The Padres were livid Tuesday night. They cursed. They spat. They even called the league president at home.
“I guess we look like the village idiots now,” Padre General Manager Tony Siegle said.
Well, not exactly.
While the Padres might have been overly concerned about a game going on down in Atlanta, they deployed that anger against the Cincinnati Reds, winning, 5-1, in front of 20,068 at Riverfront Stadium.
The victory allowed the second-place Padres to move one game ahead of Houston, a 3-0 loser Tuesday, and stay five games behind the Giants, who beat the Dodgers, 3-2. And with 22 victories in their past 28 games, the Padres (82-69) are 13 games over .500 for the first time since July 20, 1985.
So why all the sheepish looks after the game?
Although the Padres are chasing the San Francisco Giants for the division championship, the Houston Astros quietly have climbed back into the race.
When Padre Manager Jack McKeon got a look at the lineup Atlanta was fielding Tuesday against the Astros, guess who hit the roof?
“They worry about integrity of the game, huh?” said McKeon, standing about 200 feet from the site of Pete Rose’s press conference after being suspended from baseball. “Integrity of the game? What is this? Is the integrity of the game at stake now, or not?
“Hey, what if the Reds want to come in here now, and say, ‘Look Jack, how about taking care of me? We want one of your catchers. I’ll throw all of my kids out there tonight if you trade me one of your catchers. Or I’ll put some pitcher out there who can’t throw strikes, and I’ll leave him in there.’
“I want to know what the hell is going on?”
The Braves, junking their usual starting rotation, not only allowed Gary Eave to make his first major league start Tuesday night, but had five of their starters out of the lineup. The Braves also are planning to pitch Rusty Richards in his major league debut tonight, and rookie Tommy Greene in the remaining games of the Astro series.
“You’re telling me that you have to play five regulars in a spring-training game and you don’t have to in the regular season when three clubs are competing for the pennant?” McKeon said. “You don’t have to throw out your best? Come on, give me a break.
“We’re not asking Cincinnati to play their kids, are we? They’re trying to (beat us). And that’s the way it ought to be.”
So incensed were the Padres that Siegle kept telephoning National League President Bill White, finally reaching him at home at about 6:30 p.m.
“He promised me he’d look into the matter,” Siegle said. “That’s all I can ask. I just wanted to express my concern.
“There’s nothing to protest. There were no rules violated. It’s just a matter of decency. I think they should put their best team they possibly can on the field when it concerns a pennant race.
“But I can’t tell them who to play, and who not to play. Only the manager can do that.”
So imagine the Padres’ surprise, and humbleness, when they kept looking on the scoreboard and seeing the Braves ahead through the entire game.
“Man, here were are crying the blues, and look what happened,” said Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn, who drove in three runs despite going zero for four. “I guess it goes to show you. If we take care of our own business, to hell with the rest of them.”
The Padres, who have made up seven games on the Giants since July 25 by playing .667 baseball, indeed have inched closer by not concerning themselves with anyone else.
“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” McKeon said, “winning as many games as possible. And once we win that night’s game, then we can spend the rest of the evening hoping.”
While many of the Padres rushed back to their hotel Tuesday to catch the latest Giant updates on TV, and Gwynn telephoned his wife to turn the game on his satellite dish, pitcher Andy Benes celebrated his lastest conquest with the entire crowd.
Well, not exactly; it only seemed that way.
Benes, who was born, reared and attended college in Evansville, Ind., a four-hour drive away from Riverfront Stadium, left 82 tickets for his friends and family. Oh, he only admitted to just 60 or so, but as traveling secretary Doc Mattei said, “I counted every one of them. It was 82. I think we just set a franchise record.”
Benes, admittedly more nervous than he had ever been in his professional career with everyone watching, said he was wondering if he’d even be able to throw a strike.
All he did was strike out nine batters, allow just five hits and leave the game after 6 2/3 innings with a 4-1 lead.
He left the rest to Mark Davis, who became the seventh pitcher in baseball history to save 40 games in a season.
“I’m telling you, the game isn’t fair with that kid pitching against you,” Padre bullpen coach Denny Sommers said of Benes.
Said pitching coach Pat Dobson: “And the other guy (Davis) ain’t too bad either.”
Benes (5-2), winning his fifth consecutive start, also just happened to go two for two at the plate, raising his batting average to .313. He did not allow a baserunner to second base until the sixth inning. And he did not allow a run until the seventh--ending the Reds’ streak of 20 scoreless innings.
With one run in, and runners on first and second, Davis came into the game, marking his fifth appearance of the season in the seventh inning. He retired Barry Larkin on a fly ball to right, ending the inning, and for all practical purposes, the game.
“I’m not one for numbers, but getting No. 40 was special to me,” said Davis, who had the ball tucked away in his locker. “Having 39 saves was nice, but I kind of equate it to a hitter batting .299 or .300. It’s just one point, but it’s a big point.”
Bip Roberts, who was hospitalized over the weekend with a bacteria, rejoined the Padres in time for their team party Monday night where he was honored as their comeback player of the year. Roberts, who’s hitting .311, still is weary from his illness, however, and was scratched from Monday’s lineup. Padre Manager Jack McKeon said that Roberts will be in the lineup tonight. Said Roberts: “I’m just glad to be here, to tell you the truth. When something like that happens, it puts your life in perspective. I think it was the Lord telling me, ‘Hey, you need a few days off.” Roberts, who also has a slight tear in his left rib cage, said the swelling has reduced 90 percent during his time off. “You know what the hardest part of the whole thing was?” Roberts said. “Sitting there at my house watching that doubleheader (Sunday against the Giants). That was just driving me crazy.”