Imagine, if you will, a kid in your neighborhood puts on his whites three or four times a week and runs out to play youth cricket.
You say, "Youth what?"
Don't you take that with tea?
That is how the neighbors must have reacted when one Craig Shipley, as a youngster in Australia, ran off to play baseball, of all things. This was a game his father played and this was a game he came to love.
"I played cricket and rugby and soccer too," he said, "but I could give any of those up without a second thought. Baseball was always the sport I loved."
This Aussie was the man of the hour Wednesday afternoon, an unlikely hero of an unlikely win by those pummeling Padres. His was the 16th and decisive hit of a come-from-behind 8-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"That's the key," said Manager Greg Riddoch. "Everybody contributes, not just the household names. We need the other guys to step up and get key hits in key situations."
Just about everyone else gets lost in the shuffle when the top four guys in the batting order--Tony Fernandez, Tony Gwynn, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff--rank among the National League leaders in darn near every category but peanut sales. Darrin Jackson said as much Tuesday night, when he was the hero of another last at-bat victory.
And the Fab Four or Four Tops or whatever you want to call them had fine afternoons themselves Wednesday, scoring four runs, collecting eight hits and driving in four runs in another uphill climb, this time from a four-run deficit, to victory.
However, it was the bottom of the batting order that got the job done in the bottom of the ninth after Less-Than-Dandy Randy Myers had caused thousands of boo-birds to take flight in the top of the ninth. He gave up a run that broke a 6-6 tie and could have gotten into more of a predicament if a Padre outfielder, for the second time in three games, had not forced a runner at second on what would otherwise have been a base hit.
Down to the bottom of their batting order, the Padres got hits from Jerald Clark and Jackson to tie the score, 7-7, and watched as Kurt Stillwell was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out.
And now they were at the bottom of their bench. Shipley and reserve catcher Dann Bilardello were left, and managers are always reluctant to use their reserve catchers except as a last resort. If the starter gets hurt, they end up with an usher behind the plate. Not good.
Shipley, hitting all of .185, watched as the inning unfolded. He knew all along where he would fit. Myers was spotted No. 9 in the batting order.
"At the beginning of the inning," he said, "I knew I'd be hitting if it got to Randy's spot. The scenario had to be two outs and the bases loaded one run behind or one out and the bases loaded and the game tied. I wanted to try to get something early in the count and hit it hard."
Shipley could not have chosen a pitch any earlier in the count than Stan Belinda's very first delivery, a fastball he rocketed into left-center field. Barry Bonds, the left fielder, took one peek and started a dejected trot to the dugout, for this one was as tough to lose as it was exciting to win. And Clark, the runner on third base, took one peek and started an elated lope to the plate.
This was not the Great Casey in Mudville, this was the Audacious Aussie in Paradise.
Craig Shipley had come through.
"You know," said Tony Gwynn, "the top four get a lot of ink and a lot of pub, but everyone's doing their share. That's what it takes. Everyone's really had a time to pick us up but Shipley, and he steps up and hits a seed and gets us a win."
Shipley, 29, is one of those guys who has been around long enough to appreciate just being around. He knows his role. It doesn't often call for him to be the hero of the piece.
"Look at our infield," he said. "I'm not going to be asked to pinch hit for anybody and I'm not going to play defense for anybody. I understand the situation. The worst thing I could do is sit and mope. Being upset causes problems. I've seen it so many times, guys being a detriment to the team. I try to be there and be positive and show I'm ready when they need me."
Shipley was needed during the middle innings Wednesday afternoon. They needed a body to help warm up pitchers in the bullpen. He was the body who went down to the bullpen to help. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.
There was just a bit more pressure in the bottom of the ninth.
"With one at bat," he said, "you either have a great day or a terrible day."
On this Wednesday afternoon, Craig Shipley had his greatest day.
Cricket would not have gotten him ready for such a chore.