NEW YORK — With the rally, the inning and essentially the game over with, Tony Gwynn stood at third base and held his head.
If the Padres ever really needed a victory, it was on Saturday night when the Dodgers had suffered one of their rare defeats. And in their most urgent moment, when they trailed the New York Mets by two runs yet had the bases loaded with nobody out in the eighth, the Padres failed.
They lost, 5-1, ending their five-game winning streak.
Padre fans, read it and weep. Down 3-1, Met starter and eventual winner Ron Darling (12-5) walked Garry Templeton to start the eighth. Then Gwynn singled and Steve Garvey turned a sacrifice into a single by looking to the left side of the infield and punching the ball to the right. Darling, already sprinting over to cover third base, couldn't cover first in time. The bases were loaded.
In came reliever Jesse Orosco, who didn't give himself enough time to warm up in the bullpen because he said he'd had trouble pulling up his socks correctly. Graig Nettles immediately lifted a ball to shallow left that left fielder George Foster and center fielder Lenny Dykstra couldn't get to.
But here came shortstop Rafael Santana, his back to the plate, but his eyes on the ball nonetheless. He was looking up at it, lining it up so it would land right smack on his forehead.
"One time last year, Bobby Valentine (now the Texas Ranger manager) was working with me on fly balls like that, he told me to imagine the ball hitting you in the forehead," Santana said. "That's what I did."
Naturally, it fell not on his head, but in his glove. One out. Bases still loaded.
Terry Kennedy came up next, having already grounded into a double play with two men on and no outs in the sixth. On a 1-and-1 pitch, he hit one hard to first basemen Keith Hernandez, who was playing back, about five yards off the bag. At the last moment, the ball bounded high.
"A tough hop," Hernandez said. Teammate Larry Bowa interrupted and said, "No, a bad hop."
Still, Hernandez adjusted and fielded the ball near his shoulder. He flipped to Santana, covering second. But who was covering first?
Orosco. He scooped a low throw that beat the slow Kennedy.
"I don't see how Hernandez picked it," Gwynn said. "And then Santana short-hopped Orosco. I couldn't believe he (first base umpire Dick Stello) called him out. That was a great play. If we score two runs in the eighth, there's no telling what happens . . . If the ball gets by Hernandez, it's a tie ballgame. Or if it gets by Orosco, it's a tie ballgame."
This is why he held his head.
It's also why the Padres are still 6 1/2 games behind the Dodgers.
The Mets did come back and score two runs off Gene Walter in the bottom of the eighth, but they were somewhat meaningless since the Padres' backs already were broken.
What is significant is that third baseman Ray Knight, who had been 0 for his last 19, picked up his fourth hit and third RBI in that eighth.
Moreover, it might be fair to deduce that Dave Dravecky, the Padre starter, has trouble pitching on three days' rest. When the Padres went to a four-man rotation right before the strike this year, Dravecky was 0-1 in five starts. After the strike, when they returned to a five-man rotation, he was 3-0 in three starts.
But when LaMarr Hoyt went down with a shoulder injury, Dravecky again had to pitch just four days after his last start. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't glad. He left after six innings, after yielding eight hits and three runs.
The Mets sensed this game was an important one, considering they too are scoreboard watchers. They trail St. Louis by a full game.
"There's still a way to go, but it was important to bounce back (from Friday's Padre doubleheader sweep)," Hernandez said. "It's something we've done all year, as opposed to last year . . . We had a lot of young players last year (when they challenged the Cubs). It was their first time involved in a stretch run, and it showed.
"But they learned from it. We're still a very young club, but a club that's been through it. This is nothing like last year when the club got down and pressed . . . This was a veteran ballclub out there tonight."