Padres Listen, Then Slow Dodgers : After McKeon Talk, They Win Big In Opener, Split Doubleheader
They were taking their September baseball about as seriously as a boy takes his June schoolwork.
“So I decided to have a little review,” Padre Manager Jack McKeon explained. “You know, like you review for an exam. Just a little review.”
Yeah, and what Mike Tyson does in a boxing ring is known as a little education.
Call it a review, call it a meeting, but if you want to be truthful, call it a 10-minute kick in the you-know-where. McKeon, who had only done this once before since becoming the Padres’ manager May 28, called his team together behind closed doors around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. He sat them down. He looked them in eye.
And he read them the math act.
“He told us, in 12 games we could do anything we wanted but that this season still had 12 games,” Tim Flannery recalled. “He told us, our contracts call for 162 games--and wants us to play them all.
“He told us if we thought he wasn’t watching everything that was going on--he was. And he wanted our full efforts from now until the then.”
Message received. The Padres went out 90 minutes later and put a major whipping on the Dodgers. Helped by Benito Santiago’s first grand slam, they scored nine runs in the first two innings en route a 9-3 victory in the first game of a doubleheader before 31,120 at Dodger Stadium.
In the second game, Mike Devereaux’s RBI single in the bottom of the 10th lifted the Dodgers to a comeback, 6-5 victory after they trailed, 5-1, entering the seventh.
The finish overshadowed a fine start by reliever Greg Booker, only the third start of his 4-year big-league career and the first that wasn’t on the final day of a season. In 6 innings, Booker allowed just 1 run on 5 hits with 5 strikeouts. But his work was ruined in 1 inning by reliever Lance McCullers who allowed the Dodgers 4 runs in the seventh on an RBI single by Steve Sax and a 3-run homer by Mike Marshall, his 19th.
Tracy Woodson led off the 10th with a single off reliever Mark Davis. Jeff Hamilton hit a double play grounder to shortstop Garry Templeton, but second baseman Roberto Alomar’s throw to first pulled Carmelo Martinez off the bag. Rick Dempsey then bounced a ball back to Davis, who threw wild to first. Both runners were safe on Davis’ error. Devereaux, batting .094, singled to left to score Hamilton.
Despite that disappointment, the Padres obviously had their minds back on baseball after McKeon’s lecture.
“What Jack said before the game worked,” said Tony Gwynn, who went 4 for his first 6 in the doubleheader to improve his league-leading average to .315. Gwynn is slowly running away from the rest of the league, 8 points ahead of injured runner-up Rafael Palmeiro of Chicago.
“The meeting made everybody look in the mirror,” Gwynn said. “It made us realize we had gotten away from what we had been doing.”
Far, far away. They had lost 7 of the past 8. They had been swept in 2 of the past 3 series. And on Tuesday, they had just been beaten by a struggling rookie pitcher from Cincinnati named Norm Charlton.
“That guy . . . " muttered McKeon Wednesday, still upset over the Padres’ 7-2 loss. “We should have . . . “
The players agreed. When McKeon was ready to speak, they were ready to listen.
“During a Larry Bowa meeting, balls would be flying, trash cans would be turned over, guys would be afraid to look up, but this time it was different,” Gwynn explained. “Everybody looked at Jack. Everybody was nodding up and down as he was talking. And then when he finished talking, we all left the room saying, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ ”
By the time they took the field against rookie Ramon Martinez in the first game, they were ready to add the exclamation points.
The game’s first hitter, Roberto Alomar, walked. One out later, Gwynn walked. And then Keith Moreland walked. That equaled the entire number of walks drawn by the impatient Padres in Tuesday’s loss.
Then John Kruk, in a 4-for-35 slump, singled to left to score a run. And Santiago, in an 0-for-9 funk, gave himself up with a grounder to the right side to score another run.
Understand that entering this game, the last time somebody had scored on this Dodger pitching staff was Friday night in Cincinnati, a span covering 30 innings. They had recorded six shutouts in the past 10 games.
They scored just two that first inning, but McKeon’s point had been made, and more was to come.
“I had just told them things that they were already well aware of,” McKeon said with a smile. “And they showed how aware they were.
And so it continued into the second inning, when Garry Templeton led off with a single to right. Starter Dennis Rasmussen’s bunt was dropped at second base by Sax, and both runners were safe. Roberto Alomar reached on a bunt to load the bases.
Up stepped Tim Flannery, and a minute later the Padres had drawn another walk, scoring another run. Out went Martinez, the minor-league phenom, after the shortest outing of a big-league career that began after he was recalled from triple-A Albuquerque Aug. 13. In came Ricky Horton. And the night just got longer.
Gwynn greeted Horton with a two-run single to center, giving him 68 RBIs, three shy of his career-high 71 in 1984. Moreland walked again to load the bases and, one out later, came the big blow.
Santiago has done much at the plate in two full big seasons. But now he has done just about everything. He hit Horton’s first pitch into the left-field seats for his 10th homer, scoring four runs to formally finish the Dodgers.
Santiago refused to meet with the media after the game to discuss the homer, but the hit spoke for itself. It gave him a career-high five RBIs for one game, 42 RBIs overall. And, while he won’t come close to matching last year’s rookie of the year numbers (18 homers, 79 RBIs), McKeon said he is learning.
“I think earlier Benny may have tried to do too much,” McKeon said. “He’s had a good last 4 or 5 weeks because he has stayed within himself.”
Suddenly given all those runs, that’s all Rasmussen needed to do, stay within himself. It shouldn’t have been too hard--he has been the benefactor of 3 of the 4 Padre 7-run innings this year. And it wasn’t. He scattered 8 hits and 3 runs in completing his first game since July 8.
Through all the recent trouble of Padre starters, Rasmussen has remained steady, with 3 victories in his past 4 starts. Since joining the Padres June 8, he has gone 13-3 with a 2.69 ERA.
Padre President Chub Feeney missed a meeting with agent Steve Greenberg Wednesday because he still has not returned from a trip to San Francisco, where his wife was to have surgery late last week. Greenberg works for possible free agent Eric Show. Feeney rescheduled the meeting for next week in San Diego. Feeney has met with Greenberg once but has yet to meet with Jerry Kapstein, the representative of the other top Padre free agent, pitcher Andy Hawkins. . . . Before Wednesday’s doubleheader, Tony Gwynn was in one of those moods. After joking around with members of the Dodger Stadium grounds crew about the fact that they wear blue Dodger batting gloves, he ran inside and brought out several of his batting gloves. He threw his gloves on their cart and insisted they wear them instead. . . . Dickie Thon’s strained right hamstring is still “really sore,” Thon said Wednesday. “I don’t know how soon I will be back.” McKeon indicated that Thon would probably not be tested until this weekend, if then. “At this point, there’s no use hurting him more,’ McKeon said.