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In Clutch, Kruk Comes Up Empty : Padre Threat Ends When Robinson Throws Him a Curve

April 24, 1987|STEVE DOLAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — These were two guys the Padres would want batting in a game-deciding situation.

There was Tony Gwynn, with a .326 career batting average, and John Kruk, who batted .309 as a rookie last year.

Both went to the plate in the eighth inning Thursday afternoon with the Padres trailing Cincinnati, 3-2.

Gwynn went up with a runner on second and two out. He walked.

Kruk, a pinch-hitter, was next. He struck out.

End of threat. The Padres went one-two-three in the ninth and lost, 3-2.

But Before Gwynn hit in the eighth, the game turned into a chess match.

Cincinnati Manager Pete Rose replaced starting pitcher Tom Browning with Rob Murphy. Both are left-handers, as is Gwynn.

"I figured it would be a little harder for any left-hander to hit off Murphy than a guy who throws over the top like Browning," Rose said. "He (Gwynn) gives left-handers problems that don't throw sweeping curves or sidearms."

Gwynn had a home run and single in three at-bats against Browning.

Murphy, who throws sweeping curves and sidearm, has given Gwynn plenty of trouble. Gwynn is 0 for 9 lifetime against Murphy, all on ground outs.

But Thursday, he walked on four pitches.

"I can't give up a hit in that situation to tie the game," Murphy said. "I want to be aggressive. Once I got behind, I wasn't going to give in. A walk is better than a hit in that situation."

Said Gwynn: "I should breathe a sigh of relief because I don't have any hits off him. I felt like this was the one time I'd get a hit off him."

Even with a 3-0 count, Gwynn was not given a take sign.

"In that situation, I'm looking for a hit, not ball four," Gwynn said.

Said Murphy: "Even when it was 3-0, I threw it like an 0-2 pitch. The last thing I was going to do was lay it in there. I knew he'd be swinging."

After Gwynn walked, Rose had two choices. He could have left Murphy in to face right-handed Carmelo Martinez. Or he could have brought in right-hander Ron Robinson, knowing that Padre Manager Larry Bowa would pinch-hit with left-handed Kruk.

"At that stage, you usually don't have the numbers on your side," Rose said. "He has guys he can counteract with. I knew they were going to pinch-hit (if Robinson came in.) Robbie was fresh, and I'll go with a fresh Robinson."

When Robinson reached the mound, he conferred with catcher Bo Diaz.

"Go right at him," Diaz said.

That meant Robinson would throw Kruk fastballs.

The count reached 2-2. Then, Kruk fouled off four straight.

Then, the unexpected occurred. Robinson threw a curve on the outside corner of the plate for strike three.

Kruk could only stand and watch.

"That's the best pitch he has thrown anytime he has faced me," Kruk said. "That's a nasty pitch. He was busting me in, busting me in, busting me in. All of a sudden, he threw a breaking ball on the black (corner of the plate). He got it at the right time."

Robinson was confident he could throw a curve for strike three.

"I threw a curve, thinking he wasn't looking for it," Robinson said. "And he wasn't looking for it. I know I can throw a strike any time with my curve when I'm on. If you're scared, you shouldn't be in this game. I needed a strikeout and I got it."

All the Padres got was their 13th loss in 17 games. It was the 14th game in which they have scored three runs or fewer.

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