Someone had to do it. Someone had to investigate the sinking of the Padres.
Fortunately, I was able to undergo this chore in a scientific manner. I was able to secure the services of Jasper III, a robot whose cousin Jason Jr. gained some renown photographing the chandeliers of the Titanic.
It occurred to me that I might visit the Padres myself, but I was afraid I might get caught between or below decks.
Why tempt fate?
And so it was that I met Monday with Jasper. This was the occasion of the Padres' inaugural home encounter after a trip to Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis. This should have been a peaceful Sunday sail on Placid Pond, yet this was where--and when--the Padres sank.
They won only two of 10 games on that journey, and slipped to 7 1/2 games arrears of Houston in the National League West.
Having ascertained where and when the Padres plunged toward the bottom, I left it to Jasper to ascertain why. I also requested an opinion regarding whether this wreck could be salvaged.
This is a rather versatile robot, capable of taking on the appearance of his master. Thus, Jasper was bearded and bespectacled and tall and lean (OK, skinny). He disappeared into the bowels of the stadium with pen and notebook in hand, and press card clipped to his belt.
He would be me, and I would be safe.
"Well," I said later, when Jasper emerged with his data and impressions, "What's the story? What will it take to get this vessel to the surface?"
Jasper, checking his notes: "Tony Gwynn said, 'A miracle.' Garry Templeton said, 'Simple. We have to hit.' Terry Kennedy was funny."
Jasper: "Kennedy said it would take the signing of Babe Ruth. He kind of smirked and took a bite on a piece of celery and said, 'But he's a dead fastball hitter.' I didn't understand."
Me: "That's OK. I can't expect a robot to have a sense of humor. On with it . . . "
Jasper: "I got the impression that bats are missing. Templeton was talking about going through his closet and finding six pairs of cleats, a batting glove and a fielder's glove, but didn't mention a bat. Gwynn was saying he needed a new order of bats 'real bad.' Sounds like sabotage is a possibility."
Me: "I'll do the thinking. You report."
Jasper: "Gwynn and Templeton and Kennedy all talked about these bats. Some seemed to be missing and the ones that weren't did not seem to be working. Gwynn said, 'Ten games on the road and we probably didn't score 30 runs. The biggest thing is that we have to hit the ball as a team.' "
Me: "Did the others agree?"
Jasper: "Sure did. Templeton said, 'We're not getting the hits to sustain big innings. We get one run, but never two or three. We've been pitching well and we've been playing good defense, but we've gotta hit. That's the story.' "
Me: "Must be hard on the pitchers . . . "
Jasper: "I didn't talk to them. They were all consulting with their attorneys. Something about suing for nonsupport."
Me: "I told you no one likes a smart aleck robot."
Jasper, apologetic: "Well, Terry Kennedy said the pitchers get to feeling they have to be perfect, can't make a mistake or they're done. He said when he played in St. Louis in '79 there was plenty of hitting, but no pitching. Said they lost a lot of 9-7 games."
Me: "So the hitters weren't happy?"
Jasper: "Yeah, Kennedy said, 'The hitters were upset with the pitchers then, and I'm sure our pitchers are upset with us now.' "
Me: "Isn't anybody hitting?"
Jasper: "The only guy I heard mentioned was John Kruk, a rookie hitting .311. Not bad, except that he was ill and out of the lineup."
Me: "When things go wrong, they really go wrong. Can this team be brought to the surface?"
Jasper: "Gwynn said now is the time to turn it around. In fact, he said, 'Right now is the time to turn it around.' Kennedy said they need a 7-3 or 8-2 home stand and then a good 'roadie.' I think roadie means trip. Kennedy said they have to do it in that span or forget it."
Me: "They haven't given up yet, huh? They are sinking but not sunk? What did the manager say?"
Jasper: "He called a meeting and told the players the next three weeks are particularly important."
Me: "But didn't they already know that?"
Jasper: "They did, but the man at the helm cannot really assume anything. My cousin told me the captain of his ship assumed there weren't any icebergs in the neighborhood."
Me: "Did you ever find any bats?"
Jasper: "Steve Garvey was swinging one in the batting cage. Swung and hit the ball hard toward the left-field corner."
Me: "Ah, sounds like things were looking up."
Jasper, laughing: "Naw, Graig Nettles' 7-year-old kid, Jeff, ran over and caught it."
Me: "What happened in the game?"
Jasper: "I didn't stay. My batteries were getting low, and I didn't want to get caught between or below decks."