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Pirates Defeat Padres : Baseball: Home runs from Sheffield, McGriff not enough to help Padres gain ground.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was reminiscent of the old song, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

While the Padres were stumbling to another defeat Sunday, 6-3 to the NL East-leading Pittsburgh Pirates, in their seemingly hopeless pursuit of the Atlanta Braves in the National League West, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff continued to divert the afans’ attention to their friendly duel for the league home-run championship.

So what that the Padres remained seven games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL West? The crowd of 18,617 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium got its kicks from watching the one-upmanship of Sheffield and McGriff.

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In the fourth inning, Sheffield hit his 29th home run of the season off winning pitcher Bob Walk. McGriff waited until the ninth, then hit No. 31, a two-run shot off Danny Cox.

Who was on base when McGriff connected? Who else but Sheffield, who had singled? The two guys from Tampa are just about the whole Padre offense these days.

Afterward, McGriff was asked if he was trying a bit harder than usual to hit the long ball in his zeal to stay ahead of Sheffield.

“It was just a coincidence,” McGriff said. “There’s really no competition. I’m just trying to help the ballclub win games. Gary hit the ball out of the ballpark and I hit the ball out of the ballpark. It was just one of those things.”

For the record, McGriff’s last sentence brought to mind another old song.

Sheffield’s first words to reporters were, “No interviews today,” but he eventually loosened up and discussed the intriguing intramural home-run race.

“Fred and I were talking about it,” he said. “I can’t even enjoy my home runs anymore.”

For Sheffield, of course, there is the matter of his bid to become the league’s first triple-crown winner in 55 years. The last National Leaguer to achieve that distinction was Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937.

Sheffield leads the league in hitting with a .336 average and in runs batted in with 92, but because of McGriff, winning the home-run title figures to be his toughest task. Interestingly, Medwick only tied with Mel Ott of the New York Giants in home runs when he won the triple crown, each hitting 31.

The pressure will mount as the days dwindle, and nobody knows this better than Sheffield.

“Sometimes I want to step back and just try to accomplish this thing,” he said. “It would be easier if I wasn’t getting so much attention. It’ll be tougher now that we’re going on the road, too. It’s good to have the fans rooting for you instead of against you. I just try to get my rest and say the right thing.”

The Padres will open a 10-game trip tonight in St. Louis, having finished their home stand with a 5-3 record.

Sheffield has been so hot that after he hit his home run Sunday, Walk decided to try something different. In the sixth inning, the Pirate veteran threw him two bloopers--sometimes known as eephus balls--and even a knuckleball. Sheffield made contact on one of the high lobs, fouling it off.

“I said to myself if he throws that (eephus) pitch inside, I’ll hit it out of here,” Sheffield said. “As it was, I took a good hack at it.”

As it turned out, Walk’s humorous caper almost provoked trouble.

Barry Bonds, who had hit his 23rd home run of the year off loser Jim Deshaies in the sixth, started kidding with Sheffield while being intentionally walked an inning later. When he let out a big laugh, Deshaies took it the wrong way, and both benches cleared. Deshaies put up both arms to try to head off the charging Pirates, but they kept coming.

Predictably, no punches were thrown, and Deshaies called the near-melee a mere misunderstanding.

“When Bonds started laughing it up, I wasn’t in the mood,” Deshaies said. “I asked him what was so funny, expletive deleted. He said something, expletive deleted, and pretty soon everybody was out there.

“I like to have fun, too, but joking around after taking me over the wall wasn’t my idea of fun at the time. I realize that we need high drama in this game. I was just a little frustrated.”

Bonds testified that he had no intention of stirring up any trouble.

“I was just laughing at Sheffield for those blooper pitches,” Bonds said. “I tried to tell Deshaies I wasn’t laughing at him.”

Deshaies had been outstanding previously after being plucked from the baseball ash heap in midseason, but he couldn’t handle the resourceful Pirates. After pitching no-hit ball for three innings, he gave up two runs each in the fourth, sixth and seventh. Six walks contributed to the defeat that left him with a 3-4 record.

“It was a weird game for me,” Deshaies said. “In the first couple innings, I thought I had great command. Then (Andy) Van Slyke got a bunt single and I made a bad pitch to Bonds, and I started picking at the corners.

“Those Pirates know how to score runs, and sometimes the way they do it eats at you.”

Triple Crown Watch

Batting Average

Gary Sheffield, Padres : .336

Andy Van Slyke, Pittsburgh : .331

John Kruk, Philadelphia : .329

Home Runs

Fred McGriff, Padres : 31

Gary Sheffield, Padres : 29

Darren Daulton, Philadelphia : 24

Runs Batted In

Gary Sheffield, Padres : 92

Darren Daulton, Philadelphia : 91

Terry Pendleton, Atlanta : 85

Padre Attendance

Sunday: 18,617

1992 (68 dates): 1,514,474

1991 (68 dates): 1,574,032

Decrease: 59,558

1992 Average : 22,272


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