Padres Won’t Lay Blame on McKeon : Not for Deciding to Pitch to Davis Wednesday--or Anything Else
Padre Manager Jack McKeon was in his office early, as usual, Friday afternoon. He read his mail, filled out the lineup card, talked to his players and went about his preparations just as it were any other day in the season.
It made no difference that the Padres already were eliminated from the pennant race. There still were three games to be played, and McKeon was not about to concede one.
He talked about the season, in which the Padres are guaranteed of the second-best record (87-73) in their history despite losing Friday night, 7-2, to the San Francisco Giants in front of 52,089 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
He talked about how he’s never been more proud of a team in his 38 years of baseball. He talked about the future, how the team that ended this season is just a player or two away from possibly winning it all in 1990.
He then talked about the game Wednesday night. The game that the Padres lost in 13 innings to the Cincinnati Reds, 2-1. The game that eliminated them from the pennant race.
The game in which he allowed pitcher Calvin Schiraldi to pitch to Eric Davis.
The criticism and admonition for that decision has been harsh, and in some ways cruel. It’s as if the Padres’ entire season was lost because of the one fastball thrown by Schiraldi. It’s as if that game was responsible for the Padres not spending their October in the playoffs.
It’s as if that one decision should cost McKeon his job.
Never mind that McKeon’s 154-121 record (.560) as Padre manager is the best among any of 11 previous men who occupied his chair, including Roger Craig and Don Zimmer, each of whom will be managing in the National League playoffs this season.
Forget that McKeon’s 88-56 record (.611) after the All-Star break the past two seasons is the best in the National League.
Dismiss the fact that this equals the latest date that the Padres have been eliminated from a pennant race.
Schiraldi pitched to Davis with a man on second and first base open. Davis hit a double against the wall. The Reds won the game. The Padres were eliminated.
Someone has to be blamed, right? Someone has to take the brunt of the fans’ frustration. Someone has to take responsibility.
“I don’t think one pitch made a difference in a season,” McKeon said, “but if people want to believe that, it’s their prerogative. I made the decision. I make a lot of good ones during the course of the season; I make a lot of bad ones. This one didn’t turn out.
“Schiraldi did the best job he could. Whether he should pitch to him or shouldn’t, it was my decision. Please don’t blame Schiraldi.
“Put it on my shoulders.”
McKeon says the loud and ugly chastising doesn’t bother him. It’s part of his job, he says. He then takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes, and you realize he might not be telling the truth.
“I’m just tired,” he says. “This race has taken a lot out all of us. You know, I slept in until noon the next day.”
The Padre players, however, knew different. They could see it in McKeon’s face. They saw it in his eyes. His bubbly personality was subdued.
They didn’t need to be told what was bothering him. They read the newspapers. They watched the newscasts. They listened to the talk shows.
And they didn’t like it one bit.
“I can’t believe what is going on,” first baseman Jack Clark said. “People are blaming Jack for that game and not winning this? You’ve got to be kidding me.
“If not for that man, we wouldn’t have gotten nearly this far. He’s the one who had patience in us. If it was any other manager, he probably would have given up on me at the All-Star break. But he believed in me. He believed in all of us.”
Said pitcher Ed Whitson: “It would have been so easy for this team to fold up at the All-Star break and just lie down the rest of the year. We didn’t do that, though, because we have so much pride. And for us to believe in ourselves like we did, you’ve got to point toward the manager’s office.”
But the whispers still can be heard, simply because McKeon allowed Schiraldi his choice to pitch to Davis or Todd Benzinger.
No one is blaming Shiraldi for throwing the pitch. No one is blaming Garry Templeton for leaving three runners stranded in scoring position in extra innings alone. No one is blaming Benito Santiago for his throwing error that allowed the Reds to score an unearned run. No one is blaming Chris James for going zero for five.
“If people want to take shots,” Schiraldi said, “take them at me. I threw the damn pitch. He’s (McKeon) taking the heat for something I did.
“Hey, I had faced Eric twice this year, and twice I struck him out. Jack gave me the option. He knew if things went wrong, he’d take the heat. Still, he had enough faith and confidence in me that he gave me the choice, and I’ll never forget that.
“People can be as mad as they want about that game, saying it cost us this or that, but if anybody should take the heat, it should be me.”
If anyone bothered to ask, Padre pitching coach Pat Dobson said, they would know why the decision was left to Schiraldi. Since Schiraldi didn’t join the Padres until Aug. 30, Dobson and McKeon never had seen him pitch to either hitter. So how would they know which one Schiraldi would rather face?
“That’s bull about how you can’t let Eric Davis beat you,” Dobson said. “What difference does it make who beats you? If Calvin was here all year, maybe it’d be different. We’d know then how he pitches to each of them, but we didn’t know.
“I wonder what would have happened had we walked Davis and Benzinger beat us. We probably would have been ripped for walking a right-handed hitter and pitching to a guy from the left side of the plate.
“We had a hell of a year, and people are going to condemn us for that one game, that one pitch.
“Give me a break.”
Yes, they were coming in from all sides in the clubhouse, from all walks of life, and all were in support of their manager.
Blame McKeon for the game? Blame McKeon for the season?
Just try finding someone in the clubhouse.
“You know what,” said pitcher Bruce Hurst, his voice full of disgust, “it’s really a shame there are only 26 major-league jobs available because there are just so many qualified people out there.”
Tim Flannery, playing in his final major league game, went zero for two, hitting a foul ball to left field and grounding out to shortstop. Flannery, starting at third base for the first time since July 21, asked McKeon to take him out after two at-bats. McKeon did so but had him take the field in the fifth inning before replacing him with Bip Roberts. The crowd responded with a thunderous standing ovation. Flannery came out for a final curtain call, waved his cap while the tears streamed down his face and ducked into the dugout one last time. . . . Will Clark went two for four, raising his league-leading batting average to .334. Tony Gwynn went one for five, with a hit in his last at-bat, and is batting .331. . . . Padre starter Andy Benes’ six-game winning streak was snapped. He allowed 11 hits and five runs (four earned) in 5 2/3 innings. . . . Jerald Clark hit his first career home run in the eighth inning. . . . Padre batting coach Amos Otis listened for several minutes while Gwynn and Clark were wishing each other success during their weekend battle for the batting championship and finally could take no more. “Come on, quit lying to each other,” he yelled. “You know each of you wants the other to go oh-for-10, so quit lying about it.” Gwynn, vying to become the first National League player since Stan Musial to win three consecutive batting championships, said: “I won it before, so I’m not as hungry. But I am hungry to get 200 hits (he now has 197). Once I get 200 hits, I may take the rest of the weekend off.” Pause. “Nah, I couldn’t do that. I’m sure I’ll play the rest of the way.” Clark also said that he plans to play the rest of the weekend. . . . Padre infielder Tim Flannery, who will be honored tonight in a retirement ceremony, plans to have his four-year-old son Daniel throw out the first pitch.
PADRES AT A GLANCE Scorecard
Giants--With one out, Nixon beat out bunt. Clark singled to right, Nixon stopping at second. Riles singled to center, Nixon scoring, Clark stopping at second. Maldonado struck out. Litton forced Clark. One run, three hits, two left.
Giants--Butler singled to right. Nixon beat out bunt, Butler stopping at second. Clark flied out to center, Butler taking third, Nixon taking second. Riles singled to right, Butler and Nixon scoring, Riles taking second on the throw. Maldonado doubled to left, Riles scoring. Litton flied to center. Manwaring grounded to second. Three runs, four hits, one left.
Padres--Cora reached first on Uribe’s fielding error. R. Alomar singled to center, Cora stopping at second. Gwynn flied to center, Cora taking third. Clark grounded to second, Cora scoring, Alomar stopping at second. Stephenson struck out. One run (unearned), one hit, one left.
Giants--With one out, Oberkfell singled to center. Butler beat out grounder to first, Oberkfell stopping at second. Nixon struck out. Clements relieved Benes. Clark reached first on Cora’s error, Oberkfell scoring, Butler stopping at third. Riles forced Clark. One run (unearned), two hits, two left.
Padres--Camacho took the mound. With one out, G. Clark homered to center, his first. Stephenson grounded to first. S. Alomar walked. Camacho balked, Alomar taking second. Roberts walked. Jackson lined to shortstop. One run, one hit, two left.
Giants--Nixon singled to center. Clark doubled to left, Nixon stopping at second. Mitchell grounded to shortstop. Sheridan ran for Clark. Maldonado singled to left, Nixon and Sheridan scoring. Litton grounded to first, Maldonado stopping at second. Manwaring beat out grounder to second, Maldonado stopping at third. Benjamin flied to center. Two runs, two hits, two left.