NEW YORK — On a day when Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were once again the toast of the town, Padre reliever Tim Stoddard once again got toasted.
And the only reason the latter is newsworthy is because Stoddard was lit up in the seventh inning, just after the Dodgers had lost again, just after Gooden had left the game and just after the Padres had moved within one run of the Mets.
So, as several of the Padres were asking after their eventual 9-3 defeat Sunday in Shea Stadium, why the heck was Stoddard in there?
Manager Dick Williams' story: "He was the guy we had up, and (he) was ready to come in. Of all our guys that had been working (in the bullpen), he was the one that was the strongest. At that time, we were one run behind. I'm not going to bring in (Lance) McCullers at that time. But it didn't work out."
Granted, how was he to know? But, still, after Keith Hernandez singled, after Gary Carter doubled, after Strawberry was walked intentionally, after George Foster singled in two runs, after Howard Johnson flied out, after Rusty Staub singled in another run, after pitcher Roger McDowell doubled in another run, do you still stick with Stoddard?
Williams did. The bullpen never stirred.
Did he ever consider changing pitchers?
"We didn't today," he said.
Said Stoddard: "It happened kind of fast. He didn't have time to warm people up."
Padre players, who had to sit there and watch yet another opportunity to gain on the Dodgers slip away, would not discuss publicly their dismay over Williams' decision to stay with Stoddard, but there was unspoken dismay.
In Williams' defense, understand this: He couldn't go to Craig Lefferts because Lefferts has had to throw often lately and his arm was "in a little bit of trauma," according to Lefferts. Also, Roy Lee Jackson had thrown five innings on Friday. Left-hander Gene Walter had pitched two innings Saturday night. Also, Williams pointed out that two of the big hits came from Foster and Carter, both right-hand hitters, and the only right-handed pitcher available besides Stoddard was McCullers.
And he didn't want to use McCullers just yet.
Said starter and loser Eric Show (9-8) afterward: "I think it's just a shame. It's really a shame. We'll look back, maybe, at the one game that got away, and this might be the game . . . It's a shame we had to lose this game because we had it in our grasp. We were right there, I think."
Dwight Eugene Gooden was there, too. Behind Strawberry's four RBIs, which included a home run over the center-field fence, Gooden became the youngest pitcher in modern major league history to win 20 games. Incidentally, his age also is 20. Twenty years, nine months and nine days, to be exact. Only Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, who at the time was eight months younger than Gooden, won 20 games sooner.
But that was in 1901.
"It's a great honor," Gooden said of his accomplishment. "I tried not to make too much of it. I figured it would happen sooner or later."
Still, Gooden (20-3) didn't have what people call "his stuff" on Sunday. As this game began under an overcast sky and a slight drizzle, leadoff man Garry Templeton hit a rocket to right field, which was caught against the wall by Strawberry. Right then and there, Gooden didn't seem to be good. Later, he would say "the ball felt big in my hand."
Fortunately, Padre hands and gloves weren't working correctly, either. In the first, the Mets collected three unearned runs. After Len Dykstra's bunt single and after Wally Backman had struck out, Hernandez grounded a potential double-play ball to second. But Dykstra had been running on the play, and Tim Flannery realized he'd have to rush a throw to second base.
He forgot to field the ball. Runners were on first and second.
After Carter flied out to center for the second out, Strawberry, who had sat out Saturday's game with a sore middle finger, hit a line drive to center. Kevin McReynolds immediately broke in, but soon watched the ball sail over his head and off the wall. Two runs scored.
"I just misjudged the ball," McReynolds said. "I couldn't recover. If I catch that ball, that might change the whole complexion of the game."
Foster, the next batter, hit a ground ball to third, right at Graig Nettles. But he, too, bobbled it. The official scorer charitably ruled it a single. Johnson then singled to right, scoring Strawberry.
Strawberry later homered to center off a Show fastball.
"I didn't have anything," Show said. "I had nothing. But I battled. I changed speeds, made the pitches I had to and I survived out there. I went out there like an unarmed man . . . . It takes a little courage to go out against the Mets with the stuff I had.
"But with any luck at all, going into the seventh, it's 3-1 (Padres in front)."
Instead, the Mets led, 4-3. The Padres had scored two in the third when Flannery singled, went to second on Gooden's wild pitch and scored on a Gooden throwing error.