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Clark Still Hurting, Padres Still Winning

Times Staff Writer

His teammates eyed him gingerly upon his return Saturday afternoon to the Padre clubhouse. It was the first time in five days that they had seen Jack Clark, their power hitter, and now they anxiously wondered when he was returning to the lineup.

Clark shrugged his shoulders, and talked in hushed tones before the Padres’ 5-2 victory over the Montreal Expos. He wishes he knew when he’d return from his back injury, which Clark said was diagnosed as a herniated disc and muscle tear in his lower back. He originally thought he’d be able to play this weekend, but after seeing his third doctor in six days Friday, he wonders aloud whether he’ll even be ready by the end of the Padres’ home stand ending on May 20.

“It could be another seven to 10 days,” Clark said, “but with the way we’re swinging the bats now, I don’t think the guys seem to be missing me that much.”

The Padres, to a man, say how much stronger they’ll be once Clark returns to the lineup, but they’ll also tell you, they’ve learned a whole lot more about themselves during his absence.

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Why else do you think the Padres were able to win their third consecutive game Saturday night in front of 23,198 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, once again showing off their offensive diversity?

“It’s like we’re a different team, all of a sudden,” said Padre starter Bruce Hurst (2-4) who pitched a six-hit complete game. “We’re just playing great baseball right now. It’s the type of baseball we’re capable of playing, and the type of baseball I think we’re capable of sustaining.

“We’ve got that fire in our eyes, that bounce in our step, and when we play like that, we have a great team. We’ve never had the kind of team to just lay our gloves and blats on the field and win.”

It was Padre Manager Jack McKeon’s tirade after their 11-5 defeat Wednesday night in St. Louis, the players say, that woke them from their slumber. In the next 72 hours, the Padres have played 27 innings of virtual flawless baseball, with two complete game victories by their starters, 19 runs by their offense, and no errors by their defense.

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“Everybody’s really stepped up and helped fill the void since Jack got hurt,” said Gwynn, who’s hitting .395 over the past nine games. “But really, we had no choice. Losing a guy like Jack in the middle of the lineup leaves a big hole.”

Take a look at what’s happened lately in Clark’s absence:

--Joe Carter, who has moved from center field to first base, is batting .393 in the past seven games, with four doubles and six RBIs. He went two for four Saturday, and his RBI single in the sixth inning vaulted him in the National League lead with 26.

--Bip Roberts, who has moved from third base to left field, is batting .417 over the past six games, including two more hits Saturday.

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--Mike Pagliarulo, who has come off the bench to start at third, is batting .391 over the past seven games.

--Second baseman Roberto Alomar, who has been moved to the No. 3 spot, has responded by hitting .571 with seven doubles, six runs and five RBIs in the past seven games.

“We know we have a great team,” said Alomar, who went two for four with a double Saturday. “We have the hitting, the pitching and great defense. And we’ll be a whole lot better once we get Jack Clark back.”

And for once, it didn’t even matter when Hurst gave up solo home runs to Andres Galarraga and Delino DeShields, giving him just his second victory of the season.

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“I still wanted to go out and pitch zeroes,” Hurst said, “but I didn’t want to give up any nuclear runs or crooked numbers.”

The victory allowed the Padres to reach the .500 mark (15-15), and for the first time in 10 days, they were able to gain a game on the Cincinnati Reds, now trailing by 6 1/2 games.

Clark, who returned Saturday from Los Angeles where he sought yet another opinion on his injury, was informed by McKeon that he might be placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 6.

“But really, that’s good news,” Clark said. “The way I was feeling, I thought I might need surgery. It’s still going to take a while, but it will get better.”

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Clark, who has been in severe pain since suffering the injury May 5 in Chicago, was afraid that his injury was much worse than diagnosed. He had the doctors at Scripps Clinic along with Dr. Michael Schaffer of Chicago examine him, but still, he was not satisfied.

He telephoned Pagliarulo in St. Louis, requesting the name of the doctor who worked with New York Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly. Pagliarulo called Mattingly, Mattingly relayed the name, and in 48 hours, Clark was sitting in the office of Robert Watkins.

“They said I was going to have it operated on if the disc was out of place,” Clark said, “but it’ll be OK, it’ll just take time, We’ve got to get the inflammation down just to get it where I can even work out.”

In the meantime, Carter hopes to continue picking up the slack, driving in another key run that proved critical in the Padre victory.

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In fact, his prowess at the plate has become a running joke with Expo batting coach Hal McRae, who he first met in 1979 when McRae was visiting Carter’s baseball team at Wichita State as part of a caravan tour.

“He still was with the (Kansas City) Royals then,” Carter said, “and he was talking to our coach, Gene Stephenson, who was telling him how I didn’t smoke or didn’t drink. Hal said, ‘He’ll drink once he gets to the big leagues.’

“So I saw Hal a couple of years later after I made it, and I told him ‘I’m still not drinking.’ He said, ‘You will once you’re in the starting lineup.’

“Well, a couple of years later I was starting, and then Hal said. ‘You’ll start drinking once you have a good year.’

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“I had that great year in 1986 (29 homers and 121 RBIs), and later I saw Hal again, he said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll start drinking once you struggle.’

“I struggled two years later, I ran into Hal again, and I told him, ‘Hey, I’m still not drinking.’ ”

So what was McRae’s reaction Saturday, when told that Carter still hasn’t sipped any alcohol?

“OK, you win,” McRae said, “I owe you a beer.”

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Padre Notes

Padre Manager Jack McKeon is well-aware that several teams are interested in one of his starting pitchers, Eric Show or Dennis Rasmussen, but he has yet to receive an offer for one of them. The Boston Red Sox appear to have the most interest, and have two prospects in triple-A that could woo the Padres: shortstop Tom Naehring and third baseman Scott Cooper of their Pawtucket club. Naehring is batting .236 with a team-leading seven homers and 16 RBIs; Cooper is batting .281 with four homers and 13 RBIs.


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