There was only one problem with Atlee Hammaker's 1991 Padre debut, which occurred Thursday afternoon under sunny skies in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The Padres were not armed with fishing nets.
On a day when they could have used help catching the ball, the Padres committed a season-high five errors, couldn't solve St. Louis starter Bob Tewksbury and were reeled in by the Cardinals, 12-1, in front of 19,292.
They spent the day working on mysteries without any clues, and the whole affair brought to mind the old Michael Jackson joke: What do the Padres and Jackson have in common? They both wear a glove on one hand for no apparent reason.
Third baseman Scott Coolbaugh committed a throwing error in the third. Shortstop Tony Fernandez was guilty of a fielding error in the fourth. Bip Roberts--starting his first game at second since May 23--and catcher Benito Santiago joined the fun in the fifth, Roberts booting a ball and Santiago losing a ball that was thrown home. In the seventh, first baseman Fred McGriff threw wildly to second as he attempted to start a double play, and the ball sailed over the head of shortstop Jose Mota.
Fernandez's error was his 10th of the season, and McGriff's was his eighth--both surpassing their error totals of last season.
There were at least two more catchable balls that were missed and one bad throw that could have gone as an error.
Six of St. Louis' 12 runs were unearned. The Padres were one error shy of tying the all-time club record of six errors in a game, which has happened five times--the last time on June 1, 1990 against Atlanta.
Fernandez left the game after the fourth inning because he was feeling nauseated. There was no word on whether this was a result of the bumbling Padre defense.
"It was one of those games even Walter Matthau couldn't have helped," said pitcher Larry Andersen.
Matthau, you may recall, played the manager in the "Bad News Bears" movies.
"It was frustrating to us and frustrating to the fans," said Tony Gwynn, who went two for three and improved his average to .365. "I think they voiced their opinion more today than at any other time (this year).
"They were saying things they probably shouldn't have been saying, but they were saying them anyway.
"They were entitled to that."
Hammaker, it would seem, was entitled to some type of support. He had been waiting a long time for this day.
When you're a pitcher and you can't pitch, you're lost. And Hammaker couldn't pitch in spring training.
He fractured the middle finger in his left (pitching) hand in a weightlifting accident over the winter. His season didn't start until May, when he went on a rehabilitation assignment through the Padre farm system. First to single-A High Desert, then to triple-A Las Vegas.
He wasn't impressive, but then, the Padre pitching staff hasn't been, either. Thursday, with Adam Peterson sidelined with a sore muscle near the back of his rotator cuff, the Padres needed another starter. They called Hammaker. He became the 12th pitcher to start a game for the Padres this season.
He got into trouble immediately, yielding a leadoff single to Bernard Gilkey, a double to Ozzie Smith and a single to Felix Jose. Four batters into the game, it was 2-0, St. Louis.
But in Hammaker's defense--using that word very loosely, of course--Hammaker had Gilkey picked off of first. McGriff's throw to second, though, hit Gilkey in the back of his helmet and bounced away. Gilkey was safe.
By the time Hammaker left after 4 2/3 innings, he had allowed eight hits and seven runs, walked three and struck out one. Only three of the seven runs were earned.
"It would be hard to judge how he threw," Padre Manager Greg Riddoch said. "We didn't make the plays behind him. He had a guy picked off of first base (in the first inning) but we made a bad throw.
"It's hard to judge when you don't catch the ball."
Hammaker (0-1) was happy with his stuff but not with his command.
"I threw way too many pitches," said Hammaker, who threw 87.
By comparison, Tewksbury (5-2) threw only 84 in seven innings. He stopped the Padres on a run and seven hits.
"He was up and down, changing speeds," Gwynn said. "Just when you thought you were going to get a fastball, you got a curveball."
The Padres scored their only run in the second, when Santiago doubled, went to third on Jerald Clark's fly to right and scored on Thomas Howard's single.
That made the score 2-1, but with the outbreak of errors and assorted pieces of trademark Cardinal baseball--sacrifice bunts and infield singles, to name two--St. Louis scored a run each in the third and fourth, four in the fifth and four in the seventh.
Rich Rodriguez followed Hammaker to the mound and allowed two hits and a run in one-third of an inning, and John Costello entered to yield two hits and four runs in two innings.
Of course, Rodriguez wasn't helped in the fifth when Milt Thompson drove Clark back to the wall and the ball bounced off of Clark's outstretched glove. Or when Howard got a late jump on a Smith liner into center, dove and allowed the ball to go over his head for a triple.
Smith tied a career high with four RBIs. The Padres, meanwhile, couldn't put this one behind them quickly enough.
"We just didn't catch balls, make plays or execute," Riddoch said. "We just didn't."
Said Gwynn: "We don't lose three or four games in the standings just because we lost 12-1.
"We lose one game. That's all."