MONTREAL — "Ball a little slippery tonight?" Tim Flannery asked Graig Nettles after the eighth inning. Nettles didn't laugh. He had flubbed two ground balls here Monday night, which accounted for five unearned runs for the Montreal Expo.
So as the ninth inning began, the Padres--instead of being ahead a ton--led by one run. With two outs, Nettles grabbed a bat.
Ever so calmly, he circled the bases and then quaintly looked at Flannery as if to say: "About time I did something right."
Steve Garvey--supersub Steve Garvey--followed immediately with another home run, and the Padres had clinched their 9-6 victory in front of 11,626.
"I may not have been the best player on the field," Nettles said later, "but I was the most exciting."
Error No. 1 wiped out a 5-1 Padre lead in the second inning.
Kevin McReynolds, hitting .305 and batting third in the order for good, had driven in three of the five.
"I'm seeing the ball real well right now," said McReynolds, who has 19 RBIs in the last nine games. "I think that's pretty evident."
With a runner on in the Expo second, though, Nettles fielded Andres Galarraga's double-play grounder and messed up that simple transition: glove to hand. By the time he had a grip, runners were safe at first and second. Vance Law followed with an RBI single, and Tim Raines later hit a three-run homer off the "Banque Nationale" sign in left-center. Four unearned runs and a tie game.
Nettles was shaking his head.
Pitcher Dave Dravecky did the same.
This had been a personal challenge for Dravecky. Just before game time, Padre Manager Steve Boros told him: "I'll stay with you a while tonight. I've got to stay away from the bullpen. They're tired."
Boros, once he'd finished the pep talk, suddenly wondered: "What have I done? Is that too much pressure for Dave?"
Apparently, it wasn't. After Nettles started that four-run rally, Dravecky retired 15 of the next 17 Expos, a team that is stocked with right-handed hitters (Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, etc, etc.).
"When Steve tells me that, I've got to bow my neck for nine innings and suck it up and go get 'em," Dravecky said. "That's what any starter wants to hear anyway. Besides, our bullpen needed the rest."
In the meantime, the Padres were taking a 7-5 lead with a fourth-inning rally. Terry Kennedy drove in one with a ground out, and Nettles got the other RBI with a sinking line drive to left that Raines almost caught, but didn't.
Then came error No. 2. In the Montreal eighth, Dawson--who had homered in the first inning--doubled to right-center. Dravecky struck out Hubie Brooks--who's cooling down--and got Tim Wallach to ground out. Again, Galarraga came up, and, again, Nettles gagged.
On an easy grounder, the ball hit the heel of Nettles' glove and bounded off his chest. Finally, getting a grip, he threw high and wide of first baseman Garvey, who had been given the day off and had just come in as a defensive substitute for Dane Iorg.
Quickly, Law followed with another RBI single, and it was 7-6.
"If you make errors, you hope they don't hurt the ballclub," Nettles said. "These did . . . I've always been known as a good fielder. No one enjoys errors. It doesn't matter as much when they don't score runs, but they do score runs, you feel badly."
As the ninth began, Nettles admitted that he wanted to atone. A 24-year-old kid named Mark Wasinger wished him well. Wasinger, just called up from Las Vegas to replace the injured Bip Roberts, was told by Boros to pinch-run if Nettles got on base. Wasinger said: "Yes, sir!" and loosened up. Flannery, the designated prankster, shouted to Wasinger: "Scared?! Nervous?!"
Nettles homered and ran for himself.
"Everybody said I was off the hook," Wasinger said.
Nettles has homered in his last four games, silencing those critics who say he's too old at 41. Funny, but on Saturday, Met rookie Kevin Mitchell, who is from San Diego, had reached third base and said to Nettles: "My dad said tell you hello."
Nettles: "Who's your dad?"
Mitchell: "Earl Mitchell. He played basketball with you at San Diego High."
Nettles takes a licking, but keeps on hitting.
"I seem to hit these home runs in streaks," Nettles said. "I do it every year."
Boros: "Psychologically, this was a very important game for us. After that long plane ride (they arrived in Montreal at 3:30 a.m. Monday), after losing to the Mets . . . "
Third base coach Jack Krol came into the clubhouse afterward saying: "Nice going, gang! Way to overcome adversity!"
Kennedy answered: "(Bleep) adversity!"
Nettles said: "Yeah."