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Santiago Is Catalyst in Padres' 7-1 Win

September 18, 1987|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — It won't be official until November, when Benito Santiago's bat will be hounding those poor outside pitches somewhere in Puerto Rico.

So Padre Manager Larry Bowa has a suggestion.

Give it to him here, now.

Benito Santiago, National League Rookie of the Year.

"There's no voting about it--it's over," said Bowa on Thursday after Santiago hit a home run and a double to lead the Padres to a 7-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. Santiago, 22, extended his National League season-high hitting streak to 21 games.

"He could go 0 for the rest of the year and still get it. Anybody who would not pick him, they're crazy," Bowa added.

Santiago smiled.

"If you think about it, I guess I've got it,' he said. "If somebody is going to beat me, there's not much time left, is there? And right now, nobody is close."

In his first at-bat Thursday, Santiago hit a homer on a pitch headed for the backstop. It was ball four.

During the streak, which is four short of Tony Gwynn's club record of 25 set in 1983, Santiago has hit .373 (31 for 83) with 7 doubles, 4 homers and 13 RBIs. In 9 of the 21 games, he has had two or more hits.

"After I had hit in eight straight games, I started telling friends about it," Santiago said. "But now, I go to the plate like nothing's happening. I have to do that. I have to concentrate."

At least he doesn't have to worry about matching Joe DiMaggio' 56-game streak, which remains a major league record. There are only 16 games left this season, so Santiago's streak could reach 37 games by closing day, Oct. 4.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, if the streak were to extend into next season and Santiago actually did pass 56 games, he would fall under a new category called 'Streaks Covering Two Seasons.' Currently, no such category exists.

The streak has done wonders for his season statistics, pushing him to .299 with 17 homers and 73 RBIs.

"At the beginning of the year, I would have been very satisfied with .250-.270, with 10-12 homers," Bowa said. "In April he found the big leagues to be a whole new ballgame. He was literally pressing. And the more he pressed, the worse it got."

But then Santiago calmed down. He actually looked over a pitch or two. He started swinging at better pitches and making better contact.

Then one day he actually drew a walk. Perhaps the most amazing thing about his season is that he could hit .300 with just 16 walks in 488 at-bats.

Every starter on the team has at least twice as many walks. Gwynn has 74 walks.

Today, guess who Bowa lists as his only certain starters for 1988? Gwynn and Santiago. "I hate to use this word, but . . . potentially , he could be as good a catcher as there has been in the last 20 years," Bowa said.

On Thursday, in front of a crowd of 8,770, Santiago provided the fuel for pitcher Eric Show's second straight complete game. Show allowed only a seventh-inning run and has 18 scoreless innings in his last 19 innings pitched.

But when facing a pitcher such as the Braves' Zane Smith (15-6, 3.96 ERA entering the game) sometimes giving up one run is too much.

Santiago's second-inning homer made certain it wasn't. Then Santiago took a pitch from Smith to the deep part of left field leading off the fifth for a double. Two batters later, Joey Cora's single scored him.

With two on and two out in the sixth, Santiago hit probably his hardest shot of the day. It was right at the legs of second baseman Glenn Hubbard. It banged off his glove and kept on going, between his legs and into center field. The error led to five runs that were capped with Garry Templeton's three-run inside-the-park homer on a ball that skipped past Dion James in center field.

"Benny has hands and forearms like an ox," said hitting coach Deacon Jones. "Shake hands with him and it's like putting your hands in a vise. The ball just shoots off his bat."

Santiago is the only guy on the team who lifts weights before and after a game.

"I keep thinking, he's got to be tired," said Bowa of his rookie, who has caught 130 of 146 games. "But he never wants to come out."

Bowa was going to take him out after his second-inning homer, but said, "He and Show were really in a groove, so I left them together."

Show didn't allow a runner as far as third base until the sixth, when he struck out the middle of the Braves' infield--shortstop Jeff Blauser and Hubbard--with runners on first and third.

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