Rasmussen Pitch Serves Purpose; Padres Win
It had all the makings of one of those games pitchers dream about. Every fastball was smoking. Every curveball was sharply breaking. Every pitch was thrown with pinpoint accuracy.
Dennis Rasmussen, through the first three innings of the Padres’ 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday night, could do absolutely no wrong.
The first two batters he faced were called out looking at third strikes. The next seven flailed away harmlessly.
Nine up. Nine down. Not a single batter even reaching a three-ball count.
For a pitcher who has thrown only two shutouts in his career and never had a no-hitter going for longer than 6 2/3 innings, Rasmussen couldn’t help but allow his imagination to run wild.
Here he was pitching in front of 18,775 at Riverfront Stadium, against the team that traded him a year ago, and feeling like this could be the game of a lifetime.
“I was feeling good, feeling so good,” Rasmussen said. “Everything was working. You can’t help but think that maybe this is your night.”
Standing in the on-deck circle with catcher Benito Santiago at the plate in the top of the fourth, Rasmussen watched the Reds’ Rick Mahler throw a pitch at Santiago’s head. Santiago raised his hands to defend himself. The ball deflected off his left hand, and Santiago went down, writhing in pain.
Santiago remained in the game and was able to take first base on the hit by pitch, but when Rasmussen grounded out, ending the inning, Santiago headed for the clubhouse.
His hand throbbing, he was taken to Christ Hospital for X-rays. They showed no damage, but Santiago will be out for at least one game, perhaps two or three.
Rasmussen, with a 2-0 lead, had a decision to make when he walked to the mound for the fourth. Should he protect his perfect game or protect his teammates? If he threw at leadoff hitter Mariano Duncan, his teammates might respect his act of bravado, but it not only would it break up his perfect game, it could lead to a rally.
Besides, maybe Mahler didn’t intend to throw inside to Santiago on an 0-2 pitch. Maybe it just got away from him. Maybe the best recourse would to be to just keep mowing them down.
The decision, Rasmussen said, was an easy one. In fact, he said, it didn’t take any deliberation at all.
Rasmussen, who had hit just one batter all season in 20 starts, took the mound. Duncan dug in at the plate. And . . .
The pitch struck Duncan right below the left knee. He dropped and lay in pain for several minutes. Plate umpire Terry Tata immediately warned Rasmussen and both benches that the next such pitch thrown would result in an ejection.
The perfect game was ruined. Before the inning was over, so was the lead. And when the game ended, Rasmussen had only a no-decision to show for the three hits he allowed in 6 1/3 innings.
Was it worth it? Would he do it again? What if he had a perfect game going in the later innings?
“I’d do it every time,” Rasmussen said. “That’s part of the game, that’s all. You don’t worry about perfect games or any of the individual stuff. I know I’m the one on the mound, but this is a team game, and we win and lose as a team.”
Even though Duncan’s hit-by-pitch, along with a couple of sloppy fielding plays, allowed the Reds to tie the game, it also triggered an outburst of camaraderie not seen in the Padre clubhouse for a long while.
“I tell you, the guy showed me something right there,” Santiago said. “By doing that, he showed that we’re all a team. He cares about the team and his teammates. He stood up for me, and for everyone else in here.
“Not everybody in this league would do that for you.”
Mark Parent, who took over Santiago, said: “There was a lot of emotion once that happened. He tried to protect his teammates, and I think everyone in here appreciated that. They got one of ours, and we got one of theirs.
“It served a purpose, that’s for sure.”
It would have been so easy for the Padres to lay down after the bad breaks that allowed the Reds to come back twice and tie the game. They had blown two leads, watched Santiago and shortstop Garry Templeton (sore left knee) leave with injuries, seen first baseman Jack Clark ejected for arguing a called third strike and then were faced trying to break the tie in the eighth with bullpen ace John Franco on the mound.
Well, Chris James lined a single to left after Clark’s ejection with one out. After Marvell Wynne grounded into a fielder’s choice, Mike Pagliarulo popped another single to left, advancing Wynne to third. Luis Salazar, who dropped a double-play ball in the fourth to allow the tying run to score, hit a chopper down the third-base line, scoring Wynne for the go-ahead run.
Tony Gwynn, who had two extra-base hits in a game for the first time since June 3, provided the Padres with a comfortable two-run cushion in the ninth. It gave reliever Mark Grant (4-1) the victory, and Mark Davis came on for his 25th save, tied for the most in the league.
And guess who was among the first out of the dugout to congratulate Davis and the rest of his teammates on the field?
“That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Rasmussen said. “We’re just trying to win games, and I’m just do my part.”
Only next time, Padre Manager Jack McKeon said, he’d wish Rasmussen would reconsider those options.
“I’ve got no complaints about it, and I’m not totally disagreeing with it,” he said, “but you’ve got to set yourself up to win a game. You can set up that purpose pitch without hitting them. You’ve got plenty of time to pick your spot.”
McKeon paused, mused momentarily over the effect of Rasmussen’s purpose pitch and said, “You know, we did play a little more aggressively after that, didn’t we?
“It worked out kind of nice.”
The victory was the Padres’ fourth in a row on the road, the longest active road winning streak in the National League. For the Reds, it was their 10th consecutive defeat, their longest such streak since 1966. . . . Padre reliever Dave Leiper underwent further testing Wednesday in San Diego to determine the type of medication needed to control his rapid pulse beat. He’ll rejoin the team Friday when the Padres open a three-game series against the Dodgers at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. Leiper, who had heart problems in the off-season, had a fluctuating rapid heart beat the past two times he has pitched. The Padres are content that Leiper’s condition is not serious and confident the problem will be remedied with the proper medication. . . . Padre pitcher Ed Whitson (14-6) on the possibility of becoming a 20-game winner: “Even if I did win 20, I wouldn’t celebrate, because we’re not winning as a ballclub. Not one individual player makes a season. . . . With 61 games remaining, Padre Manager Jack McKeon figures his team must go at least 41-20 (.672) to have as shot at the National League West Division title. . . . Among those in attendance Wednesday to watch Dennis Rasmussen pitch was Karen Terrell, the wife of former Padre pitcher Walt Terrell. Rasmussen left six tickets for Terrell and her family and while watching Rasmussen pitch, she was keeping an eye on the scoreboard. Walt Terrell was making his first start against the Cleveland Indians since being traded Saturday by the Padres to the Yankees. . . . Reds owner Marge Schott brought her dog, Schotzie, up to the pressroom Wednesday night before the game. Schotzie left a deposit on the elevator and then waited while Schott went through the food line to get the night’s dinner . . . During Schott’s pre-game meeting Tuesday with the Reds players, she asked for suggestions to turn the team around. When no one came up with any ideas, she suggested prayer. Chris Sabo got up from his chair and calmly said, “Ma’am, I don’t think God gives a damn whether we get hits or not.”. . . . Pitcher Rafael Valdez of the Padres’ single-A team in Riverside will be promoted Thursday to their double-A team in Wichita. Valdez, who allowed one hit and one run while striking out 15 Tuesday in his last outing, has a 10-5 record with a 2.27 ERA this season, allowing 89 hits in 143 innings, striking out 137.