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Where’s the Fire? Intensity? Not in the Padre Clubhouse

You know what the Padres need?

They need to find the darkest, dreariest alley in the most dangerous part of the roughest town this side of wherever England’s soccer fans are staying.

And they need to walk down that alley together.

They need to fear for their hides and not just their batting averages, earned-run averages and contracts.

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And they need to experience this fear together.

This may be what it takes to bring this underachieving bunch together. Right now, they seem as splintered as the Democrats and as lackluster as the Republicans.

I see no fire.

I see no intensity.

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I see no courage.

Individually, these are the best players the Padres have ever had. Collectively, these players are very mediocre.

Thus far, these guys have expended more energy questioning one another than they have supporting one another.

All of this manifested itself for the first time during The Gwynn Bashing of late May. This began when Mike Pagliarulo ripped an unnamed teammate with accusations of selfishness. Generally, remarks such as Pagliarulo’s will disrupt entire clubhouses, each player wondering if he, indeed, is the target. This didn’t happen because it quickly was accepted that the unnamed player was Tony Gwynn.

As controversy continued to swirl, the players called a meeting to discuss the issue . . . and Gwynn got hit with most of the verbal shrapnel. Interestingly, no one came to his defense and said, “Wait a minute, we’re getting a little out of line here.” Either no one sided with Gwynn or no one had the courage to side with Gwynn, and I would suspect it to be the latter.

Thus, a four-time batting champion was made to feel like an island in an angry sea.

That was an occasion on which Tony Gwynn felt like a target. When the Padres encountered the San Francisco Giants, everyone seemed to be fair game.

In the course of the past 29 innings involving these two teams, five Padres have been hit by pitches. The first was Benito Santiago, who is still out with a broken arm.

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Padre tongues have wagged on and on about how terrible this is, but they have responded, in reality, more like puppies being hit with sticks.

This is not to suggest that Padre pitchers should become headhunters. Far from it. There was no way in the world, for example, that the pitcher who hit Santiago, Jeff Brantley, was trying to hit him. Nothing in that particular game or even recent history of the rivalry would have prompted such malicious intent.

What Brantley was doing was pitching tight. You pitch tight, and a pitch gets away, maybe it hits a batter. I would suspect that all five Padres hit by Giant pitchers were simply being pitched tightly.

Thus, “retaliation” does not have to come in the form of a blazing fastball at the chin. Instead, it comes in pitching the other team’s hitters equally tight, maybe even plunking one of them on the hip. You know, accidents do happen.

The Padres came out of those games against the Giants looking very much like players who can be intimidated. If the hitters felt they were being thrown at, they certainly did nothing to assert themselves. And the pitchers did nothing to shake up the Giants. The Padres made all sorts of noise about being wronged, yet took whatever the Giants did to them in the most passive of manners.

Houston must have a pretty good scouting report on these guys. On Tuesday night, when the Padres were uncharacteristically roughing up the Astro pitchers, Jack Clark was decked by a pitch headed straight for his helmet flap. Clark nonchalantly dusted himself off and stepped back into the box . . . and nary an Astro had to dust himself off in the aftermath.

No, these Padres are not exactly a fiery bunch.

This is a very big reason why they are so far in arrears of Cincinnati on the last day of June. This is a very big reason why a season that dawned with such promise is disappearing into a mist of seeming apathy.

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What do they serve in that lunch room they scamper off to after each win or loss? Quiche? Strawberries and cream?

Maybe the manager is too nice a guy. Teams seem to cycle according to the temperament of the manager. The Padres got so they wouldn’t play under the curmudgeonly Dick Williams and didn’t play under nice guy Steve Boros and wouldn’t play under volcanic Larry Bowa, and now they are not responding to nice guy Jack McKeon.

Is that what they want? Do they want another manager?

If they can’t dig down and find some lava in their veins, they are going to get one.

The guy this group probably needs is Attila the Hun.


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