Padre pitcher Ed Whitson sat in his locker after a masterful, 7-0 victory Tuesday over the New York Mets and smiled.
"They can have those three strikeout innings, I'll take three-pitch innings anytime," Whitson said. "Your arm lasts a lot longer that way."
The game, played in front of 23,006 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, lasted just 2 hours 1 minute. The Padres have now defeated the Mets for the seventh time in nine games this season.
Whitson threw just 98 pitches, 73 for strikes, and he did not go a three-ball count all night, let alone walk anyone. In fact, after his first pitch of the game was called a ball, Whitson threw 14 consecutive strikes.
He also struck out six and scattered seven hits in picking up his career-high third shutout of the season.
And his earned run average fell to 2.41, now the lowest in the National League.
"I don't read the papers or stats," Whitson said. "I still have nine or 10 starts left."
Whitson improved to 10-7, but with some more support, "I could have won 18, 19 or 20 games by now," he said. "I've had a lot of games like that this year. I've been in the same groove all year. I just haven't been lucky. That's been my problem--support."
Cases in point: Over the previous five starts before Tuesday, Whitson had a 1.16 ERA, yielding just five earned runs in 38 2/3 innings, but had just a 2-0 record to show for it. Last Thursday against Montreal, he pitched nine solid innings but left the game with the score tied, 1-1. Tuesday was more of the same, except he got plenty of support.
"He was in complete command," Manager Greg Riddoch said. "He changed speeds well and was around the plate all night."
Said catcher Benito Santiago, "He was throwing good, almost everything for strikes. He had all those different pitches for strikes. That makes a big difference."
Told the game was lasted just 2:01, Santiago replied, "That's nice. We don't see many games like that very often."
In fact, it was hard to determine who was more pleased--the man who threw the shutout, or the man who caught it. It was Santiago who provided the big hit--a two-run triple--in a four-run first inning that led the Padres to a 7-0 lead after the first three innings.
That the Padres were able to cruise was certainly welcomed on this home stand, on which they are now 4-4 after dropping two of three games to both Montreal and Philadelphia. Back-to-back games with the Expos went 17 and 11 innings last week. The Padres' past six games have been decided by two runs or fewer.
But this one was a rout from the start.
After Whitson retired the Mets in the top of the first, the Padres jumped to their big lead in the first three innings off Met starter Ron Darling (5-8).
Bip Roberts led off the bottom of the first by beating out an infield single to the right of second baseman Gregg Jefferies. Roberts completed the hustling play by diving head first into first base. He then stole second, diving head first again.
Consider that Roberts came out of Sunday's game and missed Monday's entirely after being kicked in the groin by Philadelphia's Charlie Hayes on a sliding play at third base.
Roberts was unsure of whether or not he'd be able to play Tuesday, but with Jack Clark out with a sore hamstring and Garry Templeton out with a sore back, he was needed.
Roberto Alomar followed Roberts' hustle with some of his own, a nicely placed bunt down the third-base line that Darling couldn't control in time to get anyone. Roberts advanced to third.
Tony Gwynn hit Darling's next pitch on a line to center field, and the Padres led, 1-0. The hit, Gwynn's only one on the night, extended his hitting streak to six games.
After Joe Carter struck out, Santiago lined a ball down the right-field line that ended up in the Mets' bullpen. Before right fielder Darryl Strawberry could retrieve it, Santiago was coasting into third with his third triple of the year, and Alomar and Gwynn had scored easily.
The Padres' good fortune didn't end there. The next batter, Fred Lynn, dribbled one about 60 feet up the first-base line, and Santiago scored on the putout.
It was 4-0 after one inning. Then 6-0 after two innings, and 7-0 after three.
Roberts ended up three for four with two runs scored, Alomar two for four with two runs and an RBI.
Said Roberts: "I'm out there playing, and I just try to do what comes naturally. I can't change anything. I have to continue to play hard."
In the field, Carter made a spectacular diving catch in the left center field gap to rob Howard Johnson of at least a double in the fourth inning. With Strawberry on first with one out, it also probably saved a run.
"That was the turning point," Whitson said.
The Padres remained 11 games out of first after Cincinnati beat Chicago Tuesday.
The Mets, who have dropped two in a row and three of five on this West Coast swing, remained three games behind Pittsburgh in the National League East.
But as good as the Mets have been against the rest of the league, the Padres always seem to play them tough, especially this year.
When asked about it, Riddoch just shook his head. "No clue," he said. "I don't have any idea. We certainly went out and swung the bats tonight."
Jack Clark, who aggravated his sore right hamstring running out a triple in the second inning Monday, will be out for at least a couple of games according to Manager Greg Riddoch. Saturday night was the first time Riddoch has had his "ideal" lineup on the field since Benito Santiago broke his left forearm June 14. "It was fun while it lasted," Riddoch said. With Clark out and Bip Roberts still ailing after being kicked in the groin Sunday by Philadelphia's Charlie Hayes, Riddoch had eight lineup cards made out before players arrived for Tuesday night's game. "(The one we used) was No. 4, I think," Riddoch said. "Most of it hinged around Bip and how he was feeling." . . . And how was Roberts feeling? "It's sore," Roberts said. "I can't say it's fully recovered, but I'm playing tonight. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to play as hard as I can." Roberts was held out of Monday's game. Tuesday, he started at shortstop in place of Garry Templeton, who has a sore back. Incidentally, in Roberts locker is a picture of the play in which Hayes came sliding into third with his spikes high enough to nail Roberts in the groin. Above the picture, somebody has written: "Wanted Dead or Alive" with an arrow pointing to Hayes.
The Mets are having injury problems of their own. Outfielder Mark Carreon was placed on the 15-day disabled list after injuring his right knee Monday, but he will undoubtedly miss the remainder of the season. Carreon injured the knee attempting to stop after rounding third base in the top of the eighth inning. He was taken off the field by stretcher. Tuesday, Carreon flew to Tucson to be examined by Mets doctors. It is believed he has a torn ligament. . . . To replace Carreon on their roster, the Mets recalled outfielder Chuck Carr from triple-A Tidewater. Carr was hitting .259 in 20 games after being called up from double-A on July 31. Earlier this season, he was hitless in one at-bat for the Mets. . . . With shortstop Kevin Elster and outfielder Keith Miller already on the disabled list, Manager Bud Harrelson faced a problem similar to Riddoch's; what lineup to put on the field. Pointing to his lineup card while discussing the moves with reporters, Harrelson's explanation went something like this: "I could have moved this guy up here, and this guy here and this guy down here. But then what do I do with this guy?" He added, sincerely, "We're trying to become more consistent in the lineup we put up." Critics have said that the Mets can't win the National League East with what they have. "And my answer is, I have to win with what I have," Harrelson said. Entering Tuesday's game, Harrelson is 48-29 (.623) since taking over for Davey Johnson.
One of the new Padre owners, Art Engel, came down to the field for the first time before Tuesday's game. Engel said his motivating factor was his 12-year-old son, Jake, who wanted to meet some of the players. "I've been a fan of the Padres and Chargers for years," said Engel, who is also one of the team's three vice-chairmen.