It's too late for the Padres to rectify this season. They can only delay the Atlanta Braves' champagne party--as they did Friday with a 1-0 victory at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium--not stage a celebration of their own.
But while the Padres are making the Braves uncomfortable, reducing Atlanta's lead to 4 1/2 games over the Cincinnati Reds, Manager Jim Riggleman already has begun implementing ideas to change the Padres' fate in 1993.
You want innovative?
Listen to this: For the first time since 1987, Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn might bat leadoff.
Or perhaps, Riggleman suggested, Gwynn might bat fifth to protect Fred McGriff.
Simply, Riggleman isn't going to sit by and allow perhaps the most talented lineup in the National League to muddle along. There's no valid reason, Riggleman said, for the Padres to be ranked seventh this year in run production.
"If the lineup doesn't produces as many as runs as you would have hoped," Riggleman said, "you would figure on a change.
"And odds are next year that there will be a change."
Riggleman's revelation came after a private meeting with Gwynn when he informed him of the possibility. Gwynn says he has reservations about the fifth spot, but says that if Riggleman wants to bat him leadoff, he's willing.
"I'll do whatever Jim thinks is best for the team," Gwynn said. "If they want me to bat leadoff, that's fine. But I don't about going from No. 2 to 5. I'd lose about 90 at-bats a year.
"Presumably, I'm the best hitter on the club, so why would you take 60 to 90 at-bats away. It's hard to say what they'll do, but I guess it all depends on what you do with the club."
It's possible the Padres could leave Tony Fernandez as the leadoff hitter, but there are no guarantees that he will return. Fernandez, who's eligible for free agency after the 1993 season, is expected to be shopped during the winter, possibly to the Houston Astros.
"You have to maximize the offensive capabilities of this ballclub," Gwynn said, "and that hasn't been happening. Maybe leadoff would work. I know I could put the bat on the ball, and I'd be a little more active on the bases.
"It's not about dropping numbers on the board anymore, it's about helping my team win."
Said Merv Rettenmund, Padre hitting coach: "Tony Gwynn can hit anywhere in the lineup. Really, if there would be any fault he'd have as a leadoff hitter, it's that every time he swings he makes contact. But Tony can hit any place in the lineup.
"The only negative is that our No. 2 hitter would not be Tony Gwynn."
The Padres' victory Friday--ensuring that the Braves can't clinch the National League West title in San Diego--perhaps best exemplified Riggleman's case. The Padres had seven hits, including three for extra bases. Yet the only run they scored came on Jerald Clark's solo homer in the second inning off loser Steve Avery (11-11).
There was no inning more frustrating for the Padres than the first. Fernandez led off with a walk, and Kevin Ward advanced him to second with a single to left.
That brought up Gary Sheffield, who needs only one RBI to reach 100 for the season. The crowd of 38,866 cheered wildly, knowing he remains close in his triple crown pursuit.
Sheffield slapped a sharp single to center field. Fernandez rounded third but was stopped by third-base coach Bruce Kimm. With Fred McGriff up next and no outs, Kimm decided to play it safe.
But the Padres came up empty. McGriff grounded into a double play, forcing Fernandez at home, and the inning ended when Jackson grounded out to shortstop.
No matter, this night belonged to starter Greg Harris (3-8). It had been four months since Harris won a game, winless in eight starts since returning from the disabled list.
This time, it was the Greg Harris of old. He baffled the Braves all night, limiting them to five hits in 7 2/3 innings. He left the game with his shutout still intact, Terry Pendleton on first, and left-handed hitter David Justice at the plate.
Riggleman summoned left-hander Randy Myers, who had blown five of Harris' leads in the early going this season. Myers virtually was flawless this time, recording his 37th save and equaling the second-highest total in Padre history.
The only mistake he made was believing one of his infielders would catch the would-be final out. Instead, it dropped on the mound with all four infielders standing there with him. Myers got the final out when pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera flied to right.
The Braves have lost six games in the standings in the last nine days and were shut out in consecutive games for the first time since Sept. 15-16, 1989.
"I think this is as aggressive as I've been," said Harris, who has a career 0.36 ERA against the Braves. "I think I got into a funk where you feel like you're going through the motions.
"I haven't been aggressive because I never felt I had velocity. Any time I'm aggressive my curve is pretty good."
Harris, in fact, wants to ensure that he'll never have another season like this. He'll be spending his winter in Puerto Rico, pitching winter ball.
"Hopefully, next year will be one we'll all remember," Harris said.
Triple Crown Watch
Gary Sheffield, Padres: .332
Andy Van Slyke, Pittsburgh: .324
John Kruk, Philadelphia: .323
Bip Roberts, Cincinnati: .322
Fred McGriff, Padres: 34
Gary Sheffield, Padres: 33
Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh: 31
Runs Batted In
Darren Daulton, Philadelphia: 105
Terry Pendleton, Atlanta: 102
Gary Sheffield, Padres: 99