PITTSBURGH — A dark cloud parked over Three Rivers Stadium during the ninth inning Sunday, and it dumped a lot of rain on everyone. But soon the thunder and lightning stopped, the birds started chirping, the vendors started selling peanuts and even patches of blue developed in the sky. The players ran back on the field, but that cloud wasn't really gone.
It still hung over the San Diego Padres, who proved again that in any given series they can make the Pittsburgh Pirates look like a major league team.
The Pirates, in last place in the National League East before this weekend's games with San Diego, won their third straight from the Padres Sunday, 4-2. Their record against the Padres is a ridiculously good 8-4 on the year, and the last time the Pirates won three straight against anybody was more than a month and a half ago against the Cubs.
This time, the Padres lost because of a sore elbow, a sore job of relief pitching and a sore bunch of bats--some of which never left the hitters' shoulders.
Which takes us to Jerry Royster. Steve Garvey had walked to lead off the ninth--the Padres trailing by two--and then the rains came. After a 25-minute delay, pinch-hitter Bruce Bochy doubled with one out, moving Garvey to third.
A tie was only a swing away.
But Royster struck out on three pitches by reliever Don Robinson, and the last one was a called strike three. Afterward, Royster sat at his locker, seriously criticizing himself.
"Is somebody worse than me in the league?" he asked. "That was weak . . . weak. There's nothing worse than that. Second and third? One out? And I'm a contact hitter. If I put it in play, they've got to make a play. I put no pressure on them, no pressure. I made some plays in the field today, but it's a bad day when I let that happen. He (Robinson) couldn't strike me out 50 straight at-bats. All I have to do is hit it. I don't have to drive it, just hit it to second base. Instead, I put pressure on my own team."
Which brings us to Dane Iorg. Pinch-hitting with two outs in the ninth, he struck out just as Royster had--seeing the strike, not swinging at it.
"I know I haven't had a lot of at-bats, but I still have to do the job," Iorg said. "Look at Boch (Bochy). He's doing a great job. I've got to get a hit occasionally."
And Dave Dravecky has got to get healthy eventually. His left elbow has bothered him for weeks, so he was given a 10-day layoff. He started Sunday and threw burning fastballs early, but lost his control in the sixth inning. Manager Steve Boros took him out that inning with two men on and the Padres ahead, 2-1.
In came Craig Lefferts. This was Lefferts' 51st appearance--a major league high--but he was feeling low pretty soon. Johnny Ray's single tied the game, 2-2, and Jim Morrison's shot off the wall in left scored another. Finally, Junior Ortiz made it 4-2 with a sacrifice fly.
"Fifty-one games? It's just a number," Lefferts said. "I just didn't get the ball down today. The velocity wasn't there, and my slider wasn't there. It's been a while since I've gone out and not had command of my slider."
Dravecky hasn't been healthy in a while, and a meeting had been planned with Boros and General Manager Jack McKeon to discuss whether the disabled list was a viable option. Dravecky gave a preview of the meeting, though, saying of the disabled list: "No . . . no . . . not at all. I gear myself for every fifth day, and that's the bottom line. I take every start one at a time, and I don't foresee any setbacks."
For the Padres to get back to first place, the hitting must return. They scored 14 runs in four games here, and seven came in ninth innings, when they were desperate.
"That's putting a lot of pressure on our pitchers, the way we're scoring runs," Boros said.
To identify the problem, look no further than the middle of the lineup, where Garvey, Graig Nettles, Terry Kennedy and Garry Templeton have been terribly inconsistent.
Tony Gwynn, you can count on, but he's so overworked he asked for a day off Sunday (Templeton got one, too). Somebody suggested he take another day off, and Gwynn said: "I'm in there tomorrow. If not, I'm making out the lineup card."
Gwynn was demoralized by this latest Padre loss. He ought to be the team leader--as intense as he is--but he says he's too young at 26.
"I ain't been around here long enough to come in here and start yelling and screaming," Gwynn said. "They'd tell me to shut the hell up."
But he had some strong points to make Sunday.
"I've been an optimist all year long, but this series has made me shift gears a little bit and say, 'What's going on here? Are we going to play better or worse?' " he said. "I've been talking about it all year--we got to be consistent. The bottom line is getting the pennant, and we ain't getting it done. We got our butts kicked by Pittsburgh; we got beat in San Diego by Pittsburgh.