He had not had time to read all about it. He had not been here long enough to experience the pressure or agree with the impression of Barry Bonds and others that the San Francisco Giants suddenly seemed to be chasing the Atlanta Braves in the National League West rather than other way, the way it really is.
“He was probably the loosest guy on the team,” Giant closer Rod Beck said of John Patterson after Patterson gave the Giants a desperately needed 3-2 victory Wednesday night.
Patterson hit a pinch-hit home run off Mark Wohlers in the ninth inning to break a 2-2 tie and re-establish San Francisco’s 4 1/2 game lead on Atlanta to the disappointment of 49,290, stopped in mid-chop.
Call it the height of pennant race improbability. Call it “the calvary arriving in the nick of time,” as San Francisco Manager Dusty Baker did.
Patterson, who arrived Tuesday night, delivered his first major league homer in his first major league at-bat of a season in which he had been sidelined until August by recovery from rotator- cuff surgery last October.
He faced the heat throwing Wohlers after only 35 at-bats during his just completed rehabilitation assignment at class-A San Jose, but his story is only part of the improbability.
It had been two years to the day since Wohlers had given up a home run at the major-league level, a span of 71 games.
“I guess it was my night,” Patterson said. “Was there a full moon?”
Wohlers, behind in the count 2 and 0, wondered, too.
“I didn’t know much about him, but that doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I’m a fastball pitcher and I threw him what I thought was a good one. I wouldn’t pitch him any differently 10 minutes from now.”
Time seemed to be running out on the Giants as they tried to stave off the relentless Braves, but they were breathing easier after Beck registered his 39th save, retiring Fred McGriff, Terry Pendleton and David Justice in the bottom of the ninth.
Giant pitching coach Dick Pole had held a meeting with his pitchers prior to the game, encouraging them to be aggressive again, Beck said, to go at hitters rather than pitching defensively as they had recently.
The result: a four-hitter in which the last 12 Braves went down in order.
Starter Bryan Hickerson allowed only solo runs in the fourth and sixth innings before Kevin Rogers, Mike Jackson and Beck provided flawless relief, handing the Braves only their fourth loss in the last 21 games.
The Giants again wasted scoring chances against John Smoltz, but got even at 1-1 in the fifth on a Willie McGee double and Matt Williams single, then tied it again at two in the sixth on a Jeff Reed double and Dave Martinez single.
The switch-hitting Patterson, 26, was the only left-handed hitter on the Giants’ bench when Baker went to a pinch-hitter for Jackson to open the ninth. Patterson hit .184 with no homers in 32 games with the Giants last year, but Baker said he didn’t hesitate, knowing Patterson is a confident hitter against the fastball.
“A lot of teams would have given up on him after his surgery, but he has too much talent for that,” Baker said. “He can hit and he can run. He can do the things you look for down the stretch, and I have to thank (General Manager) Bob Quinn for having the intuitiveness to get him up here.
“John would have had a great chance to make our team this year if he hadn’t gotten hurt (while playing for Baker in the Arizona Fall League). It was tough on both of us, but certainly tougher on John.”
A former teammate of the Angels’ Tim Salmon at Grand Canyon College and a second baseman with a history of shoulder problems, Patterson experienced the injury amid the added physical stress of a transition to center field, a move some in the Giants organization opposed.
His ’93 hopes dissolved into the most “frustrating year of my life,” he said. “I was just happy to get the chance to make up for some lost time tonight. I wasn’t nervous. I’m too dumb for that.”
He also said Bonds briefed him on what to expect from Wohlers and he was just trying to hit it hard. “It turned out to be a great time to clutch up, but I couldn’t get too excited because we hadn’t won the game yet.”
After four straight losses to the Braves in a seven-day span, Baker said it was a victory the Giants needed for pride and integrity and it was clearly the best game they had played in some time.
Patterson made it better yet.