No one ever said life is fair, but when you’re a major league baseball player and your private life becomes public, sometimes you just want to run away and hide.
Just about anyone else who has problems at home can telephone the boss, tell him he’s taking a few days off, return to work after the weekend, and all is forgotten.
When Padre starting pitcher Andy Benes did just that three weeks ago, leaving the club to return home, it was in all the newspapers for everyone to read.
“I feel fortunate that I’ve got good, close friends here, guys you can turn trying times,” Benes said Wednesday night after the Padres’ 2-1 loss the New York Mets. “I’ve come to realize that, yes, baseball is an important part of my life, just it’s just one part of my life. My family is very important, along with my (religious) belief.
“You have to have all three in life to be successful, and I’m learning that.
“I’m learning at a young level.”
This perhaps is why Benes, maybe for the first time this season, is able to cope with the everyday struggles of baseball. Sure, it was a crime that he wasn’t the winning pitcher Wednesday after his performance against the Mets, allowing just five hits and one run in seven innings.
But you know, when his teammates were walking by to console him, he actually could smile, even laugh, knowing that after all is said, this is only a game.
“Hey, the way I’m feeling now,” Benes said, “win or lose, I know I’m a better person. Everything has a way of working out, and the atmosphere for me now is so good.
“I feel now every time I go out there, I’m going to win. I feel like I’m going to put up a bunch of zeros. I don’t know if I ever felt better.”
Just imagine what he’d feel like if he ever got any offensive support and could afford to make a mistake for once in a game?
The Padres, who obtained all of five hits Tuesday night against David Cone and the Mets, got just four off Dwight Gooden and Co. this night.
Come to think of it, they’re not really hitting anybody, batting just .222 over the past 16 games and scoring two or fewer runs in six of the past seven games.
What’s a manager to do to generate offense?
“Well, getting a guy on first base would be a start,” Padre Manager Greg Riddoch said.
Riddoch watched his team score just one run off Gooden in the third inning on Bip Roberts’ two-out single, then grimaced the rest of the way as the Mets scored one run in the seventh inning on a single by a guy batting .129 as a pinch-hitter, and the game-winner in the ninth by a guy mired in a .158 slump.
And you wonder how a guy can lose hair and weight at the same time?
It was Daryl Boston who finally doomed the Padres in the ninth, making a loser out of Greg Harris (7-6). Harris, who had pitched just one inning the past 10 days, ran into problems immediately in the ninth when he loaded the bases by yielding a single, a sacrifice, and two walks.
Craig Lefferts came in in an attempt to rescue the Padres, but with a drawn-in infield, Boston was able to poke a single past first baseman Phil Stephenson, providing the Mets with the victory in a game that started after a rain delay of 1 hour 44 minutes.
“You know, the hardest part of this,” Riddoch said, “is that when Andy got out of that fourth inning jam, I really thought this was going to be his night. Not too many guys can do what he did.”
And, oh, what a Houdini act Benes pulled.
Benes opened the fourth by walking Dave Magadan on a 3-2 pitch, and Gregg Jefferies complicated matters when he lined a single to right. Instead of stopping at second, though, Magadan tested Tony Gwynn’s arm by taking off for third. Gwynn’s throw to third was not only too late to get Magadan, but Jefferies made a head’s-up play by taking second.
And all of a sudden, Benes found himself with runners on second and third and nobody out.
The situation was treacherous enough, but the trouble only was beginning.
Benes looked to the plate; there was Darryl Strawberry, 28 homers and 80 RBIs worth.
He glanced at the on-deck circle; there was Kevin McReynolds, 18 homers and 64 RBIs.
He scanned the bat rack; there was Howard Johnson, 19 homers and 72 RBIs.
It’s all yours big guy. Have a good time.
Benes looked toward the bench, seeing if Riddoch wanted to intentionally walk Strawberry, but Riddoch shook his head. Strawberry was hitless off Benes in seven career at-bats.
Benes gulped and and went to work.
He fell behind in the count, 3-1, to Strawberry and then watched him foul off four consecutive pitches. The next one was hit softly to shallow left field for out No. 1.
McReynolds was next up, and five pitches later, he was heading back to the bench after grounding out to third baseman Mike Pagliarulo for out No. 2.
Johnson never got a chance to hit off Benes. He was intentionally walked, loading the bases and bringing up Tim Teufel, who hit a two-run homer Tuesday.
This time, Teufel simply watched the third strike cross the plate for out No. 3, and Benes sprinted into the dugout to waiting back slaps and high-fives.
But these are the Mets, remember, and they finally nicked Benes for a run in the seventh. And with the way the Padres are hitting, it was just enough to ruin Benes’ outing.
Benes entered the seventh having allowed just three hits--all to Jefferies--but two of the worst-hit balls all night cost him a victory.
Johnson opened the inning by slapping a ball toward the hole, leaving shortstop Bip Roberts no chance to throw him out. Teufel flied to right for the first out, but Johnson then stole second and went to third on Mackey Sasser’s groundout.
Met Manager Buddy Harrelson had no choice but to pinch-hit for Dwight Gooden, despite the fact that he had allowed only three hits while striking out eight.
His selection appeared odd, but while Tom O’Malley was only hitting .129 as a pinch-hitter, he still was the best left-handed bat that Harrelson had on the bench.
No matter. O’Malley slapped a single up the middle, the Mets had their run.
“You know, I might pitch a shutout tonight if they’re not in the pennant race,” Benes said. “Just being in a race fires up a team. They saw that Pittsburgh won on the scoreboard, and they knew that they had to win.
“Man, I envy their position.
“It sure would be nice to be in a pennant race, wouldn’t it?”
Jack McKeon, vice president/baseball operations, said Wednesday that he does not expect to make any trades before the 9 p.m. (PST) Friday deadline when playoff rosters must be submitted. “I’ve made a lot of calls over the past few days, but I don’t think anything’s going to get done. The races are widening a little too much now.” McKeon, however, still altered his travel plans and accompanied the Padres to Philadelphia “just in case someone changes their mind.” . . . Padre outfielder Darrin Jackson suffered a sprained left shoulder in batting practice and likely is out for at least 10 days and perhaps the rest of the season. “I don’t know when I’ll be able play again,” Jackson said. “I’m sure no one’s considering it a big loss, are they?” Jackson has been to the plate just eight times since being recalled Aug. 3. . . . Padre first baseman Jack Clark (strained right hamstring) will make his first start since Aug. 20 Friday, Riddoch said, when he will pencil him in the lineup against the Phillies. “I was going to do it today,” Riddoch said, “but I thought, well, with the off-day Thursday, I’ll be able to give him the extra day.”