HOUSTON — Excuse the Padres today if they are sore and tight and out of breath.
For the first time in 162 days--that's every day since April 10--the Padres have climbed.
It took them 14 innings. It took a home run by a guy who had struck out swinging in his first four at-bats. It even took Benito Santiago extending his hitting streak to 23 games, tying a National League rookie record.
But with Garry Templeton's two-out homer in the 14th, the Padres defeated the Houston Astros, 2-1, and slashed out the two-word prefix that has burdened them since April.
They are no longer the sixth-place Padres.
The Atlanta Braves defeated the Dodgers, 10-7, so the Dodgers and Padres are now tied for fifth place.
What's in a name? For the Padres, everything.
"We're out of the cellar, we're out of the cellar," screamed Tony Gwynn as he ran from the Astrodome field to the clubhouse.
Later, Gwynn said: "We'd like to have fifth place all by ourselves, but at this point we'll take it."
"We've been in the basement so long, I've gotten sick of looking at the pipes," said Padre Manager Larry Bowa, "Now I'll get to see what the rest of the house looks like. Now I want to make sure we stay out of last place."
On June 4, the Padres were 12-42 and 15 games out of fifth place. Since then they have gone 51-43, only one game behind the pace of West-leading San Francisco (53-42).
It has been a climb that has left them giddy.
"Templeton called that home run, can you believe it?" said Bowa of his shortstop's looping fly that just plopped over the right-field fence, about 350 feet away.
"He was running around the dugout telling everybody he was going to leave the yard, leave the yard. Told about five people. Can you believe it?"
Don't. Because Templeton didn't.
"What?" said Templeton, who has five homers. "I'd have to be some kind of stupid to call my own shot. Especially in this ballpark.
"All I told everybody was, 'I'm going to hit the ball hard.' Maybe it just sounded like 'yard.' "
It came on a first pitch from the Astros' sixth pitcher this night, Manny Hernandez. It came after Templeton had started the game by striking out four straight times, three against Astro starter Nolan Ryan, a 40-year-old man who struck out 11 in nine innings.
The Padres beat the Astros for the eighth straight time, giving them 13 wins over Houston this season (four losses) with one game left today, tying a club high for season wins against another club (13-5 vs. Giants in 1978).
The good things that happened to the Padres began with Santiago, whose sixth-inning double off Ryan scored the Padres' first run and put the rookie in the record books. No other NL rookie has hit in more consecutive games. Mike Vail of New York Mets (1975), Alvin Dark of Boston and Richie Ashburn of Philadelphia (both in 1948) and Joseph Rapp of Philadelphia (1921) are tied with him.
Bowa said Santiago will get a rest today.
"I'm glad," Santiago said. "After a game like this, I can use the rest. I don't think it will do anything to my swing. I'm trying not to think about the streak anyway."
Even thought he didn't get a hit after the sixth inning, he left the Astros with something to remember him by, throwing out Gerald Young by 10 feet at second base on an attempted steal in the bottom of the 14th. He had led off the inning with a single to center. It was good timing, considering the next hitter, pinch-hitter Billy Hatcher, doubled to right.
He saved what could have been a bad ending to a fine Padre pitching performance. The Astros were held scoreless for game's last 11 innings, managing only five hits in that time, thanks to starter Ed Whitson and relievers Goose Gossage, Dave Leiper and McCullers.
It wouldn't have gone so far if the Padres didn't fall behind, 1-0, in the third inning on two errors on the same play.
Gerald Young hit a grounder up the middle that second baseman Joey Cora stopped with a dive. It was just an infield single, until Cora stood up and attempted a throw to first. He rushed it and put it in the dirt past John Kruk.
Santiago, backing up the play, picked up the ball, and as Young headed for second, threw into center field. Young scored.
Padre Notes Tim Flannery's 0-for-6 night Saturday placed him in an 0-for-26 slump. . . . Before Saturday's game, Padre Manager Larry Bowa announced that Randy Ready would be unavailable to play third base because of a pulled ribcage muscle. "We're going to sit him down for a couple of days." So what happens? Ready was somehow ready when called upon to pinch-hit for Shane Mack in the 13th. The club's best clutch hitter flew out to right on the first pitch from just-entered reliever Jeff Heathcock, but the club took notice in the fact that he would play with pain.