Mark Davis kept telling himself he wasn't going to think about it on his cab ride Wednesday to the Astrodome. He tried to keep his mind occupied while sitting in the bullpen during the game.
But the moment the bullpen phone rang in the ninth inning, and he got up to start warming up, all of the those memories that had been tormenting him came pouring forth.
It was right here at the Houston Astrodome, exactly three months earlier to the day, even to the hour, that it happened.
It was the game, every Padre fan keeps insisting, that sent the Padres plummeting, from which it took 2 1/2 months to recover.
Now here he was, facing the man who caused all of his anguish, Alex Trevino.
Two outs. The tying run at second. In the heat of a pennant race.
Hello, nightmare. It's Mark Davis for a return visit.
"I've been looking forward to this game for a long time, a l-o-n-g time," Davis would say later. "I wasn't necessarily trying to redeem myself, I just wanted us to get that win. Just so we could all forget about that game."
Davis threw just three pitches: Ball one. Strike one. Ground ball to shortstop Garry Templeton, who flipped to second baseman Roberto Alomar, running across the second-base bag.
Padres 3, Astros 2.
For the first time since May 5, the Padres are in sole possession of second.
It was their sixth consecutive victory, their 12th in the past 13 games. No time in their history have they ever put together a better streak. They moved to nine games over .500 (74-65) for the first time since Sept. 1, 1985.
"This is just the beginning," Padre Manager Jack McKeon said. "We're still six games from where we we want to be."
Indeed, the Padres remain six games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants with 23 left to play. It's still a long shot, to be sure, McKeon said, but who ever thought they'd get this close?
The primary reason for the Padres' resurgence is the same man who was blamed for their collapse in June.
His name, of course, is Mark Davis.
And while everyone has been keeping their eye on the standings, Davis quietly equaled one of the longest-standing records in Padre history.
With his fifth save in five days, Davis recorded his major-league leading 37th, tying the team record set by Rollie Fingers in 1978.
Surely, it would seem, Davis must be exhausted. No bullpen stopper these days ever gets up five consecutive days, let alone pitches. But there he was again Wednesday, pitching to perfection, refusing to say that he's even the least bit tired.
"I can't stop now," Davis said. "I've got all winter to rest, right? Just seeing the look in these guys' faces during games, you want the ball in those situations.
"I wanted to be the guy tonight."
When Pat Dobson, the Padre pitching coach, went to the mound to relieve Greg Harris, he, too, could not help but relive the circumstances of that fateful game three months ago.
The Padres, just four games out of first place at the time, were leading the Astros, 7-4. The bases were loaded. Davis entered the game.
He walked the first batter: 7-5.
He walked the second batter: 7-6.
He struck out Trevino. Oops. The ball scooted past catcher Benito Santiago. Instead of simply touching home for the force, Santiago tried to tag Ken Caminiti, who elbowed the ball out of Santiago's mitt and stepped on home-plate.
Tie game, 7-7.
One inning later, lost game, 8-7.
"I think we were all thinking about that game when MD when out there," Dobson said. "It's been brought up so much, but it really hasn't been fair. I mean, come on, we're not talking about an eight-year veteran who has 230 saves in his career. He's just learning this role.
"The kid has one bad week all year, and to berate him for it is ridiculous.
"I think in the long run that game might have been good for him. It toughened him up. Now, his mind's in a total different place. He's so confident that right now, there's nobody better in the game. Nobody."
Of course, if not for the performance of Calvin Schiraldi, making his first start of the season, and that of second baseman Roberto Alomar, Davis might have had to wait another night.
Schiraldi, who had not won a game since July 28, and had not even started a game since Sept, 28, 1988, hardly had the Astros' respect entering the game.
Matter of fact, while watching past videotapes of Schiraldi beforehand, they actually had to turn the TV off for fear of overconfidence.
Here was a guy who was trying a totally different delivery, with his wife, parents, grandparents and aunt and uncle making the trek from his hometown of Austin, Tex., to watch him pitch in the middle of a pennant race.
"I was pretty damn nervous," he said. "It's just that you want to do so well for your new team, and with us being in the middle of a pennant race and everything, I didn't want to let anyone down."
Well, you can imagine his elation when he opened the game by recording six consecutive ground-ball outs, had a no-hitter through 4 1/3 innings and left with a 3-1 lead after six?
"I couldn't believe it, I really couldn't," he said. "I didn't know what would happen tonight. And then to get six ground-ball outs like that, that's a personal record for me. I never had six ground-ball outs in a game."
Said Dobson: "I don't think he ever had three ground-ball outs in a game."
If this were not enough to rattle the Astros, who now have lost 11 of their past 15, considering the heroics of Alomar.
Alomar went two for three with a homer and two RBIs, giving him four homers in the past 10 games. This is a guy, remember, who had just two homers in his first 125 games.
And now, with his latest explosion, Alomar set the all-time Padre record for second baseman with 47 RBis this season, eclipsing the mark of 45 set by Juan Bonilla in 1983.
How can he explain it?
"I don't know," he said, "I've just been eating a lot of chicken, rice and beans lately. Maybe, that's the secret, who knows?
It's premature, but just in case . . . the Padres are planning to mail out applications for playoff and World Series tickets this weekend to their season-ticket holders. The Padres also are hoping to announce this weekend a timetable for a lottery to issue playoff tickets. In the meantime, Padre President Dick Freeman said that the club is awaiting word from the league office before printing post-season tickets. . . . Just how bad was the attendance during the two-game series in Atlanta? Consider this: The Padres came away with gate receipts totaling a meager $3,498.60, $779.28 on Tuesday. The Padres spent $2,781.00 on their 27 players alone during the two-day stay. "Let's just say we lost some money on that trip," Freeman said. . . . First baseman Phil Stephenson, the player to be named in the five-player deal with the Chicago Cubs last week, met the Padres on Wednesday at the Astrodome and said that he's looking forward to the rest of the trip. When told it ends today in Houston, he said, "No, I meant to San Diego. I've never been there before." . . . Roberto Alomar's bases-empty home run ended a streak of 13 consecutive multi-run homers by the Padres. . . . Calvin Schiraldi was the 10th pitcher to make a start for the Padres. . . . The Padres will conclude their brief series against the Astros at 5:35 p.m. (PDT) tonight with Bruce Hurst (13-9) scheduled to face Jim Clancy (6-11). The Padres will then return to San Diego for a seven-game home stand beginning with three games against the Dodgers. Andy Benes (3-2) and Orel Hershiser (14-11) are expected to pitch in the series opener.
PADRES AT A GLANCEScorecard
Padres--With one out, Alomar homered to left, his sixth. Gwynn flied to left. Clark walked. James forced Clark. One run, one hit, one left.
Padres--With one out, Jackson singled to left. Schiraldi sacrificed. Roberts singled to right, Jackson scoring, Roberts taking second on Wilson's error. Alomar singled to right, Roberts singled to right, Roberts scoring. Alomar stole third. Gwynn struck out. Two runs (one earned), one left.
Astros--Biggio doubled to left and took third on Schiraldi's wild pitch. Anthony grounded to first, Biggio scoring. Davis grounded to third. Wilson grounded to shortstop. One run, one hit.
* ANGELS 5 1/2 BACK
A 7-4 loss to Milwaukee drops the Angels 5 1/2 games behind Oakland in the AL West. Story, Page 4.