Mets Keep the Padres 'in a Funk' : Baseball: Padres finish a 2-7 home stand with a 7-1 loss to Dwight Gooden.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only 10 days ago, the giddy Padres returned from their longest trip of the year, exhilarated by their start and insistent that the rest of the league better respect them.

After completing their home stand Wednesday with yet another humbling defeat, 7-1 to the New York Mets, the Padres don't know whether to cry, scream or ask the triple-A Las Vegas team if it wants to finish out the season.

Padre management did remind everyone after the game that although they are in fourth place with a 16-18 record, they still are only three games out of first place.

Yet the Padres have lost 12 of the past 17 games and endured one of the worst home stands (2-7) in the franchise's history, and the players hardly startled anyone by declaring this team in trouble.

"All around, it's been very frustrating," Padre center fielder Bip Roberts said, "offense, defense and pitching. Right now we're kind of in a funk. And until we get a lot of players healthy, this is going to be a long road."

Someone suggested that with the Padres playing their next 17 games against the mediocrity of the National League West, perhaps they will get untracked.

Roberts simply shook his head and said: "It doesn't matter who we play, we just want to get that winning feeling back. And we don't have that. And if you don't have that feeling, it doesn't matter who you're playing, you're not going to win."

And it's almost impossible to be optimistic when you look around the clubhouse and see what has happened.

Since the Padres returned home May 7, they have made 10 roster moves, made four changes in the starting lineup, placed three players on the disabled list, sent two players to the operating table, released one player and have no ready solution to their woes.

And those woes are piling up:

After starter Ed Whitson allowed 10 hits, two homers and seven earned runs Wednesday, the Padre pitching staff has a league-worst 4.42 ERA. They have allowed more hits (332) and more homers (37) than every team in the major leagues.

Since April 26, when Whitson pitched the Padres' only complete game this season, the Padres have a 5.40 ERA, allowing 242 baserunners in 155 innings.

The Padres, who batted .229 on the home stand and have a season-low .241 batting average with a league-high 219 strikeouts, have six position players batting .188 or lower.

The bottom half of their order Wednesday--left fielder Thomas Howard, third baseman Scott Coolbaugh, catcher Tom Lampkin and second baseman Paul Faries--have combined for five homers and 31 RBIs in their major league careers.

In their past two games against the Mets, the Padres managed only one extra-base hit--a double Saturday by Scott Coolbaugh--and had three baserunners reach third.

"There's not a whole lot going right for anybody," Padre first baseman Fred McGriff said.

McGriff, who entered the three-game series against the Mets hitting .435 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in his past 17 games, went hitless in 12 at-bats against the Mets. He struck out five times and hit the ball out of the infield only twice.

"Those guys can pitch," said McGriff, who still leads the team with a .331 batting average. "They're the best I've seen. And when (Dwight Gooden) is on like he was today, there's not much you can do."

Gooden (4-3) faced 15 batters Wednesday before he even allowed a ball out of the infield. The only time he encountered trouble was in the fourth inning when he had runners on second and third with one out.

McGriff, his long-time buddy from Tampa, Fla., stepped to the plate, and Met Manager Buddy Harrelson rushed to the mound. With first base open, it seemed logical they would intentionally walk McGriff. But Gooden didn't want any part of conservative strategy, vowing that he wouldn't give McGriff anything to hit.

Gooden struck him out on four pitches. And then he ended the inning by striking out Thomas Howard on five pitches.

The Mets broke open the game in the seventh inning with five runs, including a two-run homer by Dave Magadan and a solo homer by Kevin McReynolds, sending the crowd of 24,858 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium to the exits.

"You don't come back against a guy like Doc Gooden," Roberts said. "If you don't get him early, you're not going to get him. And when he has a seven-run lead, you're not going to get him at all."

The inability to hit Gooden, or anyone on the Mets' pitching staff, is the least of the Padres' concerns. Their attention is focused on their pitching staff, the subject of another postgame meeting Wednesday between Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, and Manager Greg Riddoch.

"We're looking, we're looking," McIlvaine said, "but no one's called me up and offered quality pitchers. You just have to grit your teeth and go through it. I don't think there's a (free-agent pitcher) out there who would make that big of a difference."

So considering that McIlvaine has spent the past 10 years with the Mets, who have perhaps the deepest pitching in the major leagues, how difficult is it to watch a team whose ERA is higher than every Met team since their inaugural 1962 season?

"It's been an adjustment," McIlvaine said, managing a weak grin. "I've been used to good pitching, really good pitching. The one thing we had there was really quality pitching."

McIlvaine's voice then trailed off, contemplating the problems he has inherited. His entire starting rotation, with the exception of Bruce Hurst (4-0), has been struggling. And the bullpen blew three games in the sixth inning or later in this home stand.

And although Dennis Rasmussen is only six days away from completing his rehabilitative assignment at triple-A Las Vegas, McIlvaine said that there's no guarantee he'll soon be arriving.

"He hasn't gotten anybody out," McIlvaine said, referring to Rasmussen's 0-3 record with a 7.91 ERA. "He doesn't have a free ticket back here. You guys are on the mistaken notion that he will automatically come back. You've seen his lines. They haven't been too impressive."

Then again, who has?

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