The kid was unflappable. He was moving his curve ball inside and out, using it at the most perplexing times.
He was gutsy and overpowering, baffling and cool.
He was also Cincinnati’s kid.
On a night when the Padres added three more newcomers from their Las Vegas roster, and on a night when Padre General Manager Joe McIlvaine insisted that his team is most definitely not out of this year’s pennant race, a Cincinnati rookie making his major league debut took the mound and slammed the door shut on the Padres.
Mo Sanford is his name, and he turned some heads during the Reds’ 5-1 victory in front of 29,665 Friday night at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
“That’s as good a pitched game as we’ve had pitched against us this year,” Padre Manager Greg Riddoch said. “He was outstanding.”
Unfortunately for the Padres, the wrong rookie stood out. Before Friday’s game, the Padres recalled pitcher Ricky Bones and outfielder Oscar Azocar and purchased the contract of pitcher Jim Lewis.
Lewis made his major league debut by pitching a perfect ninth inning, and Bones will make his debut when he starts Sunday against Cincinnati.
To make room, they optioned pitchers Adam Peterson and John Costello to Las Vegas and designated first baseman Phil Stephenson for assignment.
But don’t even hint to McIlvaine that the Padres may be getting a head start on next season and starting their September recalls early.
“We’re not tuning it down at all, just the opposite,” McIlvaine said. “We’re tuning it up.
“The best part of the season is coming up. We’ve had a lot of adversity, but when you look up, it’s only Aug. 9 and we’re 8 1/2 (actually, 9 1/2 entering Friday’s game) games back.”
So, Oakland gets Ron Darling and Brook Jacoby for the stretch drive; the Dodgers get Roger McDowell; Toronto gets Tom Candiotti and Candy Maldonado. The Padres get Azocar, Lewis and Bones.
McIlvaine spent last week in Las Vegas scouting, and he apparently liked what he saw. Azocar was batting .296 with seven home runs and 50 RBIs; Bones was 8-6 with a 4.22 ERA and Lewis was 6-3 with a 3.38 ERA and three saves.
Azocar, a converted pitcher, came to San Diego from the New York Yankees last December. In 65 games for the Yankees in 1990, he batted .248 with five homers and 19 RBIs. Azocar will fill the role of a left-handed pinch-hitter for the Padres.
Bones, who was signed by the Padres as a free agent in 1986, will remain in the starting rotation for an indefinite period of time. Lewis, selected by the Padres in the fifth round of the 1985 June free agent draft, will fill Costello’s role in the bullpen.
"(McIlvaine) has been down there for a week, and he thought they were better than what we have,” Riddoch said.
The Padres already had used a franchise-record 43 players this season. Azocar’s pinch-hitting appearance in the sixth Friday--he flied to left--bumped that total to 44, and Lewis’ appearance in the ninth--he retired the Reds in order--made it 45.
McIlvaine said the three new Padres are not part of an experiment.
“They’re up here to produce,” McIlvaine said. “I’ve been holding off Bones as long as I could so he could gain experience. He’s only 22.
“They’re not here because we’re trying things. They’re here because I feel they can contribute. We’re trying to get as much stability as we can in an unstable year.
“It’s Aug. 9, and we’re in a position where we can still go forward. I want to give it every chance.
“The Dodgers had a great period of time, the Giants had a great period of time, the Astros had a great period of time, the Reds had a great period of time and the Braves have had a great period of time. We’re really the only one who hasn’t had a good streak yet.”
The Padres’ longest winning streak this season has been six games, and their longest losing streak has been five.
Said Riddoch: “I believe this in my heart: The guys out there in that locker room, if they were healthy in spring training and didn’t have any carry-over, we’d be right there right now. . . .
“I think we could be equally as close to the Dodgers as the Braves. If we get on a streak . . . who knows what Ricky Bones is going to do?”
As for Sanford, he held the Padres to two hits in seven innings and didn’t allow a Padre baserunner past second in any inning but the third. He struck out the side in the first and had six strikeouts through the first three innings. He finished with eight.
“Everybody just told me to do the same thing I did in the minors, and that’s what I did,” said Sanford, 24, a right-hander who was recalled from triple-A Nashville Aug. 4. He was drafted by Cincinnati in the 32nd round in June 1988 after pitching four years at the University of Alabama.
“I slept well and had a nice dinner (Thursday), but I was real nervous until batting practice (Friday). Striking out the first three batters really relaxed me.”
By the time Rob Dibble arrived to pitch the eighth and ninth, the Padres were just thankful to be rid of Sanford.
“To be honest, I’s rather face Dibble in the ninth, just because I’ve seen him before,” said Tony Gwynn, who went one for four. “I didn’t have any idea what (Sanford) was going to throw.”
Said Red shortstop Barry Larkin: “How would you like to face (Sanford) and then Dibble? I’d tell the manager, ‘Why are you playing me today?’ ”
Which was about all most of the Padres could ask by the time Sanford was finished with them--especially Padre starter Dennis Rasmussen (3-10), who lost his ninth consecutive decision.
Meantime, the Padres hope their three newcomers deliver some spark.
And McIlvaine continues to make moves, continues to wait and hope. Just because the Padres remain stuck in fifth place, he said, is no reason to throw in the towel.
“Absolutely not,” McIlvaine said. “When there are about (53 games) left, and you’re only eight or nine out. . . . You’re out when mathematics say you’re out.
“It’s normal when you play 162 games, whether you’re in first place or last, to (go through a good period). We’ve been winning some and losing some.
“I really feel we’re going to get a good spurt.”