PITTSBURGH — The Padres had a storybook finish spoiled Friday night.
John Kruk, who grew up two hours away in Keyser, W.Va., hit a pinch-hit, game-tying homer with two out in the ninth. He circled the bases and glanced up at a group of 60 hometown folks, and all was a fairy tale.
It took the Pirates two innings to make the Three Rivers Stadium crowd of 13,109 forget it. With two out in the 11th, Johnny Ray hit a bloop double to left, scoring Bobby Bonilla ahead of Stanley Jefferson's high throw, and the Pirates had won, 6-5.
Against reliever Goose Gossage, Bonilla opened the 11th with a ground single to right. Two line outs later, Ray had one of the softest hits of the night. Jefferson ran carefully, then wildly toward it as the ball took a spin off the artificial turf. Bonilla easily slid under a high, dying throw to the plate.
"It bounced up and I had to reach for it and I had no momentum," Jefferson said. "I tried to get it there too fast."
It was neither Jefferson nor Gossage but only the sort of trying-too-hard uncertainty that cost the Padres their fourth straight game and seventh of their last 10 on this 12-game trip.
They blew a 4-3 lead in the seventh when starting pitcher Jimmy Jones tried too hard and walked batter No. 8, shortstop Felix Fermin, who was playing in his first major league game. That started an uprising that turned into a major problem when left-handed reliever Mark Davis came on to face four straight left-handed hitters. Overthrowing, he could not get any of them out. The Pirates exited the inning leading, 5-4, and even when the Padres caught up, they couldn't take over.
Manager Larry Bowa has to trust that one of his best two pitching prospects can go more than six innings in a start. He has to trust that a left-handed reliever, whose only job is to get out left-handed batters, can do so. And he has little choice but to play a young left fielder who is supposed to be the Padre left fielder for a long time.
And sometimes he has to think that something else is working against him. After all, Pirate Manager Jim Leyland appeared to do everything to lose the game by bringing in right-handed reliever Don Robinson to get right-handed pinch-hitter Bruce Bochy for the last out of the ninth. Leyland obviously forgot that Bowa had Kruk on his bench, and thus Kruk was sent up to become a hero, which he did but didn't.
"The other guy (Leyland) does everything wrong, and he still wins," Bowa said.
"And to think," Kruk said, "last time I was here, I came up in a similar situation and struck out. My family told me if I wasn't going to do anything, they would stop coming up."
"I thought maybe he (Jefferson) should have hit the cutoff man (shortstop Luis Salazar)," Bowa said, "but because it was so shallow, maybe he thought he had a shot at it. But he's the guy we've got to find out about. We've got to see if he can play here.
"He's such a mystery. He gets on base, he's unbelievable. (Jefferson, a rookie, went 0 for 6 to drop his batting average to .216.) He's got so many tools. Yet . . . last year he played Triple-A, so it's not like Joey (Cora), who came here only playing Double-A. I just don't know."
The Padres have already traded Kevin Mitchell, a key figure in last winter's trade of Kevin McReynolds to the Mets. Sending down Jefferson, also obtained in the McReynolds' trade, to the Triple-A team in Las Vegas--still an option at this point--would do the deal further damage.
Speaking of damage, two pitchers did much more than Jefferson Friday night. As has been the case recently, one was a middle reliever. After Jones had opened the seventh by walking Fermin, he induced pinch-hitter Al Pedrique into a bad sacrifice bunt, forcing Fermin at second. At this point, Jones had allowed three runs on six hits in 6 innings.
Time to bring in Davis to face the left-handed hitting top of the Pirates' order.
"I was all psyched to face (Barry) Bonds and get the double play, but I understood," said Jones of Bowa's decision to take him out. "With all those left-handers, I would have done the same thing myself."
Said Bowa: "I had to do it that way. We're talking about bringing in a guy whose major league niche is to get out left-handers. You've got to go out there with what you've got."
Davis allowed Bonds to hit an RBI double on the first pitch. A couple of pitches later, Andy Van Slyke pulled another hanging curve to right for an RBI single, and the Pirates led, 5-4. Davis was more careful with the next two lefties, Ray and Sid Bream. He walked them both. He was removed from the game without retiring a batter, allowing one run on two hits.
Lance McCullers retired Jim Morrison (popup) and R.J. Reynolds (ground out) with the bases loaded.