SAN DIEGO — The Padres seemed to be waiting for a death blow Wednesday afternoon before pulling out their 11-7 victory over the Houston Astros.
They had wasted a 7-1 lead. Tony Gwynn was on the bench with a leg injury. LaMarr Hoyt was in the clubhouse, after another wild outing. Garry Templeton, a .203 hitter, was at bat with the bases loaded and the score tied in the eighth inning.
If Templeton failed, the Padres might lose their third straight game, drop four games under .500 and fall 7 1/2 games behind Houston in the National League West.
Templeton was uncertain what he might see from Astros left-hander Frank DiPino. As he said later, ice on his hip and a cigarette to soothe his nerves, this has been a confusing season.
"One day, the pitchers work me in, in, in, then the next day they go away, away," he said. "They're keeping me off balance and I haven't got my concentration down.
"I was thinking DiPino might throw me a hard slider, but he gave me a fastball away--right to my strength."
Templeton sliced the ball down the right-field line. As he watched, he feared it would go foul, but the ball hit inside the line for a double that scored two runs. The Padres added two more, preventing what would have been one of the bleaker losses of the season.
Relief pitcher Lance McCullers, who replaced Hoyt in the midst of a messy seventh inning, said, "It was a big win. . . . We couldn't afford to get any further behind the Astros."
Hoyt, who had been dispatched to the bullpen to hone his control after walking six in his most recent appearance, couldn't get an out. He walked two, gave up two hits and was charged with four runs.
"He was high with his sinker and couldn't get his breaking ball over," Padres Manager Steve Boros said. "It just wasn't there."
Hoyt will remain in the bullpen for a weekend series against the Dodgers before making a scheduled start Tuesday against the Giants.
McCullers was the choice to succeed Hoyt Wednesday because Craig Lefferts had a stiff back, Goose Gossage was resting a groin injury and Tim Stoddard and Gene Walter had pitched in back-to-back games.
McCullers entered the game with a run already in, the bases loaded, no outs--and no defense.
Third baseman Jerry Royster misplayed a grounder hit by Houston's Glenn Davis, the first hitter McCullers faced. A run scored as Templeton retrieved the loose ball.
A second run came in when Templeton threw wildly to second baseman Bip Roberts.
"I was going at Davis with all I had," McCullers said. "The double error hurt, but then I came back and struck out (Kevin) Bass on a 3-2 pitch."
Now there was one out and the Astros had reduced an earlier 7-1 lead to 7-6.
Denny Walling, who had hit a two-run homer off starter Andy Hawkins in the sixth, sliced a fly ball down the left-field line. Pursuing it, left fielder Carmelo Martinez had to make a hasty decision--whether to let the ball drop in foul territory, or catch it for the second out of the inning.
Martinez made the catch, but was unable to throw out Jose Cruz, who tagged up and scored from third.
"Carmelo did the right thing," McCullers said. "Who knows, the next batter might have got a double or something. If he hadn't had to run so far, Carmelo could have put more on his throw and maybe got Cruz at the plate."
McCullers escaped the inning with no further damage.
With the score tied, the Padres had to somehow atone for their slovenly ways.
"I felt good about having Lance in the ballgame," Boros said later. "I felt we'd score if Lance could shut 'em down."
McCullers credited catcher Bruce Bochy with an inspirational play in the eighth. After Alan Ashby singled to lead off, Bochy cut down pinch-runner Tony Walker, who was trying to steal second. The Astros got no further in their bid to take the lead.
Bochy, who earlier had hit a two-run homer, doubled in the bottom of the eighth after a one-out walk by Martinez.
Royster then was walked intentionally, loading the bases for Templeton.
"Garry was our most valuable player last year, when he was a .284 hitter," Boros said. "We know he's a more productive hitter than he's shown. He'd hit two balls on the nose before his double in the eighth."
Templeton hopes his double will help revive his offense, and Boros hopes the victory will reverse a 3-7 record in the past 10 games.
Gwynn, for one, seems more concerned about the team than about his injured leg.
"We're capable of playing a lot better, but we haven't been showing signs of it," he said. "We should've won today with the Astros just scoring a few runs."
Gwynn vowed to play Friday against the Dodgers despite a strained tendon in his left hamstring.
"It doesn't faze me," he said. "I'll play. They have no choice--I'll play until I can't walk."
The injury occurred in the first inning on a steal attempt. Gwynn didn't leave the game until the fifth inning, by which time the Padres had the game in hand, or so it appeared.
The Padres seemed to be resting comfortably behind Hawkins until the seventh.