SAN DIEGO — At 7:05 p.m., he began the game behind the plate. Three innings passed. He led off the fourth inning with a double to right-center field. He left the game. He left the dugout.
At 8:30 p.m., he was showered and shaved and ready to go home.
If it sounds as if Padre catcher Benito Santiago is treating this hitting streak more and more like a professional hit man, well, what do you think he has been doing up there anyway?
The Padres' rookie catcher hit in his 32nd straight game Wednesday in a 3-1 loss to the Reds. He becomes the 17th player in major league history to reach that number.
And he discovered another record to break.
"I have now hit in the most games for a Latin," announced the 22-year-old Puerto Rican.
Ensuing research proved that indeed, he passed Rico Carty, a Dominican who had a 31-game streak for the Atlanta Braves in 1970.
These and other matters made it necessary for the media to make a rare in-game appearance in the clubhouse to speak to Santiago, before he snuck out in the night. Santiago has come to understand that the more he hits, the more he must talk.
"Ah, the three amigos, " he said to the three pool reporters who visited him in the sixth inning. "I talk to you now so, when the game is over, you don't come running up to my locker and saying, 'Where is Benny?'
"I am so tired, I would leave here now, except there's only five games left in the season, and I don't want to get in trouble. But as soon as the game ends, I'm gone."
He lasted longer than many of the 9,320 fans at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, some of whom came to a meaningless game just to see Santiago. There was the usual standing ovation as he took his place on the field. There was the usual standing ovation for his first at-bat, in which he flied to right.
Then leading off the fourth, after the standing ovation had subsided, he hit Tom Browning's first pitch to the right-center field wall on a bounce. He reached second base, clapped three times and lifted his helmet to the audience, which was back on its feet.
"The first ball I hit was a fastball, and I hit it good, but right at someone (Dave Parker)," he said. "I just said, 'I'll get it the second time.' I was relaxed tonight. Not like other times, I was not pressing. I acted like it was my first game in the big leagues, like nothing was happening. The people, they clap for me, they really push me.
"So the second time, it was a good fastball down the middle of the plate and I got it. This is all really unbelievable to me."
As Manager Larry Bowa earlier said he would do, he pulled Santiago at the end of the inning. It broke a streak of 76 innings, every inning since his last missed day, Sept. 20. That covers eight games, which would not be a big deal except that each game has been accompanied by a record-breaking hit. Overall, Santiago has missed only two games during the course of the streak.
Of course, as a byproduct, in 20 of the 32 games Santiago has had only one hit. In hitting .349 (45 for 129) during that time, he has only raised his average to .2996, which officially is .300.
If his average drops .002 in the final four games, he will set another record--becoming the only player to hit in 32 or more straight games who didn't finish the season with at least .300.
"I wanted to stay in the game, I didn't ask to come out," said Santiago. "But what am I going to do? He's the manager."
When told that Bowa is considering resting him against Pat Pacillo, a right-hander, in today's 1:05 p.m. game, Santiago shook his head.
"If he comes to me, I will tell him: I want to play," he said.
Lately, Bowa has been wondering if some of the other guys want to play. In case you haven't noticed--and almost nobody but Bowa has--the Padres have dropped seven straight. As bad as they have played this season, they have never lost more than seven straight.
And Wednesday, it even went a step further: The Padres clinched sixth and last place in the National League West.
"This is the worst possible scenario," Bowa said. "We're ending the season with all these negative thoughts. And I'm not like other managers. I don't forget."
He wasn't talking about pitcher Andy Hawkins, who was making his first start since July 25, rebounding from tendinitis in his right shoulder. He allowed two runs on six hits in four innings.
"I will say he was pain-free," said Bowa.
"That's all that matters," Hawkins said.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm a Padre, and I want to be a Padre, and I'm ready for another spring in Yuma."
Bowa was angrier at an offense that seemed to run to the plate, make an out, then run back to the dugout. For the second straight loss, the game lasted less than 2:15.
The ninth inning in particular: After Carmelo Martinez led off with his 15th homer, John Kruk walked and Randy Ready singled Kruk to second. But then Shawn Abner couldn't get down a bunt and hit into a fielder's choice, forcing Kruk at third. Luis Salazar and pinch-hitter Garry Templeton both struck out to end it.
"There's more talk on the bench about plane reservations than on who is throwing for the other team, and what kind of pitches we are facing," a terse Bowa said. "Put it that way."
LONGEST HITTING STREAKS
Player Team Year No. Joe DiMaggio New York (A) 1941 56 Willie Keeler Baltimore (N) 1897 44 Pete Rose Cincinnati 1978 44 Bill Dahlen Chicago (N) 1894 42 George Sisler St. Louis (A) 1922 41 Ty Cobb Detroit 1911 40 Paul Molitor Milwaukee 1987 39 Tommy Holmes Boston (N) 1945 37 Bill Hamilton Philadelphia 1894 36 Ty Cobb Detroit 1917 35 Fred Clarke Louisville 1895 35 Dom DiMaggio Boston (A) 1949 34 George McQuinn St. Louis (A) 1938 34 George Sisler St. Louis (A) 1925 34 George Davis New York (N) 1893 33 Heine Manush Washington 1933 33 Rogers Hornsby St. Louis (N) 1922 33 Benito Santiago San Diego 1987 32 Ed Delahanty Philadelphia 1899 31 Ken Landreaux Minnesota 1980 31 Rico Carty Atlanta 1970 31 Willie Davis Los Angeles 1969 31 Sam Rice Washington 1924 31