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Lefferts Ices the Mets With Save for Padres

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The ice had turned his shoulder red, and now it was wrapping Craig Lefferts’ left elbow, getting rid of all those fastballs and sliders that spend their postgames in a pitcher’s arm and make it tender.

There was the usual talk of confidence and intensity, talk that normally follows a close victory such as the Padres’ 3-1 workmanlike effort over the New York Mets.

Lefferts was a man who came in and did his job, he said, downplaying the part of Sunday’s job description that required him to pull the Padres out of a bases-loaded situation in the eighth with just one out and the Mets two runs back.

No, he said, he didn’t feel any pressure.

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“Just me and the ball and the catcher,” he said.

Experience, confidence, knowing the hitters . . . that’s why he wasn’t worried, he said.

“I’ve pitched close to 500 games (actually, 483),” he said. “I’ve done it so much, I always have a high confidence level.”

He pitched to five simple batters, two in particular in a not-so-simple situation in the eighth.

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That’s when he came on, and talk about no room for error: One out, three Mets on base and 25,233 spectators edging up in their seats at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. The Padres led, 3-1, but they were slowly letting things slip away.

Weren’t they?

Dennis Rasmussen started and went 6 1/3 innings, putting the Padres in position to win. He left with the Padres ahead, 1-0, and a runner on second.

Then, Greg Harris came on and left them in a delicate situation. He gave up two singles in the seventh, allowing the Mets to tie. The Padres went out and picked up two in the bottom of the seventh.

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Into the eighth they went and, suddenly, Harris was in trouble. He walked Kevin McReynolds. He got Darryl Strawberry to fly to left, but then he hit Mike Marshall with a pitch. Then he walked Kevin Elster.

Bases loaded.

And here came Lefferts, a man who had pitched just twice in 13 days, sprinting in from the left field bullpen.

He struck out pinch-hitter Mark Carreon.

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He struck out pinch-hitter Mackey Sasser.

Then, in the ninth, he set down the Mets one-two-three.

“Lefferts came in and did his job,” Padre Manager Jack McKeon said. “I’d like to get the lead more often so we could go to him. We haven’t had many leads.”

No. The Padres played their 37th game Sunday. Lefferts made just his third appearance in 15 days--11th overall--but got just his sixth save opportunity.

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Limited duty, sure, but what a job he has done in those six opportunities. He blew one opportunity, surrendering a game-losing, ninth-inning homer to Shawon Dunston in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. He saved the other five games.

And look at the numbers: Sunday’s was the third bases-loaded situation Lefferts has worked out of this season. He has inherited 15 runners left on base by other Padre pitchers, and he has allowed just two of those to score. None of the last 11 have crossed home plate.

“One thing I take pride in is the inherited runners,” Lefferts said. “Coming in with other pitcher’s runners on base and making sure they don’t score. That’s a situation I get psyched up for.”

Said McKeon: “He has a lot more confidence and probably a better idea of pitching than when he was with us in ’84. He’s much tougher out there. Of course, 1984 was the first year he was with us, and the experience has really benefited him. You can pretty much feel he’s going to throw strikes when he gets a chance to come in.”

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He went 2-2 on Carreon and 1-2 on Sasser before striking them out. Sasser’s strikeout came after a long foul ball down the right-field line.

“I didn’t think he had that good of stuff,” Sasser said. “I just missed the pitch. I think I caught myself guessing. I was looking for something out over the plate, and he threw me something up and in. I just swang right through it.”

Whatever, five Mets faced Lefferts, and none could hit him.

In the ninth, he got Gregg Jefferies to fly to left, Daryl Boston to fly to center and Howard Johnson to ground to the pitcher.

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It was a tough afternoon for Johnson. He was one for five with two strikeouts, and it was his base-running error in the first that cost the Mets a chance to get an early run off Rasmussen. He was on first with two out and tried to score on McReynolds’ single down the right-field line. Tony Gwynn’s throw to the plate beat Johnson by at least 10 feet.

“I sent him and he stopped,” said Met third-base coach Bud Harrelson. “I confused him or something.”

Harris (3-0) got the victory, despite giving up a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Dave Magadan in the seventh and loading the bases in the eighth.

“I probably need to pay Lefty half of my paycheck,” Harris said. “He did a great job.

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“The thing I hate most about today was that Raz didn’t get the win. I didn’t deserve it.”

Said Padre pitching coach Pat Dobson: “It was his pitch selection more than anything else. He walked McReynolds on five fastballs, then threw four fastballs to Strawberry until he threw a breaking ball. When you’re not getting your fastball over, your first pitch to the next batter should be a breaking ball. Maybe you can throw one of your other pitches for strikes.”

Rasmussen finished with a season-high six strikeouts, and allowed a run and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked three.

“We’ve been scuffling,” Rasmussen said. “I kept the team in the game and didn’t give up any home runs. Hopefully, we won’t forget how we did this today.”

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The Padres got their first run in the second, when Garry Templeton’s single to left drove in Shawn Abner. They got two more in the seventh, when Mike Pagliarulo and Phil Stephenson scored on Roberto Alomar’s two-out single to right off reliever Ron Darling.

Darling was making just his second appearance out of the bullpen.

“My confidence (in Darling) is waning at this point,” Met Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s been a winning pitcher for me and has thrived in situations like today. This basically leaves him behind some of my other relievers until I can get some decent outings from him.”

Darling said he got a sinker to Alomar down and in.

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“I would have liked to have had it more outside,” he said.

Said Alomar: “I’ve been hitting the ball good. That’s why they put me in the three spot (in the batting order), to drive some people in. That’s what I’ve been doing lately.”

Alomar has eight runs-batted in in his last 13 games.

Padre Notes

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Bip Roberts suffered a strained left hamstring in the first inning when he stumbled over his bat getting out of the batter’s box after grounding to shortstop. The Padres said it doesn’t appear serious and are listing him as day-to-day. . . . Padre Manager Jack McKeon said first baseman Jack Clark will accompany the team on its nine-game swing through Montreal, New York and Philadelphia. Clark, who has been out with a lower back strain, is eligible to come off the disabled list today, but McKeon said the earliest Clark may play is when the Padres are in New York May 24-27. McKeon plans to keep him off the artificial turf in Montreal (May 22-23) and Philadelphia (May 28-30). Said Clark: “It’s one of the more painful injuries I’ve had. Operations don’t hurt as bad a lot of times.” Clark said he will be lying down on the airplane today to Montreal. “It’s a long flight, and a long day with customs and the drive to the hotel,” he said. “I’ll just be glad to get there.” . . . Outfielder Shawn Abner was ejected after being pulled from the game during a double-switch in the seventh, during which Greg Harris replaced Dennis Rasmussen on the mound. He was still angry over his at-bat in the sixth, when he was: a) Called out on strikes and, b) Called for interfering with Met catcher Todd Hundley’s throw to second on Joe Carter’s steal attempt. Because of the interference, Carter was called out. Abner was ejected by home plate umpire Ed Montague when he said a few words on his way in from left field as Greg Harris was warming up. . . . Tony Gwynn’s third-inning single extended his hitting streak to 11 games.


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