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5-2 Win Puts Padres on Even Keel

Times Staff Writer

It arrived Saturday at 9:30 p.m. (EDT), bouncing, shiny, healthy. It arrived looking just as the Padres thought it would, screaming out just as they had hoped.

The .500 mark. After 775 calendar days and 374 games, the Padres delivered.

They defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-2, Saturday to even their record at 67-67, the first time they have been at baseball’s most important mile marker since July 20, 1986.

Five-hundred. In front of 16,315 paying witnesses at Veterans Stadium, Ed Whitson pitched (complete-game eight-hitter), four different Padres drove in runs, and afterward they gathered around with wide eyes and rising voices.

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Five-hundred. It is only a statistic, but the Padres let it roll around their tongues as if it were champagne.

“This is going to shock a lot of people, but not ourselves,” Tony Gwynn gushed. “This team has worked harder than any team I’ve been on before. All of us wanted to get back to this mark, all of us would do anything to get there.

“We were asked to be unselfish, and we have been, and now look. Nobody’s stats jump out at you, but we must be doing something right.”

“This is what we’ve been sitting and waiting on,” Whitson said. “This is one big kick in the britches.”

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From the Padres’ victory and milestone, one can draw two conclusions. First is this: McKeon is increasingly doing a manager-of-the-year type job. Since taking over from Larry Bowa May 28, when the Padres were 16-30, they have gone 51-37, 1 1/2 games better than any other National League team during that time.

“I ain’t done much; the players are the ones doing it,” McKeon said between laughs and jokes in what was obviously his most cheerful night of the season. “All I did when I got here was provide motivation, relaxation, whatever you want to call it, and now nothing seems to bother them. Because now, they do know how to win.”

Second conclusion is this: The Padres have a bona fide shot at finishing the season in second. Though still in fifth, they are 4 1/2 games out of second and play each team ahead of them at least four times each during the final month of the season.

What does any place matter if they can’t finish first? How about around $10,000-$12,000 a man, depending on the total pool of playoff and World Series money. Yes, second and third place in this game pay.

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“That’s our new goal, second place ,” said Gwynn, who was so excited Saturday he was nearly thrown out of his second game this year for arguing a third-strike call with umpire Mark Hirschbeck in the fourth inning. “Second place is all the guys were talking about before the game. Templeton (Garry), Otis (Amos), Sandy (Alomar), they all walked in the clubhouse and were saying, ‘Man, we are close to second place.’

“Once you realize that, and once you put that money out there, things start happening. Guys play harder. Can you imagine what if would be like if we actually did finish second? What kind of a comeback is that ?”

It wouldn’t surprise everybody, considering at least one Padre couldn’t understand how they weren’t closer to first already.

“Second place, hmmm, what place are we in now?” pitcher Eric Show asked distractedly before the game.

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He was told.

“Fifth place?” he said. “You’re kidding me. All this, and we’re still in fifth place!”

Wherever they are, Saturday night the Padres partied, each in his own way.

--Keith Moreland, who had three hits including the game-winning RBI on a two-out, two-run single in the sixth, celebrating by shaving his newly sprouted red beard.

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He began growing it when this trip began a week ago, and after immediately going into an 0-for-13 dive, he vowed to keep it until the end of the season.

“Or whenever I get a hit, whichever comes first,” he had said.

The hitting has come first, and quickly. In the three games since that vow, he has gone 6 for 14.

Saturday, he singled in the second off Phillie starter Kevin Gross and scored the Padres’ first run on Tim Flannery’s RBI single. Then, with bases loaded and two out in the sixth, he punched a single up the middle off Gross to score two more.

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“Sometimes we you lack speed like Keith, it doesn’t look like you do much,” McKeon said. “But he can come through.”

Said Moreland: “We have been shooting for .500 for a long time. You finish the season one game over that mark, and you are a winning team and. man, that’s what we are paid to do.

“I guess this is as good a time as any to get rid of the beard.”

His wife, Cindy, will be grateful.

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--John Kruk celebrated by overrunning second with two outs in the ninth and Gwynn due up. He was easily tagged out, and Gwynn, hitless on the night, never had a chance to move closer than six hits to Dave Winfield’s club record of 1,134. If Gwynn doesn’t get those hits in the next three games, he will almost certainly break the record at home.

“I was going to run until they tagged me out--I didn’t want Tony to have to hit off Steve Bedrosian and maybe hurt his finger again and not be able to play (Sunday),” deadpanned Kruk, who had singled in a run and was running on an RBI single by Roberto Alomar when he was nailed. “I was doing it for the team.”

“I appreciate it,” Gwynn said. “It’s not the first time he’s done it.”

--Carmelo Martinez celebrated by working up new math.

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“All right, .500,” Martinez chortled. “Now we win again, and it goes up to .501. A little bit every day.”

“It goes up to .501?” asked Randy Ready from the next locker. “Man, you’ve been watching too many blue jean commercials.”

--Benito Santiago celebrated by not celebrating.

“Five-hundred, what does that mean?” he asked. “Man, I don’t know all these baseball rules.”

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