It was tight, it was tense. The Padres were ahead by a run. Middle of the eighth inning.
This is how it stood when the Padres stepped up to bat in the bottom of the eighth.
Then it happened. Suddenly, hits started raining on the Houston Astros like malathion on El Cajon. They were everywhere. Singles mostly, squirting to every imaginable part of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. Except for when Phil Stephenson batted, which was twice. He hit a pair of doubles.
And after leaving more men on base, seemingly, than there are cigar ashes in Padre Manager Jack McKeon’s ash tray, the Padres finally started driving them in and went on to a 10-2 breeze over Houston, in front of 16,468.
Well. Breeze? Yeah, in the eighth and ninth it was. Until then, the Padres were clinging to a wobbly 2-1 lead. They left 10 runners on base in the first six innings alone. Padre on third in the fifth with none out. Forget it. Bases loaded in the sixth with one out. Nope, not this inning. And so on.
Until the crazy eighth. The Padres sent 12 batters to the plate during the spree. Eight of them scored, and seven of them got hits. The eight runs were the most in an inning for the Padres since last July 18, when they got eight in the eighth against Pittsburgh. Juan Agosto started the inning, and Danny Darwin finished it for Houston. Neither was effective.
Two batters--Stephenson and Garry Templeton--got two hits in the inning.
Talk about using the entire field. Templeton got four singles in five times at bat, and he punched hits into left, center and right fields. The four hits tied a career high for him, and it was the 23rd time during his 14-year career that he did it.
You wouldn’t be out of line if you said Templeton was doing it with mirrors. After he struck out in the second, he wandered into the Padre clubhouse and adjusted his swing in front of a mirror. Four hits later, he was finished for the evening.
“Sometimes when I’m seeing the ball good and taking bad swings, I know I need an adjustment,” Templeton said. “It’s a practice of mine. It turned out that my hand position was a little bit off.”
As for Stephenson, who rarely bats against left-handers, his first double in the eighth came off the left-handed Agosto.
“I’m glad Jack (McKeon) left me in against the left-hander,” Stephenson said. “You have to see them to hit them.”
The Padre hit parade did not end with Templeton. Bip Roberts was three for five, extending his career-high hitting streak to 12 games. Tony Gwynn, Mike Pagliarulo and Benito Santiago each had 12-game hitting streaks earlier in the season.
Gwynn also had two hits and, along with Templeton and Santiago, had two runs-batted in.
“From a squeaker to a laugher in one inning,” McKeon said.
Padre starter Andy Benes (6-4) sweated through 7 1/3 innings, leaving with a one-run lead after having held Houston to one run on four hits. He struck out five. Craig Lefferts finished, getting his ninth save. Lefferts allowed a homer to Glenn Davis in the ninth. It was the fourth consecutive game in which Davis, the NL homer leader at 16, homered in.
Benes entered the game ranked fifth in the NL by holding his opponents to a .221 batting average, and he pitched like it. He was in control in each inning, and Houston really just threatened once, in the sixth. That’s when the Astros scored on back-to-back doubles by Ken Oberkfell and Craig Biggio.
Otherwise, Benes was in command. Rafael Ramirez scratched a single to center in the third, threading it between Templeton and Alomar, and Franklin Stubbs led off the seventh with a single to right.
Benes has now won three consecutive decisions, and four of his last five starts.
The Padres scored twice in the first, but missed an opportunity to increase their lead in the fifth.
First, the first. Roberts led off with a single, and moved to second when Gwynn walked. They successfully pulled off a double steal, and the Astros decided to intentionally walk Carter, loading the bases.
Santiago followed with a sharp single to left, allowing both Roberts and Gwynn to score.
They blew a chance to make it 3-0 in the fifth. Gwynn led off with a stand-up triple off the center-field fence. But Joe Carter grounded to third, and Santiago popped to shortstop. Fred Lynn was walked intentionally, and Stephenson forced him at second with a ground ball to shortstop Ramirez. And that was that.
The Padres then loaded the bases with just one out in the sixth and again failed to score.
Templeton started the sixth with a single to center, but Benes forced him at second with a ground ball to first. Roberts followed with a sharp grounder to third, which skipped off Ken Caminiti’s glove for an error. Alomar then lined a shot off pitcher Larry Anderson, which bounded toward shortstop for an infield single.
Bases loaded, and Gwynn at the plate. He grounded to Ramirez at short, who quickly started an inning ending double-play.
The Padres broke the game open against Agosto, Houston’s third pitcher, in the eighth. Stephenson lined a double off the right-field fence, and moved to third when Templeton, the next batter, singled to left.
Up stepped Darrin Jackson, who entered the game in the eighth along with Lefferts in a double-switch in the eighth. He flied about as deep as you can fly without hitting a homer--all the way against the fence in straightaway center. Eric Yelding caught it, fell against the fence, and Stephenson easily scored.
Roberts followed with a single, and Agosto hit Alomar with a pitch to load the bases.
Up stepped Gwynn, for the second time with the bases loaded and one out. Two innings earlier came a ground ball and double play. This time, Gwynn hit a drive into right field for a single, but the ball rolled right under Eric Anthony’s glove, between his legs, and nearly all the way to the warning track. Gwynn made it all the way to third, and all three runs scored.
That was it for Agosto. Darwin came on, got Carter to fly to right, and then gave up a run-scoring single to Lefferts.
Up stepped Stephenson for his second at bat of the inning, and he got his second double. This one went down the left-field line and scored Santiago.
Templeton was next, and he got his second single of the inning. Lefferts and Stephenson scored.
The Padres were ahead, 10-1, and Lefferts could relax in the ninth.
Ha. Relax. For 7 1/2 innings, the Padres were scrambling.
How do you figure? Maybe you don’t.
Said Gwynn: “This team is hard to explain sometimes, so don’t try it.”
The Padres activated first baseman Jack Clark before the game and optioned pitcher Pat Clements to Las Vegas (triple-A). Clark has been out of action since May 6 with a herniated disc in his back and a fractured cheekbone. Clark is expected to be in the lineup tonight. Clements was 0-0 with no saves and a 4.15 earned-run average in nine appearances this season with the Padres. He pitched two innings against Atlanta Friday in his first outing since May 22 and allowed three hits, two runs and a walk. “I’m real disappointed,” he said. “Any time you go to the minor leagues, you’re disappointed. All I can do is work hard and try to get back. It’s nobody’s fault but my own.” He refused to blame it on inactivity. “When you don’t pitch well and there’s a move to be made, it could be you,” he said. . . . Third baseman Mike Pagliarulo, out with a strained left hamstring, may return to the lineup tonight. “He says it’s pretty close,” Padre Manager Jack McKeon said. “I don’t want to take any chances.” . . . Batting coach Amos Otis returned after missing three games because of infected gums. Otis underwent oral surgery on Friday and, since then, hasn’t been able to eat solid food. “I ain’t chewed in four days now,” he said. “I’m sick of ice cream, sick of sherbet and sick of baby food. The worst, he said, is the baby food. “I don’t know how babies can eat baby food for a year,” he said. Otis returned to the first base coaching box, Greg Riddoch went back into the dugout. . . . Roberto Alomar purchased a house in Rancho Bernardo. . . . Not only has tonight’s starting time been changed to 7:35 p.m. to accommodate ESPN, Friday’s start against the Dodgers has been moved to that time as well. . . . Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent will be in attendance at tonight’s game. . . . There should be some good, positive vibes emanating from Jack Murphy Stadium tonight. The Padres are honoring 1,000 seventh grade students from the area as part of the IBM Student Pennant Race. The awards were handed out to kids demonstrating a positive attitude toward school, and each can bring a parent or teacher. . . . Pitcher Rafael Valdez allowed 12 hits and eight runs in just 4 1/3 innings Sunday as Las Vegas (triple-A) lost at Albuquerque, 8-6. . . . Meanwhile, Dave Staton hit his 11th home run for Riverside (single-A) in an 11-5 victory over Palm Springs.