Chicago Baffles Padres : Baseball: Starter Bruce Hurst cannot explain why the team is a 7-2 loser to the Cubs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Padre starter Bruce Hurst stood on the mound Saturday night with his arms folded and a scowl on his face, watching stadium security clear errant beach balls from the field.

He threw his arms high into the air at the nagging precision of the Chicago Cubs' bunts. He rolled his eyes at pitches that were being hit.

And in the clubhouse after the Padres lost, 7-2, to the Cubs in front of 43,720 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, Hurst rocked, painfully answering questions.

Hurst, whose frustrations peaked two weeks ago when he made overtures to Padre management that he wanted to be traded, once again was anxious and distressed.

"This emotion stuff, and how I feel, I can't answer those questions," Hurst said. "I think about what I have to do. I'm paid to play the game, not worry about my emotional state when I'm out there pitching."

Seemingly having left his pitching woes behind with consecutive shutouts against the New York Mets, Hurst endured one of his worst pitching performances of the season.

He gave up three runs in the first inning, found himself trailing 7-0 after 4 1/2 innings, and left the game having allowed seven runs and nine hits in seven innings. It's the second time in six starts he has allowed seven runs in a game. Once again, the Padres are scratching their heads for answers.

One easy solution would be to pitch Hurst against the Mets often. He has defeated the Mets in six consecutive starts, including 18 shutouts innings this season. Against the rest of the world, he's 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA.

"I don't think it has to do with what kind of uniforms they wear," said Hurst, 3-4, 3.97 ERA. "The Mets are in our league. The wins count the same as anyone else. I've beat other teams before."

Hurst said sarcastically: "Maybe I should just wait (to pitch again) until we play them in July."

He has no ready explanation why he has yet to beat the Cubs in five career starts (0-3 record with a 5.56 ERA). Any team that has Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson in the middle of the lineup is no pushover.

"I thought I made good pitches tonight," Hurst said. "The only pitch I'd take back is the one to Ryne Sandberg (which resulted in a one-run homer).

"But the bottom line is I gave up seven runs."

The Padres, 18-4 when their pitching staff limits the opposition to three or fewer runs, couldn't rely on any offensive heroics on this night.

Not even the return of right fielder Tony Gwynn helped.

Gwynn played for the first time Saturday. It was as if Gwynn had returned from war, not sat out four days after slamming his finger in a car door.

The Padre switchboard was ringing with fans wondering if Gwynn was going to play. There were trainers monitoring his early batting practice.

"I don't want to be made out like Superman," Gwynn said. "It's no big deal, I just want to go up there and take my hacks."

It'll take a while, Gwynn said, before he feels fully comfortable. He expects to have trouble with certain pitches.

Still, even though he was forced to leave the game after the seventh inning, his presence once again restored the luster to the top of the Padre lineup. And in case anyone had any doubts, he proved he's still a dangerous hitter.

"I'm seeing the ball good, like I didn't miss anything," said Gwynn, who's batting .368 after his one-for-three performance. "It was easier than I thought it would be. It was a good night for me.

"I just can't afford to hit too many off the end at this stage, I have to hit it solid."

It was Gwynn's one-out single in the fifth inning that led up to their only run of the game. Gary Sheffield hit the next pitch into the left-field seats for his ninth home run of the season.

Sheffield extended his hitting streak to 16 games. It's the longest hitting streak in the National League this season, and the longest by a Padre since Chris James' 18-game streak in 1989.

Sheffield is hitting .409 during the streak with six homers and 20 RBIs. He now has a league-leading 36 RBIs for the season to go along with his .342 batting average.

"This is the hottest I've ever been in my life," Sheffield said. "It's really amazing. I feel so relaxed and at ease out there."

The rest of the Padres were frustrated, however. They had Cubs starter Mike Morgan (4-2) continually on the ropes, but never were able to get the knockout. They were hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position, and failed to score with the bases loaded and one out in the third when Fred McGriff flied out and Benito Santiago struck out.

Hurst never was provided a chance to recover after the first inning. Having not allowed a baserunner to reach third in his last 18 innings, Hurst's streak ended when Grace hit a run-scoring double in the first inning. Sandberg followed with an RBI single, and Dawson's groundout made it 3-0 by the first inning.

Sandberg increased the Cubs' lead to 4-0 in the third inning with his fifth homer of the season, and the Cubs scored three more runs in the fifth that were set up by back-to-back bunts. The Cubs wound up with nine hits, raising their batting average to .223, lowest in the league.

The game also marked the return of second baseman Kurt Stillwell, who had missed nine consecutive starts with a bruised wrist. He came to the game with a cold and sore throat, but after sitting out so long, he wasn't about to not play.

"It's been so long," Stillwell said, "I thought moths were going to fly out of my glove and hat. I've stayed out of the trainers' room two days in a row now, and the way things have been going for me this season, it's got to be some kind of record.

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