Padres Fall to Houston in the Ninth : Baseball: Candaele's single gives Astros a 1-0 victory, ruins strong effort by Benes.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a typical Padre evening at the ballpark. The events of Friday night, part of the Padres' 1-0 loss to the Houston Astros, have become common themes in a chaotic season.

The day started with the Padres' placing another player on the disabled list, this time second baseman Paul Faries, for their ninth DL move of the season.

The Padres called up yet another player from triple-A Las Vegas, this time, Jose Mota, 26, the ninth recalled from the minor leagues. After the game, the Padres sent outfielder Kevin Ward to Las Vegas, making room for starter Dennis Rasmussen.

They again provided futile offense for Padre starter Andy Benes, who pitched a five-hitter, but whose record dropped to 2-5 despite a 3.43 ERA.

The Padres' game was decided on the final pitch for the 17th time in 42 games. Astro second baseman Casey Candaele ended the contest with a two-out, run-scoring single.

And what Padre game would be complete without second-guessing Padre Manager Greg Riddoch for a few decisions that were rather curious?

There was the time in the seventh inning when Scott Coolbaugh, the No. 7 hitter, led off with an infield single. Riddoch had Mota lay down a sacrifice bunt to move Coolbaugh to second, but then allowed Benes, a career .125 hitter, to bat for himself. Benes flied to center for the second out, and Bip Roberts struck out, ending the inning.

Then there was the top of the ninth, when the Padres posed their best threat. The Padres, who managed only two hits off Astro starter Pete Harnisch through eight innings, finally got a reprieve when reliever Curt Schilling started the ninth.

Benito Santiago led off with a single to center. Thomas Howard sacrificed Santiago to second. Coolbaugh struck out on three pitches for the second out of the inning.

Mota, who was playing in his first major league game, was due up next. The Astros fully expected a pinch-hitter, perhaps outfielder Darrin Jackson or infielder Garry Templeton. Instead, Mota was allowed to hit for himself. He struck out.

The reason Riddoch didn't want to pinch-hit for Mota, he said, was because he didn't have another second baseman. He could have moved Bip Roberts to second, but Riddoch said he didn't want Roberts to make another adjustment.

Benes opened the ninth having thrown 108 pitches, but he had retired 11 of the past 12 batters. He induced a groundout to Luis Gonzalez. He struck out Ken Caminiti. But then, facing Jeff Bagwell, he fell behind in the count and walked him. Astro Manager Art Howe immediately put in pinch-runner Gerald Young.

Benes fell behind in the count 2-1 to Karl Rhodes when Padre pitching Coach Mike Roarke came to the mound. Yet, strangely, there still was no action in the bullpen. Rhodes hit the next pitch into center field, sending Young to third.

Still, no one moved in the bullpen.

Casey Candaele, a switch-hitter, was next up. The Astros fully expected the Padres to intentionally walk Candaele, considering Eric Yelding (.241) was due up next. Yelding not only is a weak hitter, but he had missed the past four games with the flu, spending Tuesday night in the hospital after collapsing.

Instead, the Padres decided to pitch to Candaele. Still, no one moved in the bullpen.

Benes fell behind in the count again, 2-1, and this time, Candaele hit a slider through the right side of the infield, past Mota, into right field for the game-winning run.

"It was just a ground ball," said Candaele, who has three game-winning hits this season, "but sometime it's not a matter of how hard you hit it, but where you hit it.

"I'll take the 'where' over the 'how' anytime."

The defeat left the Padres (21-21) back at .500, three games behind the first-place Dodgers, and Benes walked off the field feeling absolutely miserable.

"There's not a worse feeling that walking off the field like that when the game's over," Benes said. "I really thought it was hit right at Jose, but I turned around, and knew it was through.

Benes wound up throwing 124 pitches, his second highest total of the season. Riddoch said Benes was not tired, and Benes supported him, also saying he felt strong.

The defeat also left the Padres openly wondering about their second-base woes. The recall of Mota makes it apparent the Padres have abandoned their experiment of having Roberts play second base. And even if Mota doesn't work out, the Padres are expected to activate second baseman Marty Barrett on Monday.

Is Roberts, who has made no secret of his displeasure playing second, the Padres center fielder the remainder of the season?

"Players don't dictate what we do," said Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager. "He's not as comfortable there, but if the team needs him to play second, he plays second. It's that simple."

While the Padres continue their revolving door at second base, the job for now apparently will belong to Mota, who's playing for his fifth organization. Mota, who batted .309 at Las Vegas, is the son of major leaguer Manny Mota, and one of three sons who's playing professional baseball.

"It's a special day for me," Mota said, "but I don't want to get caught up in the rah-rah thing. I want to help this club, and I think I can.

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