SAN DIEGO — The most common assault on an umpire's sensibilities relates to a supposed inability to see.
"Hey, ump, why don't ya get some glasses?" is a query put to the men in blue since time immemorial.
There was a new spin put on that question on a bright Sunday afternoon when the New York Mets defeated the Padres, 7-3, in front of 32,561 fans.
It was the fifth loss in seven games for the Padres, who open a three-game series against Philadelphia tonight before leaving on their most demanding trip of the season.
First-base umpire Fred Brocklander could have used a pair of flip-down sunglasses as he turned and attempted to track a drive down the right-field line hit by New York's Danny Heep in the eighth inning.
Padre relief pitcher Greg Booker, who had just grooved a fastball to Heep, didn't even bother to look. He knew the ball was going into the stands, a two-run homer that would cement the New York victory.
Booker would have had a decent viewing angle, but as catcher Terry Kennedy said, "No one could see a thing today. It was very bright, and the ball kept getting lost in the shirts."
That was Brocklander's problem. He had difficulty as the ball curved past the foul pole against a backdrop of pastel shirts.
To most observers, Heep's drive appeared to be fair by 5 to 10 feet, but it was ruled foul by the first-base arbiter.
He had barely finished waving his arms to impart his decision when Heep and Mets Manager Davey Johnson were in his face.
"I was telling him the ball was fair and if he didn't see it, he should get help," Johnson said.
Brocklander admitted to Heep he had lost the ball in the shirts.
Proving that umpires are truly human--that is, subject to error--Brocklander had the class to seek the opinion of home plate umpire Ed Montague, who ruled the ball fair.
"I told Fred, 'Let's get it right,' " Johnson said, "and then he walked toward Montague and asked for help. I take my hat off to him for that. A lot of umpires wouldn't have done that."
As Heep noted, Brocklander didn't get much of a chance to seek help of his own volition because the Mets descended on him so quickly.
"We were on him hard," Heep said. "The umps usually stick with their decision."
Padre Manager Dick Williams didn't put up the fight some fans might have expected, for the simple reason he thought the ball was fair.
When questioned later, Williams was evasive.
"I can't say anything," he said. "The last time (he commented on a call) I was fined $200 for being thrown out of a game and $300 for what appeared in the paper. This time I thought I was going to get thrown out for laughing."
He was laughing because it was plain the ball was fair, and it was rather comedic to see the Mets tangle with the umpires.
Williams, however, didn't see much humor in the rest of the game.
Least funny was the pitching of starter Eric Show (4-3), who was charged with five runs and nine hits, and hasn't won since May 11. He gave up a decisive two-run homer to Gary Carter in the sixth that put the Mets ahead, 5-3.
"He threw me the first fastball I had seen from him this afternoon, and I was on it," Carter said.
Show had managed to make it through a three-run third inning that enabled New York to erase a 2-0 Padre lead, which Tony Gwynn had provided with a first-inning homer off Calvin Schiraldi.
Schiraldi (2-0) went five innings before yielding to Doug Sisk, who gave the Padres only one hit the rest of the afternoon.
Show, who failed to hold a 3-0 lead in his previous start, did not receive glowing reviews in the Padre locker room.
"He is certainly struggling," Williams said.
"His location was poor. There were a lot of high fastballs right over the plate."
Kennedy had no trouble discerning the poor location of Show's pitches, either.
"I guess you could say he's in a slump," Kennedy said. "He hung several pitches in the third," when the Mets bunched four hits to take the lead.
The Mets, after taking two out of three from the Padres, are clinging to a slim lead over Chicago in the National League East, and second baseman Wally Backman expects it to stay that way through the summer.
"I don't think either the Cubs or us can afford a long losing streak," he said. "I think it will be us and the Cubs in the end. I haven't seen Montreal yet, but I don't think they're as good as the Cubs."
The Padres, meanwhile, have not done themselves any favors on the current home stand. Despite the euphoria they brought home from a recent 7-2 swing through the East, they are below .500 since getting back to San Diego.
Following the series against the Phillies, the Padres leave on a 15-game trip to four cities in 13 days.
PADRES AT A GLANCE
FIRST INNING Padres--Flannery walked. Gwynn homered to right, his second. Garvey grounded out to short. Nettles flied to left. McReynolds singled to left. Kennedy grounded to first. Two runs, two hits, one left.