Just like every other baseball fan, Andy Benes was up late Tuesday night, his eyes glued to the TV set, watching the highlights of Nolan Ryan's 5,000th strikeout.
Unbelievable, Benes thought. The guy is 42 years old, and he's throwing 96-mile-an-hour fastballs. Benes hopes he's just able to play catch with his kids at that age.
After watching the replays of the historic moment, and all of the interviews, Benes was about to turn off the TV when something caught his eye.
There was an illustration from a sports scientist on just why Ryan is able to continue throwing so hard. It showed a stick figure representing how Ryan starts his motion, keeps his weight back and doesn't thrust forward until he brings his leg down.
"I saw that picture on the screen," Benes said, "and it kind of opened my eyes. I hadn't been bringing my leg down, and it's hurt me a little."
Benes took the new-found knowledge to bed, reminded himself of what he learned before taking the mound Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Phillies and promptly won the first game of his major-league career.
The Padres defeated the Phillies, 7-3, at Veterans Stadium while a crowd of 20,455 watched Benes allow just three hits in seven innings.
"It's amazing what you can pick up watching TV, isn't it?" Benes said.
Actually, the most remarkable aspect of Benes' performance was that it was the worst among his three big-league outings.
"It wasn't even close," said Pat Dobson, the Padre pitching coach.
But, as Dobson said, smiling widely, "When you don't have good stuff and still pitch like that, well, there's no telling what he's capable of."
Said Benito Santiago, who has caught each of Benes' games: "I'm telling you, he's going to be great, really great. He's got the arm, and it's going to get better still. It'll take him some time, and then watch out."
Benes hardly resembles the pitcher that was bounced around in five starts at triple-A Las Vegas, yielding 41 hits in 26 innings and compiling a 8.10 ERA. And to think that he was in double-A just six weeks ago, and never spent a day in the Padre major-league camp. It is little wonder that Padre Manager Jack McKeon believes he'll be going into the 1990 season with one of the premier pitching rotations in baseball.
"Once he gets a couple of more games under his belt and gets all of the jitters out," McKeon said, "there's no telling what he'll do. No question he belongs here. That was my contention all along. The only way you can find out is to put him in there."
And now that he's up here, well, let's just say that the next time Benes visits Las Vegas, it'll be on vacation. He'll leave his spikes at home in San Diego.
"That's the only time I ever want to go back," he said.
For the time being, he said, he's content to live like a vagabond. He's got clothes in his van, which is sitting in a Padre secretary's driveway. His wife is staying at a hotel he has no idea how to find. And their baby for the next 10 days will be in Evansville, Ind., with the grandparents.
The inconveniences are a headache, but the memories forever will be cherished--particularly the night of Aug. 23, when he got his first major league victory and what the Padres firmly believe is the start of a stellar career.
"The thing is," Dobson said, "he's just learning. He doesn't even know where his breaking pitches go yet, whether they'll drop, whether they'll break or whether they'll stay flat. Just wait and see what happens when he gets those down.
"You ain't seen nothing, yet."
The Phillies hardly saw anything, consistently behind on Benes' fastball when they were not swinging and missing. They pulled the ball just four times into the outfield off Benes, while four struck out and eight others couldn't get the ball out of the infield.
The only time Benes was hurt by any of his 115 pitches was when Ricky Jordan hit a hanging slider for a two-run homer in the fourth, cutting the Padres' lead to 3-2. No matter. The Padres came right back and scored two more in the fifth and one each in the sixth and seventh, putting the game out of reach.
McKeon decided that Benes had enough after seven innings and, with a 7-3 lead, said, "I was going to make sure he won. He wasn't going to lose this one.
"I don't expect to get Cy Young performances out of him every time, but he's making progress, a lot of it."
Really, the only person who has been disappointed with Benes' first two starts was Benes himself. Never did the Padres waver on their thinking after his 0-2 start and 7.30 ERA in two appearances. They just had to convince Benes that everything was all right.
"I know you can't live up to everybody's expectations," he said, "but I expect a lot out of myself. I was disappointed with my two starts. I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to get one. I really didn't want to go back to San Diego 0-3, and that was in the back of my mind."
Instead, he celebrated the victory being teased by his teammates for talking at length with the press. They rushed him during his post-game meal just so he could among the first to board the bus on the way to a 5 1/2-hour flight home.
Benes, who turned 22 last Sunday, just laughed. He could care less how much teasing there was on this night. Nothing was going spoil the moment.
"It's a night I'll never forget," he said. "I got the game ball with me, and it'll go right with the ones I got in a (Olympic) game in Korea, and one I got in the (NCAA) regionals.
"Maybe I'll get a few more down the line, too."
Outfielder Chris James, who had spent his entire 7 1/2-year career with the Phillies organization before being traded June 2 to the Padres, had dreaded the past week and the trip to Philadelphia. He stayed awake, wondering what their reaction would be. Would they boo him, as they did so many times this season? Would they cheer him sarcastically, now that he's with a different club? Would they simply ignore him? Much to James' delight, they treated him just like any other visiting player, greeting him with a smattering of cheers and boos. By his last at-bat Wednesday night, the boos were louder. James got hits in each of his first three at-bats and wound up three for five with a run-scoring double, raising his batting average to .294 since joining the Padres. "To tell you the truth," James said, "I'm glad these three days are over with. I was nervous as hell coming here. But now, being here these past few days, I know San Diego is home." . . . Pitcher Bruce Hurst, who left Tuesday's game with a strained left groin, traveled to Boston on Wednesday to see Dr. Arthur Pappas. The Padres still were awaiting word of the report when they left the stadium Wednesday night. . . . The Padres stole a season-high five bases, including three by second baseman Roberto Alomar. . . . Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn was held out of the starting lineup for the second consecutive day, allowing Shawn Abner to start. It turned out to be a treat for Abner, who grew up an hour away in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and left 13 tickets on the pass list. Abner went two for four with an RBI.