CHICAGO — Several times in the past two months, Jack McKeon has reached into his cap or ash tray filled with old cigar butts or wherever it is he keeps his inspiration, and pulled out a surprise.
Sunday morning in Chicago, the Padre manager did it again, only this time his fingers fumbled over surprise and came out with astonishment.
When filling out the lineup for this trip's final game, against the Chicago Cubs, he wrote the name KRUK into the leadoff hitter's spot.
Yep, John Kruk.
"The next Vince Coleman," Tim Flannery said.
"Look out Rickey Henderson," Benito Santiago said.
"The Fridge batting leadoff?" Randy Ready asked.
"Hey," Kruk complained, "it ain't that funny."
Not for the Cubs it wasn't.
Batting leadoff for the first time in two years, and one of the few times in his career, Kruk hit Rick Sutcliffe's first pitch of the game into the left-field bleachers for his first home run in more than two months, and the Padres went on to a 2-1 victory in front of 33,217 at Wrigley Field.
"Sutcliffe was more shocked about me batting leadoff than I was," said Kruk, who usually hits fourth or fifth and who looks less like a leadoff man than almost any 27-year-old male in the continental United States. "When I stepped in the box to start the game, Sutcliffe looked up and stopped. Then he kind of shook his head."
Then he gave Kruk a fastball right down the middle.
" Right down the middle," Kruk said. "I think I like hitting leadoff."
A second-inning RBI single by Roberto Alomar, eight innings of four-hit pitching by Jimmy Jones and Mark Davis' 17th save turned another eerie twist of McKeon's mind into a Padre victory. It gave them their first winning trip (6-5) since they went 5-4 in Cincinnati, Houston and Atlanta on July 28-Aug. 6, 1987.
Now they return home for a nine-game stand against NL West rivals Houston, Cincinnati and Atlanta, not an unpleasant combination. The Padres are 23-21 against the West and have won 11 of their previous 16 at home.
"This is a start for us," Tony Gwynn said. "A winning road trip is something we haven't done for a while. We executed like mad on this trip, we pitched good, this is a start."
But it was the end of Gwynn's 18-game hitting streak. He went 0 for 4 against Sutcliffe, against whom he had a .389 lifetime average. Gwynn flied to left in the first inning, was thrown out trying to bunt for a hit in the third, grounded to first in the sixth and hit a shot to left on an 0-and-1 pitch in the eighth. Cub rookie Gary Varsho caught the ball just short of the warning track.
Gwynn's streak, during which he hit .513 (39 for 76), was third longest in the National League this season and raised his average more than 60 points. This morning he is hitting .309, third in the league. It also made for a memorable trip. He hit .479 (23 for 48) and was involved in 23 of the Padres' 39 runs (12 RBIs, 11 runs scored).
"I was just riding the wave as long as I could ride it," Gwynn said. "I knew when it was time to get off, I'd get off."
Gwynn's 0-for-4 line wasn't the only surprise on a day when McKeon, his team staring at the floor after two deflating losses in a row here, decided something needed to be done.
"We needed a spark from somewhere, we needed something to happen," McKeon said. "We had some tough losses, it was easy to get down, we needed something to get everybody going."
He decided that something would be the Padres' lineup sheet. McKeon said that for the past week he had been contemplating several unusual batting order switches, and finally decided Sunday morning that the time was now.
So Kruk was batting first. Garry Templeton, who usually bats eighth, was hitting second. Marvell Wynne, who usually leads off, was batting fifth. And Alomar, who usually bats second, was in the No. 8 spot.
"The man pulled this one right out of a hat," batting coach Amos Otis said.
And the only one who did not respond was Templeton. Struggling Kruk homered, Wynne, who had been struggling even more, went 2 for 4 with a double and a run, and recently platooned Alomar came up a two-strike, game-winning single up the middle in the second.
"I guess it did kind of shake things up," McKeon said. "As soon as I put the lineup up, the guys kind of laughed and started saying things. I think it charged them up."
Thanks mostly to Kruk, whom McKeon put in the leadoff slot, "Because he can make it 1-0 real quick and because he will take a walk (55 walks, among the top five in the league)."
McKeon laughed. "I guess I looked like a genius, huh?" he said. "But hey, I'm not going to say we'll keep him there. This was just for one day."
Wait a minute. Kruk said he liked it.
"I had fun, and I'm going to talk to Jack about staying there," Kruk said. "Shoot, I'm a cleanup hitter who isn't driving in runs (fourth on the team with 29), so why not let me get on base and try to let somebody else drive me in?"