Padres On a Roll, Defeat Pirates, 8-7

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Craig Shipley swung and the baseball hurtled toward the outfield grass like a ninth-inning snowball, getting larger as its journey continued.

It started out with a big piece of Shipley's heart. By the time it landed, it was carrying the souls of 25 Padres, their coaches, and Manager Greg Riddoch.

It cleared the infield and bounced onto the grass between Pittsburgh's Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke, neither of whom gave chase. It rolled toward the fence as Jerald Clark scored the deciding run, and it may as well have kept rolling right into St. Louis.

That is the Padres' destination today but, after Wednesday's wild, come-from-behind, 8-7 victory over Pittsburgh, there is an increasing feeling in the Padre clubhouse that this club is destined for something much more magical.

"They don't (give up)," Riddoch said. "This is not new. This is not today. This is every time. They know they can win."

Tony Gwynn said that he has a different feeling about this team than others he has played on in his decade as a Padre. His only problem was finding the proper words.

"I don't know," he said. "Maybe because we're younger than the other clubs. Maybe because we're more aggressive. Maybe because we all get along.

"I don't know what it is. There's just something about this club. We don't quit. When you watch this every day, the way we go hard, the way we believe we can win. . . ."

He didn't finish the thought. In the raucous Padre clubhouse, thinking was certainly a more difficult task than battling the Pirates.

The Padres, 6-0 against Pittsburgh this season, spent more time Wednesday in the hole than a well-digger.

They trailed early, 5-1.

They trailed at the end of the seventh, 6-5.

They tied it against Pittsburgh reliever Stan Belinda in the eighth, 6-6, only to watch Randy Myers allow Pittsburgh to score the go-ahead run in the ninth.

Heroes? They were everywhere.

Gwynn hit a two-run home run in the fourth--his second homer this week--and added a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

Kurt Stillwell had three hits and the Padres' first four batters--Tony Fernandez, Gwynn, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff--collected two hits apiece.

Darrin Jackson, after winning Tuesday's game with a 10th-inning home run, tied things in the ninth with a double that sent Benito Santiago home and extended Jackson's hitting streak to 10 games.

And two batters later, Shipley, pinch-hitting for Myers with the bases loaded and one out, was summoned for his first at-bat in a week.

Padre pinch-hitters had gotten only one hit in their previous 21 at-bats, but Shipley answered by stroking the first game-winning hit of his major league career on the first pitch he saw from Belinda (2-2).

"You've got one at-bat," Shipley said. "You're either going to have a great day or a terrible day."

It was one of Shipley's finest.

"Everybody is picking us up," Gwynn said. "That's what it's all about. It ain't just eight guys and the pitcher out there."

Said Jackson: "We never give up. When you've got a lineup like we've got, with Fred and Sheffield, there's no way you can give up."

It may be a standard line, but there aren't many more creative ways to explain it.

How else can you describe a team that finished the home stand 6-4 despite having a pitching staff that yielded at least six runs in seven of the 10 games?

How else can you explain that the Padres (26-21) are five games over .500 for the first time this season and holding steady at 1 1/2 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants although their pitching staff has yielded an NL-high 42 home runs? That's seven more than Pittsburgh's 35, the next worst in the NL.

Andy Benes, who had won three consecutive starts, lasted only 5 2/3 innings, getting knocked around for five earned runs and 11 hits in front of 16,338 in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

"I don't know," Riddoch said. "He just got hit. It wasn't one of his better days."

Myers (2-1), the Padres' fifth pitcher of the day, got the victory despite nearly ruining the Padres' day by allowing a run and two hits in the ninth.

His 1992 ERA against Pittsburgh actually went down to 13.49.

Still, Riddoch said he is not considering relieving Myers from his stopper duties.

"We'll do like we would do with anybody else," Riddoch said. "Be positive, make adjustments and keep on going."

The poor Padre pitching numbers--the staff's ERA is now up to 3.99--didn't exactly come against an intimidating lineup. The Pirates have now lost 10 of their past 12 games and completed their worst West Coast trip in history, going 1-8.

Thanks in part to Pittsburgh starter Randy Tomlin allowing four runs (three earned) and eight hits in only 3 2/3 innings, the Padres completed their first three-game sweep against Pittsburgh in San Diego since June 1979.

"You're not going to win many games when you give up six, seven, eight runs," Pittsburgh Manager Jim Leyland said. "If you do that, you're going to get . . . beat all year. Our fielding was good and our pitching was terrible.

". . . I'm tired of making excuses. Let's be honest about it. Our starting pitching is forcing our bullpen to do too much."

The Padres have had a similar problem but somehow has managed to elude it.

As a result, instead of thinking about an unsteady pitching staff, the Padres now are dreaming big dreams.

"We're not concerned with what other people say," Riddoch said. "We know what we can do. We can compete. If we get solid pitching, we can compete with anyone in the league.

"That is not a new statement."

But for the first time, it seems like more than a pipe dream.

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