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Cubs’ Grace Ruins Padres’ Nice Day : His Homer, Three Doubles Lead Chicago After All-Star Selection of Gwynn, Santiago

Times Staff Writer

Everything was going so well for the Padres Wednesday, they found it hard to believe themselves. In the end, they cursed themselves for falling into the trap of false optimism.

There they were, being amused in the clubhouse before the game, listening to third baseman Tim Flannery tell stories of his rendezvous Tuesday evening with singer Jimmy Buffett, and his singing of “Margaritaville.”

There they were, thrilled when they heard the news that outfielder Tony Gwynn and catcher Benito Santiago had been voted starters for the All-Star game Tuesday in Anaheim.

And there they were, absolutely ecstatic when they opened the game by taking a three-run lead on Marvell Wynne’s first-inning homer into the right-field seats.

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But it was a kid from San Diego State who left the Padres muttering to themselves in frustration and prompted their manager to agonize about a season that’s quickly slipping away.

Mark Grace, who was shunned by the Padres and told that he’d never make it to the big leagues, single-handedly destroyed them Wednesday night, leading the Chicago Cubs to a 5-3 victory in front of 33,464 at Wrigley Field.

Grace had the game of his career, going four for four with a two-run homer, three doubles and three RBIs. His first-inning home run off Dennis Rasmussen (3-6), which brought the Cubs right back into the game, was his first since April 19 (also against the Padres). He raised his career batting average against San Diego to .370.

There’s just something about the Padres, he said with a sheepish shrug, that brings out the best in him.

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This is a kid whose baseball flourished in the Padres’ backyard. He grew up in the Los Angeles area, graduated from Tustin High School, attended Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and went on to San Diego State.

“I remember working out with him,” said Gwynn, a former Aztec. “The guy could hit. I didn’t think he was going to be all that great a first baseman, but I knew he’d be a good hitter.

“When he was in the minors, that’s all you heard about how Mark Grace was going to take Leon Durham’s job at first base. I’m thinking, ‘No way. Leon Durham? Come on, how’s he going to take his job?’

“We weren’t even interested in the guy. Our guys (scouts) didn’t think he could play. We didn’t like him at all.”

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Well, they like him a whole lot less now.

Grace, drafted in the 24th round by the Cubs in 1985, finished second in the rookie of the year balloting last year and this season happens to be leading the team with a .329 average.

“All I know is that they told me they weren’t interested in me,” Grace said. “They had a scout watch us, and he said I wasn’t in their plans. So I never got my hopes up or was even disappointed when they didn’t draft me.”

Guess who’s disappointed now?

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The Padres, losing their second consecutive game and fourth of the past five, are having little success hitting in crucial situations.

After Wynne’s three-run, two-out homer in the first inning, the Padres went zero for five with runners in scoring position. They are hitting .067 in those situations during their Chicago stay.

Though everyone has lately been guilty of committing unpardonable acts--resulting in the Padres (40-44) dropping to 9 1/2 games behind San Francisco Giants in the NL West--it was one swing of Santiago’s bat that drew Manager Jack McKeon’s ire.

The Padres, trailing, 4-3, in the fourth, started what looked to be the makings of a rally when Wynne and Roberto Alomar led off with singles. Cub Manager Don Zimmer had his bullpen working furiously, and when Scott Sanderson fell behind on a two-and-zero count to Santiago, he was getting prepared for a stroll to the mound.

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Sanderson’s next pitch was a high fastball. Santiago swung anyway. He hit a lazy popup to second, and if you looked closely enough, you could see the steam coming from the Padre dugout.

“We’ve got guys a lot of guys, in my opinion, playing selfishly,” McKeon said. “They don’t care think about winning, all they want is to hit and help their batting average. We’ve got about four of them. I’m not going to mention their names, but you can figure it out.

“It’s not just tonight, it’s night after night. We probably lead the league in popups. Well, I know we lead the league in popups with three-oh, and two-one counts on pitchers. We’ve got that category sown up.

“We’ve got guys going up there not even thinking about what the hell they’re doing. The difference between last year and this year is lack of intelligence. They see their average dropping and just start swinging at everything.

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“I’d love to be a pitcher and be facing these guys. Why throw a strike, they’ll swing at everything?

“So really, I don’t know if we’re playing this way because we’re stupid or we’re selfish.”

The ominous evening of baseball put a damper on the earlier news from the commissioner’s office that Gwynn would be playing in his fifth All-Star Game, Santiago his first.

“This one means more to me than any other because my parents will be there for the first time,” Gwynn said, whose folks live in Long Beach. “They’ve seen me in playoff games and World Series games, but they’ve never been at an All-Star Game. I bought $400 worth of tickets for this one, and I was hoping I didn’t waste my money.”

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Actually, for a fleeting moment there, he thought he still might have purchased the tickets prematurely. When he told his parents of his plans, his mother told him that she might not be able to make it.

She works the 6 p.m.-to-3 a.m. shift at the post office, and she really didn’t know if she could get the time off.

“I said, ‘But Mom, this is the All-Star game,’ ” Gwynn pleaded. “ ‘You’ve got to be there.’

“It’s not definite yet, but I think I talked her into it.”

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Santiago, who was bitter when he was overlooked last year, said this day was one of the most special of his life. He has dreamed of the day he’d play in an All-Star Game, and he’s now assured of it.

“I didn’t want to be let down again,” Santiago said, “so I tried to put in my mind that I wouldn’t make it. Now that I made it, it’s hard to explain how happy I am. Growing up in Puerto Rico, who would ever think that I would make the All-Star team?”

Unfortunately for Santiago, the euphoria did not carry over into the game, and he stretched his hitless streak to 11 at-bats, eight in which he has failed to hit the ball out of the infield.

“We’re all having problems right now,” Gwynn said. “When we got those three runs, I thought this would be a special day. But with the way we’ve been playing, a three-run homer is a nice rally.

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“That’s not a real good feeling.”

Padre Notes

Padre third baseman Tim Flannery sang “Margaritaville” with with his buddy, Jimmy Buffett, at an impromptu concert Tuesday night in Chicago and even made up a verse himself. “I told my wife I can die and go to heaven now,” Flannery said. “I’ve played in the playoffs. I played in a World Series. And now I’ve sung with Jimmy Buffett. What more is there?” Also singing a song on stage were Cub players Steve Wilson and Paul Kilgus, who did “Changes in Attitude.” . . . Pitcher Eric Show threw lightly on the side Wednesday and is hoping to start Sunday. He already has missed one start, and Bruce Hurst has been moved up in the rotation to take his place Friday. “My back’s feeling better than it has in a while. I want to get out there as soon as possible.” . . . Bip Roberts started at shortstop Wednesday night for the first time since 1981, when he was a senior at Skyline High School in Oakland. “This is like a crash course,” Roberts said. “I just hope I don’t crash.” Said Padre Manager Jack McKeon: “Who knows, maybe we’ll find out something here.” Well, Roberts handled eight balls flawlessly, and McKeon said he might be back at shortstop today. Roberts started because of a jammed right index finger suffered Tuesday by starting shortstop Garry Templeton. “It’s all right to hit, but I just can’t grip the ball.” . . . McKeon on a changing United States, in which the Supreme Court ruled that it’s legal to burn the American flag.: “You can’t smoke a cigar on an airplane, but you can burn the American flag? I’m telling you it’s getting ridiculous.” . . . The Padres will conclude their three-game series with the Cubs at 11:20 a.m. today with Walt Terrell (4-11) and Greg Maddux (7-7) as the scheduled starters. The Padre then go on to Pittsburgh for a three-game series before the All-Star break.


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