HOUSTON — Sunday's loss in Atlanta resembled a Little League game, but Monday's victory was definitely big league. Just when the Padres appeared to be their old selves again, they rallied for four runs in the eighth inning to defeat the Astros, 5-4.
Sunday, the Padres blew a nine-run lead. Monday, everyone forgot as the Padres got their third victory in four days.
Manager Larry Bowa said it took about 60 games last year before his Triple-A Las Vegas team understood his maddening antics, and he said this season's Padre team is coming around at a similar time.
"It takes time to figure out what this guy (Bowa) can do," said reliever Goose Gossage, who continued to throw more sliders than fastballs and earned his third save of the year Monday. "There's a lot of talent on this team. We're really not close to being where we should be at in the standings. We're really not that bad."
Their No-Name Offense continues to excel. Luis Salazar (the 14,756 people in the Houston Astrodome didn't know what to make of him) hit a homer, a double and a game-winning single as he went 3 for 4. Infielder Randy Ready and center fielder Shane Mack each had two hits.
The Padres trailed, 4-1, entering that eighth inning, but Ready and Mack opened with singles. Tony Gwynn, whose sore hamstring is giving him a headache, grounded out, moving the runners to second and third.
This set up the play of the night: Astro shortstop Craig Reynolds threw Carmelo Martinez' ground ball into the first row of seats.
Reynolds needed to make a long throw from the hole to get Martinez, but he threw much too long. A couple sitting in the front row headed for cover, as the ball bounced over the first base dugout. Both Ready and Mack scored, and Martinez went to second.
James Steels pinch-ran for Martinez and took third on John Kruk's ground out.
With two outs and the Padres trailing by a run, catcher Benito Santiago had an RBI double down the third-base line off Astro starter Bob Knepper (2-8) to tie the game. Astro rookie third baseman Chuck Jackson had robbed the Padres of three hits with diving catches, but he didn't touch Santiago's hit.
Santiago then got a little daring. While standing on second, he saw Bowa fling his arms apart. Last year, when Santiago played for Bowa in Las Vegas, this meant he should look to steal a base. But Bowa was actually telling him to take a bigger lead. Last week in Montreal, Santiago didn't get a big lead off second base and got thrown out at the plate.
Santiago, much to the horror of Bowa, took off for third. He beat catcher Alan Ashby's throw with a head-first slide. He then scored the game-winner on Salazar's looping single to right.
Afterward, Bowa told Santiago: "If you'd been thrown out, you'd have better kept going out of here."
Santiago blushed and said: "I had it easy, man."
It's Salazar who's swinging easy. He has two homers in two days, and he has proven General Manager Jack McKeon right. McKeon took a gamble on Salazar this spring, figuring he could come back from a severe knee injury. Salazar looked ready for retirement at first, but not anymore.
"The only reason I am playing that well is because I've played the last seven games," Salazar said. "The more I play, the more I find my stroke. It's hard to be out a year and come back in a groove."
Martinez, Salazar's buddy, chose to elaborate.
"The guy, you know he felt he may not play again (after surgery)," Martinez said. "I feel like he's pretty happy right now."
Craig Lefferts (1-2) got the victory in relief. Starter Andy Hawkins got Astro first baseman Denny Walling out. Walling was 12 for 27 lifetime off Hawkins, with four homers. But Hawkins got him twice in a row Monday, before Walling finally singled in the sixth. The Astros ended up scoring three runs that inning--Kevin Bass's RBI double and two sacrifice flies. Bowa might have lifted Hawkins, but his entire bullpen was overworked after Sunday's fiasco.
Eventually, the game was turned over to Gossage, who gave up two singles--one to Bass in the eighth and one with two outs to Billy Hatcher in the ninth. Hatcher represented the tying run, but the game ended when Bill Doran lined out to right fielder Gwynn.
Gwynn limped in and said: "I'll take two aspirin, sleep and shake my leg out in the morning. We're hot. I've got to play tomorrow."
Meanwhile, a happy-go-lucky Gossage said: "That game Sunday reminded me of my kids' Tee Ball game. If you let yourself, you can think about it the rest of the year. We've all forgot."
Well, not everybody. Bowa rubbed his brow and whispered: "This one was nice. But Sunday . . . that killed me."