game home winning streak against the Astros.
Nolan Ryan, the 41-year-old Houston pitcher, improved to 8-7. He gave up six hits, struck out four and walked three in seven innings. Dave Smith, a former Poway High School and San Diego State star, gained his 17th save with 1 innings of hitless relief.
For Whitson (9-6), a personal six-game winning streak ended. But other than the two home runs by Bass, he pitched well, giving up five hits in five innings. Eliminate Bass from the Houston lineup, and Whitson threw three-hit shutout ball.
"He really hasn't hurt me in the past," Whitson said. "Tonight, I made two mistakes with him. I threw a palm ball that was up and a slider that was up. You gotta give the hitter credit. He did his job.
"Other than that, they didn't hurt me. Unfortunately, the ball went out twice with a runner on base."
Bass hit his first homer in the second inning with Rafael Ramirez on first. Glenn Davis led off with a shot against the left-field wall but had to hold at first after he strained his left hamstring while running. He left the game and was replaced by Ramirez.
One out later, Bass stroked a 1-1 pitch from Whitson 10 rows into the right-field stands to give Houston a 2-0 lead.
Whitson said Bass sat on both home-run pitches, and Bass agreed.
"I know Eddie's going to throw me those changeups and he's going to throw sliders," Bass said. "Waiting is easy to say and so hard to do. I have to wait. When I stay back and try not to be too anxious, it doesn't matter what pitcher I hit."
The Padres retaliated in the bottom of the second when catcher Benito Santiago opened with a double down the left-field line. Chris Brown ripped a single to right, scoring Santiago, and advanced to second a pitch later when Ryan balked. But he was stranded when Garry Templeton flied to center, Whitson bounced out to short and Stanley Jefferson popped to short.
Bass went back to work in the fourth. After Buddy Bell walked with one out, Bass jerked another 1-1 offering from Whitson into the right-field seats, this time about 20 rows back.
"The second (home run) was a good one," Bass said. "That was fun. You just hit it and know it's out."
The Padres had several chances early, but--as has often been the case this season--failed to produce in the clutch.
In the first, Keith Moreland stranded runners at first and third when he bounced to short. In the third, John Kruk grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The Padres had their best opportunity in the fifth. Templeton led off with a single, but Tim Flannery hit into a double play. Jefferson then hit a triple down the right-field line. Roberto Alomar flied out to left to end the inning.
Right fielder Tony Gwynn, who had two hits to improve his average to .309, and Manager Jack McKeon gave Ryan credit for making big pitches when he had to.
"We had some chances," McKeon said. "If you don't cash in on him early, you're in trouble. He's tough every time out here."
Said Gwynn: "I think early in the game, he's not letting it go. But from the fourth inning on, he was in the mid-90s at least. He throws harder than anyone in the league."
Ryan said he went to his fastball after he struggled early with his changeup.
"I'm throwing a changeup now, and when I get it over, it's very effective," he said. "But I gave up two hits early on, and I pretty much just canned it. I wasn't fooling anyone with it.
"I think I threw better as the game went on tonight. The first couple of innings, I didn't have real good command. After the first couple of innings, I went to the fastball more."
After giving up four hits in the first three innings, Ryan gave up just two in his final four innings of work.
The Padres passed the 1 million mark in home attendance Wednesday night with a crowd of 15,850. They have drawn 1,003,905 fans in 52 games, the same number of games it took them to reach 1 million last year. . . . Third baseman Chris Brown was hit in his right hand by Houston pitcher Dave Smith in the ninth inning. Brown left the game and will have the hand X-rayed today. Randy Ready will replace him in today's game. . . . Relievers Greg Booker and Dave Leiper pitched well in relief of Whitson. With the help of a double play in the sixth, Booker retired the side in his two innings of work. Leiper also faced just six batters in two innings. . . . Glenn Davis' strained hamstring will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis. His status for this afternoon's game is unknown. . . . Including Tuesday night's 5-1 victory over Houston, the Padres are 6-0 in the first game of each home stand this season. In the initial series of each home stand, they are 13-4. . . . Today's game starts at 1:05 p.m., with Bob Knepper (10-3) pitching for Houston against Eric Show (7-9). . . . The Padres' shutout streak against Houston, which reached 31 innings until the Astros scored in the eighth inning Tuesday night, was officially reduced to an even 31 by the team.