SAN DIEGO — A look at the scoreboard appeared to be an illusion Monday night at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The Padres actually led Cincinnati, 1-0 . . . 3-0 . . . 4-0 . . . 5-0.
It didn't figure the score would stay that way in front of a season-low crowd of 12,273. And it didn't.
But what the heck? A 5-2 victory is a veritable laugher for the Padres, even if the opposition had the tying run at the plate twice in the ninth.
"It got tight at the end," Tony Gwynn said. "But what Padre game would be a Padre game without it being close?"
Considering the Padres had lost three straight and eight of their last nine on the road, anything would do at this stage.
Things had become so desperate that Manager Steve Boros changed his original definition of the word critical, at least in application to the Padres.
Boros had said that games are not critical until September. That no longer applies since the Padres are tied for third with Cincinnati, 7 1/2 games behind Houston.
"September won't mean a thing if we don't do something in the next three weeks," Boros said. "I'm not so smart that I can say we have to win this many games. For us to stay in it, we have to play well for the next three weeks."
For the Padres to stay in the race, they will need some repeat performances from Monday.
--Andy Hawkins, who had lost leads in 13 of his previous 21 starts, didn't lose a lead this time.
--The Padres, who had lost their home run stroke for seven games, hit three homers off Cincinnati's Tom Browning.
--Steve Garvey, who seemingly lost his batting stroke (and his position for two days last week to John Kruk), had three hits.
Perhaps Hawkins was the most impressive.
In his last three starts, he had allowed 14 runs in 15 innings. He wasn't pitching aggressively, which often has been his downfall over the years.
However, an early lead did wonders against the Reds.
"When we had a 3-0 bulge, it helped him," Boros said. "He was able to pitch aggressively. We haven't been able to give our pitchers the lecture about being aggressive with a 3-0 lead. They have had to put zeros on the board."
The Padres averaged just 3.2 runs on the 2-8 trip that concluded Sunday.
But Hawkins was given a one-run lead in the first and a three-run lead in the third Monday.
"You don't worry about giving up the long ball, for one thing," Hawkins said. "You can get behind and throw strikes. You don't have to worry about painting the corners. You make them put it in play."
Hawkins was relieved by Goose Gossage with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, the Padres leading by five runs. Gossage gave up a two-run single to Nick Esasky before striking out pinch-hitters Dave Parker and Tony Perez to end the game.
Hawkins had allowed consecutive singles to Kal Daniels and Eric Davis to lead off the inning. After Bo Diaz hit into a fielder's choice, Hawkins hit Buddy Bell to load the bases and Gossage came in.
Boros said Hawkins was removed because he was unable to get his pitches where he wanted in the ninth.
Said Hawkins: "I like shutouts, especially when I haven't thrown too many zeros up. Things got out of hand. I still had good movement on the ball. I would have liked to stay in. That's up to the manager. You don't die with your starter when the game has gone eight innings."
Hawkins used the "back against the wall" cliche to describe his current situation.
"I can roll over and die," he said. "Or, I can kick myself in the butt and make the most of the rest of the season."
The same goes for the rest of the Padres.
They need something to get into gear. Maybe Monday's offensive performance will be the catalyst.
Kevin McReynolds doubled and scored on Garvey's single in the first.
Then came the home runs.
Gwynn and McReynolds hit back-to-back homers in the third, just as they had done in the eighth inning against John Tudor of St. Louis July 10. Jerry Royster added a fifth-inning homer.
"I still won't believe we're a big hit and home run club," Boros said. "We'll take those kind of hits. (But) we counted on that the first half. I don't think we'll count on it the second half."
The Padres hope they can count on the kind of aggressive baserunning they showed in the sixth inning Monday.
Terry Kennedy, among the team's slower runners, advanced from second to third on Marvell Wynne's fly to right. Kennedy scored on Bip Roberts' first sacrifice of the year.
The Padres also hope they can count on Garvey, who was batting just .235 before Monday.
Garvey hit solid singles to center his first three at-bats. He grounded to short his final at-bat.
"I just hope it's a start," Garvey said. "I've been hitting the ball respectably with not much to show for it. Something like this could make you think this could be the start of something big. Hey, that sounds like the lyrics for a song."
Or maybe the theme for a team that has reached its critical stage more than a month early.