SAN DIEGO — The dugout conversation in the eighth inning of the Padres' 4-3 loss to Cincinnati Thursday was about Benito Santiago's last chance to extend his hitting streak.
According to the participants, it went something like this:
Larry Bowa: "You know, Benito, that guy on third is playing way back. Why don't you bunt?"
Tony Gwynn: "They aren't expecting a bunt, Benny, so why don't you bunt?"
Carmelo Martinez: "C'mon, Benny, we all see the room they are giving you. Just go up there and bunt."
Benito Santiago: "Define bunt. "
Suddenly it was the eighth inning, and Santiago still had not gotten a hit and, well, cover your eyes. He bunted.
You're surprised? Red pitcher Frank Williams was so surprised, he fell blew a good chance to throw out Santiago. Third baseman Dave Concepcion was so surprised he double-pumped his late throw to first.
Santiago was safe. Thirty-three straight games with at least one hit. The first bunt hit of his major league career. When will the 22-year-old run out of encores?
Wednesday, Santiago had extended his streak with a double. On Tuesday, it was a home run. A day before that, a triple. Next thing you know, Santiago will do it with a ninth-inning field goal.
Said Santiago: "I'll get a base hit any way I can."
It was only the second time this season he has laid down a bunt that has worked. He is tied with Martinez for last place among regulars with one sacrifice bunt. The 9,907 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium shrieked, then gave Santiago his longest standing ovation of the streak.
But, heck, Santiago knew what he was doing.
"Yeah, I've bunted before," Santiago said. "I've bunted off my shoes, I've bunted foul . . . "
For the record, which leaves only 14 batters in major league history ahead of Santiago, the bunt was terrible. It plopped off the bat and fell directly to the right of Williams, who jumped for it before his feet slipped out from under him.
"I don't slip, I make the play," said the right-handed reliever. "I got a good break on the ball, but then I hit something that felt like wet clay. The grass was all moist. My feet went out. I had no chance."
Since stadium groundskeepers don't water the grass before a day game after a night game, there was no reason for the grass to be wet Thursday.
The ball wasn't supposed to go to Williams anyway. Everyone advised Santiago to bunt because of the positioning of third baseman Concepcion.
"I told him to take a look, because Davey was so far back," Bowa said. "(I) told him two or three times."
Said Gwynn: "We were all talking about it, the whole game. But then he finally gets it down and, boom, 33 straight. Gutsy call. The man is awesome."
Not to mention tired, especially of seeing tough pitching, a feeling that accounted Thursday for the weakest swings of Santiago's streak.
In the first inning, he popped up Pat Pacillo's second pitch for an easy foul out to first baseman Lloyd McClendon. In the third, on a 2-and-2 pitch, he hit a soft, broken-bat liner to shortstop Barry Larkin. In the fifth, on the first pitch, he gently grounded back to Pacillo.
"They were really trying hard to get me out today," Santiago said. "I wasn't seeing any fastballs on the first pitch like I have been seeing. I know now, nobody wants to be part of the streak."
Said Williams: "I sure didn't. But give him credit, he got on."
There are times Bowa doesn't take much pleasure in being part of the streak. It continues to divert everyone's attention from his team's eight-game losing streak, the season's longest.
As much as Bowa is rooting for Santiago to go into the off-season with a 36-game hitting streak, the Padre manager can't stand the thought of his team going in with an 11-game losing streak.
"It's called a lack of execution. That's why we're in last place, we don't know how to execute," Bowa said.
He was speaking Thursday of an awful seventh and eighth for the Padres, the kind of innings that have lately seemed to be repeated daily.
In the seventh, Joey Cora hit a one-out single off pitcher Jeff Montgomery's glove, then stole second and was awarded third when shortstop Larkin bumped him as he rounded the base after a wild throw from catcher Terry McGriff. Third base, one out. And he didn't score. Marvell Wynne struck out and Stanley Jefferson grounded out.
Then there was the seventh, which started with Santiago's single. Bowa used three pinch-hitters, including Gwynn and a pinch-hitter for a pinch-hitter for a pitcher. Red Manager Pete Rose countered with four pitchers for five batters.
It was just the kind of strategy game that Bowa loves. And Bowa lost. He had runners on third (Santiago) and second (Gwynn, after a bunt single) with none out. And they couldn't score.
John Kruk struck out and Shane Mack grounded into a double play.
"I had the guys where I wanted, Pete had the pitchers he wanted," Bowa said. "But Pete is a genius because his players executed, and I'm a bum because my players didn't execute.
"Obviously, what's on most of their (Padres) minds is next week."