SAN DIEGO — What's been happening lately with these suddenly new and improved Padres?
In a 2-0 loss Thursday to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Padres (and this is not multiple choice): a) Blew a sacrifice bunt; b) had the tying run picked off first base; c) blew a potential double play; d) gave up a run on a grounder the second baseman admitted he should have caught; e) walked in a run with the bases loaded.
And Chris Brown was booed.
In losing their second consecutive game, and allowing this home stand to even at 3-3, the Padres gave us a glimpse into life before Jack McKeon. With the upstart Chicago Cubs in town beginning tonight, it also raised worries that this could be life until the players can catch their breath at next week's All-Star break.
"Hey, in a 2-0 game, a lot of things get magnified," McKeon protested. "We'll be all right."
McKeon, as usual, was being kind. In front of 17,032 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the Padres wasted much, particularly a fourth consecutive good outing by new staff ace Andy Hawkins, who allowed four hits and two runs in six innings. Hawkins finished his 'first half' allowing four runs in his last 29 innings for an overall 3.12 earned-run average, rapidly approaching ranking among the league's best.
But Hawkins made one major mistake. And when everything else is falling down around you, one is enough.
It happened with bases loaded and two out in the sixth inning. It happened on a pitch to Mike LaValliere, who was on an 11-for-65 slide at the time. The count was full. The mistake was the next pitch. It was a ball. The Pirates' second run scored, and that was it.
"And I thought even that was real close," Hawkins said of his outside pitch. "Gregg (Eric Gregg, the home plate umpire) called strikes that were further outside than that."
The walk was typical of how the Padres had reached that point and what happened to them after it.
"It was almost as if Hawkins couldn't ever relax out there," pitching coach Pat Dobson said. "It's hard to always pitch that way."
They arrived at the deciding point after Hawkins, who had allowed just one hit in the first five innings, gave up a leadoff single to Barry Bonds in the sixth. Jose Lind then hit a grounder to shortstop Dickie Thon, who threw to second baseman Randy Ready for one out. Ready caught it for one out, wheeled and threw to first for the double play . . . but nearly threw it out of the park. The throw was high and wide, and Lind ended up on second.
"I air-mailed it," admitted Ready, who started at second for only the 18th time this year. It was only the seventh missed start for Roberto Alomar since he joined the club April 19.
"The ball was hit hard, and I thought we had a chance for the double play, so I went for it," Ready said. "I ended up off-balance and just got it wide."
Seconds after the error, Ready was in the middle of things again as Andy Van Slyke hit a grounder to his right. Ready dived but could only tap the ball into shallow center field, and Lind scored easily for the Pirates' first run.
"I should have had that ball, I should have knocked it down," Ready said. "I've got no excuses, I should knock the ball down first and then catch it. I guess I've got to go back to basics, get in some more extra work."
In Ready's defense, McKeon said, "I've seen Roberto not get those balls. I want Ready to play; he's got to play more to keep sharp."
Bobby Bonilla followed Van Slyke's single with a double to right, moving Van Slyke to third. One out and an intentional walk to Sid Bream later, Hawkins made his mistake to LaValliere.
Now it was time for the offense to blow it. Against Pirate starter John Smiley, a 23-year-old converted reliever who finished with a career-high 9 strikeouts in only 6 innings, they had been quiet during the game's first couple of hours.
But then Keith Moreland led off the seventh with a walk. Carmelo Martinez followed with a single to center. McKeon was so excited that he put in Marvell Wynne to pinch-run for Moreland.
Up stepped Brown. All the Padres needed was a bunt. They got one--right to Smiley, who threw to third base to get Wynne.
"I saw Bream charging from first base, so I tried to get it to third," Brown said. "Just couldn't do it."
With Brown on first and Benito Santiago pinch-hitting for Mark Parent, out came Smiley and in came reliever Jeff Robinson. The new guy promptly got into a staring match with Martinez at second base, holding him close . . . and then turned and threw to first.
Bream had sneaked up behind Brown and took the throw. Brown never saw it coming. He panicked, dived back, and was tagged out.
"I never saw anything," Brown said. "I can't be looking back at Bream while I'm watching the play. I can't say Greg (Riddoch, first base coach) didn't say anything, but I never heard anything."
"Just a great play by them," McKeon said. "We used to use that in Kansas City. The pitcher looks at second base, then throws to first. Picked off a bunch of guys like that.