CHICAGO — In this ever-changing world of the Padres, it happened Thursday that when the Chicago Cubs put the tying runs on first and third base with none out in the bottom of the ninth, Chris Brown wanted the ball.
Chris Brown. The same guy who one month ago didn't seem to want his name in the lineup or his face in the team picture or anything but a piece of Marvell Wynne.
The Padres were leading, 3-1, Jody Davis was pinch-hitting for the Cubs, and Brown was standing next to third base, a couple of feet from the foul line, close enough that a Davis line drive could give him a haircut.
"And I wanted him to hit it to me," Brown said. "More than anybody in that infield, I wanted that ball."
Request granted. Davis sharply grounded a Lance McCullers fastball smack down the line, maybe a double, at least a base hit and a one-run game.
But--and some people never thought they would read these four words--Chris Brown was there. He took one long stride to his right, scooped up the ball on one bounce, spun and fired to second baseman Roberto Alomar without moving his feet. One out.
Alomar then turned and threw to first baseman Keith Moreland, and Davis was beaten by a step. Two outs. Double play.
Mitch Webster lofted the next pitch to right field for the third out, and the Padres had won their first game at Wrigley Field in two years, 3-1, in front of 28,485.
"Great play, great play," said Manager Jack McKeon, whose team halted a two-game losing streak on Mark Grant Day.
Mark Grant Day?
About 700 people showed up from Grant's nearby hometown of Joliet, Ill., many wearing Padre jerseys with Grant's No. 55 on the back. They honored the pitcher, who is 2-6 with a 3.89 ERA, before the game with proclamations and plaques and schmaltz.
"Means nothing," reliever Dave Leiper said. "Anybody who gets 700 people from anywhere to buy tickets can have his own day in this park. He could have brought 700 people from the Joliet prison, and it would have been the same thing.
"If all those people were here to see him, how come only two of them came down to talk to us in the bullpen?"
"C'mon," Grant said, "it was nice."
Whatever, the ensuing victory was the Padres' first here since July 23, 1986, and pulled them within one victory of their first winning trip in a year. They are 5-3 on this Midwest swing, with three weekend games remaining here.
It was also the third time the Padres have snapped a two-game losing streak under McKeon. Only twice under him have they had three-game losing streaks. Under Larry Bowa, they had losing streaks of six games, five games (twice) and four games.
Some say a good way to judge a manager is how well he stops his team from such slides.
McKeon did it Thursday by putting unusual trust in two hard-luck pitchers (Ed Whitson and McCullers) and two part-time players (Dickie Thon and Randy Ready) and then relying on Brown.
Whitson responded with his sixth consecutive victory and came within three outs of a complete game. McCullers registered a spectacular save, his first since June 17 in Los Angeles. Thon and Ready combined to go 5 for 10 with two RBIs and two runs.
Oh, and then there was Tony Gwynn. He had two more hits to extend his hitting streak to 16 games and a .507 average.
"The whole thing is about confidence," said Whitson, who scattered eight hits and allowed one run in his longest outing of the season. "Jack gives it to us. He knows that players get themselves into jams and can get themselves out of jams."
That was evident in the fifth inning, when the struggling Cubs (no home runs in 10 games on this home stand, 36 runs in their past 19 games) put runners on first and second with none out. Nobody stirred in the bullpen, and Whitson got Damon Berryhill to hit a double-play grounder.
In the sixth, with two men on and two out, Whitson retired one of the league's top hitters, Rafael Palmeiro, on a groundout. After he allowed his only run in the seventh on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Jerry Mumphrey, Whitson was fine until the ninth, when he allowed a leadoff single to Shawon Dunston and a single on the next pitch to Berryhill, who was replaced by pinch-runner Darrin Jackson.
Out went Whitson, who had watched the Padres' relievers lose three of the leads he had earned for them in his previous five starts.
In came McCullers, who has contributed to losses in 5 of his past 6 appearances.
"Things haven't been so lovely when I've been in there," McCullers said. "Of course, they weren't so lovely today, either."
But on his third pitch to pinch-hitter Davis, Brown was there.
"I was thinking about what would happen if I got it. . . . I knew Davis isn't the fastest catcher in the world, and we had a chance to double him up," Brown said. "The ball came down the line, and I just got over and got it. Maybe it was instinct. I saw Dunston not leaving third base, not even faking me, so I got to Robbie. He makes the great play and we get it."