SAN DIEGO — In the worst of times, Carmelo Martinez always seems to respond with the best of lines.
Two years ago in a Houston bar, former Padre Manager Dick Williams berated Martinez for being "a .240 hitter."
"I'm not a .240 hitter," Martinez corrected. "I'm hitting .239."
Sharp man, that Carmelo Martinez. He has a knack of one-upmanship whenever he is down.
Martinez was about as down as he has been during the Padres' 6-2 victory Thursday over Philadelphia. He went 0 for 3 and his average dropped to .207. And he was 0 for 2 on separate outfield plays, letting one ball drop and dropping a foul ball after a long run.
Many of the 21,173 fans booed Martinez, but he returned the favor with another of his snappy responses.
"Give me two weeks off," he said on a stadium elevator ride, "and I'll interview 22,000 fans one at a time."
Obviously, Martinez was sensitive to the boos. Several minutes before the elevator ride, Martinez had discussed the booing before leaving the locker room.
"I don't worry about that," he said. "I'll do my best. If they don't like it, they can boo."
The fans had reason to boo.
- With two out in the second, Philadelphia's Ron Roenicke hit a routine fly to left. But Martinez let the ball fall in, and the Phillies scored.
- With two out in the fifth, Martinez attempted to backhand a Greg Gross foul near the left-field stands. Martinez missed and Gross followed with a single, but Philadelphia did not score in the inning.
"I should've caught the first one," Martinez said. "I broke back at first and was too late coming in. I couldn't make up my mind about diving. I got to the second one and dropped it. I was too close to the wall."
The reason Martinez is botching plays may be just below his left knee, where he has tendinitis of the patella tendon. Though Martinez often says the injury is not an excuse for poor play, he admits that it is bothersome.
"It still hurts," he said. "I don't even want to think about it. When you are struggling, you want to play. You don't want to quit. I just want to go out and hit. That's the only way I can come out of this."
The only thing Martinez is coming out of periodically is the lineup. Manager Steve Boros plans to play him exclusively against left-handers.
According to Boros, Padre management has discussed a more long-term plan for Martinez--the disabled list. However, the Padres decided against the move.
"What the future will bring for Carmelo, we don't know," Boros said. "(Trainer) Dick Dent and doctors have spent a lot of time with a lot of treatment. It's a perplexing problem. They have done bone scans and taken X-rays. It's frustrating for us, and I know it's frustrating for Carmelo."
In retrospect, Martinez said he should have taken more time off earlier in the season. That's easy to say now, but back then Martinez was playing much better.
On April 23, Martinez was batting .333. Since then, he has hit .122 (6 for 49), and he hasn't driven in a run since he homered on May 3.
How much does the knee have to do with his poor hitting? "The knee has nothing to do with it," Martinez said. "I don't want to make excuses."
Then Martinez made an excuse that made sense. He's a converted first baseman, and he still feels uncomfortable playing left field.
"If I was at first base and having a bad year, there would be no excuses," he said. "I'd be happy where I was playing. In the outfield, I don't feel comfortable. I'm getting used to it, but there's a big difference out there."
Since Steve Garvey is signed through 1987, it will be at least two seasons before Martinez might become San Diego's first baseman.
"If I went somewhere else, maybe I'd get a chance to play first base," he said. "I love it here. They have given me a chance to play everyday. Why would I want out of here?"
Perhaps continued booing?
"If you do right, the fans are with you," Martinez said. "If you don't do the job, they have a right to boo you. Sooner or later, they'll come around, and I will too."
Even being a .239 hitter would be a drastic improvement at this point.