MONTREAL — Joan Kroc can't be considered a "hands-off" owner any longer, because she reached out and touched Padre Manager Larry Bowa Thursday night with a long-distance telephone call.
About 30 minutes before Thursday's 8-5 loss to the Montreal Expos, Kroc rang Bowa's office at Olympic Stadium.
"She said, 'I'm behind you,' " Bowa said later. "She said, 'I'm behind the ballclub,' and I said, 'Joan, I'm a fighter. I'll get it done, but it'll take some time.'
"And then she said, 'I'm a fighter, too, and we're behind you.' That meant more to me than anything. Just to hear her voice."
So this had to be construed as a vote of confidence. And Bowa plans to telephone Jack McKeon, the Padre general manager, today to ask him two very important questions:
"Can we send Joey Cora down to the minor leagues?"
And: "Is it that important that we win this year?"
Regarding the second question, it was understood early in the season that Bowa would play all of his younger players--rookies such as second baseman Cora, catcher Benito Santiago and center fielder Stan Jefferson--every day. But the Padres (12-42) are on pace to replace the 1962 Mets as the worst team in history. And Bowa would like to start playing more veterans, such as outfielder Marvell Wynne and infielder Tim Flannery.
"If they want to win more games right now, I've got to play the veterans," Bowa said. "If they say they want me to use young guys, I will. But the bottom line is putting wins on the board. I'm caught in the middle."
McKeon, reached at his home in San Diego Thursday night, said: "I never tell him who to play. He's the guy who's playing the young guys. He makes the lineup out every night. I'll tell him that tomorrow, but I've told him that before.
"Sure, it's important to win, but who's he going to replace? One guy? Cora? He (Bowa) is the guy who wanted (rookie outfielder Shane Mack) and Jimmy Jones (both of whom were recently called up from Triple-A). I guess this is what happens when you lose a few."
Bowa wants Cora sent down immediately. Bowa benched Cora during Thursday night's game because Cora had made the following blunders:
--In the third, Cora tried bunting Wynne to second base, but popped out to first.
--In the fourth, the Expos called for a hit-and-run with Tim Wallach on first base. Hubie Brooks grounded one to the right side, but where was Cora? Bowa has told Cora repeatedly to wait as long as he can on hit-and-run plays before covering second base. But Cora didn't wait, and Brooks' grounder bounded straight into right field.
--Also in the fourth, Vance Law tried a delayed steal. Catcher Benito Santiago went to throw to second base, but where was Cora? He wasn't on the base, and Santiago had nobody to throw to. Cora had taken much too long to get to second base.
In the fifth, Randy Ready pinch-hit for Cora.
"I lifted him because he's getting buried," Bowa said afterward. "And I'm not going to bury him. He just can't handle it right now. We've got to make a decision (on whether to send him down). They are eating him up on mental plays. He's overmatched. He should go down. He's trying, but he's just not ready. I felt sorry for him tonight."
Losing pitcher Storm Davis (1-6) just felt sorry for himself. The Padres trailed, 4-0, Thursday night, but rallied behind Tony Gwynn (four hits, two RBIs) to tie the score at 4-4 in the fifth. At that point, Davis relieved Dave Dravecky, but then came the weird part.
In the sixth, Davis struck out the leadoff man, Andres Galarraga, on a curveball, but the ball bounced past Santiago. It was ruled a wild pitch, and Galarraga ran to first. The next batter was Brooks, and Davis threw a curveball right down the middle.
Brooks didn't swing.
Santiago muffed it.
The ball rolled to the backstop, and Galarraga ran to second. He went to third on Brooks' ground out and scored the go-ahead run on Law's sacrifice fly to center.
"I've never given up a run like that before," Davis said. "But a lot of things have happened this year that haven't before."
Davis made it through the sixth inning and got two quick outs in the seventh. But he grooved an 0-2 pitch to Mitch Webster, who doubled to right. Tim Raines was walked intentionally and Wallach hit a home run to left-center.
Bowa had held a 30-minute team meeting before the game to say he was going to start fining players $100 again for missed signs. On May 13, Bowa stopped fining players because he felt he was putting too much pressure on them.
"But I saw no improvement," Bowa said Thursday. "In fact, I saw the play go more downhill. So I'm fining guys again. . . . These young guys are making so many mistakes. When I talk to them, sometimes I feel like I'm at a baseball clinic. It's almost like I'm talking to 12-year-olds. I feel like I'm going through the ABCs again."
Asked if his players still feel pressure and are trying too hard, he snapped: "What's to be afraid of when you're 12-42?"