SAN DIEGO — Only a few nights ago, first baseman Jack Clark was in a baseball depression that seemed as if it might never end.
His stroke gone, his ego bruised, his strikeout count climbing, Clark was searching for an answer.
A few games off was the suggested remedy. But a game such as Saturday night's might be better.
Returning to the starting lineup for the first time in four games, Clark hit a two-run, eighth-inning homer to give the Padres a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros in front of a tote bag night crowd of 41,118 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The homer was a boost the struggling Padres and Clark needed. It came with none out in the eighth and the Padres seemingly on their way to another shutout loss.
Danny Darwin had just relieved starter Jim Deshaies after Deshaies allowed his fourth hit to Tony Gwynn on a leadoff single.
Clark swung at and missed Darwin's first pitch. Darwin then tried a fastball, but Clark took a full cut, and the ball quickly headed into the first rows of the left-field stands.
"Darwin is basically going to come right at you," Clark said. "You're not going to go up there looking for knuckleballs."
For the second time since his benching, Clark won a game for the Padres. Thursday, in his first appearance since he had struck out four times Tuesday against Cincinnati, Clark's pinch-hit single beat the Reds, 1-0.
"I didn't go up there thinking home run," Clark said. "I went up there thinking I want to get my chance. I wanted to get three hard swings. Even if I don't hit it well, maybe by swinging hard, I can get something."
Clark figured the time off helped him.
"The way things had gone, I really haven't gotten away from anything," Clark said. "I appreciate Jack (McKeon, the manager) giving me those days. I went out there feeling I had a little bit of a fresh start. It was a break in the action. I was trying too hit the ball too hard. I wasn't trying to hit the ball over the fence, I was trying to hit it in the upper deck.
"My approach was not the best. I was swinging at too many bad pitches."
The Astros sensed the timing was right for Clark.
"That's the guy with the magic wand," Deshaies said.
"You can't get Roy Hobbs out," reliever Dave Smith said, referring to the slugging hero in "The Natural."
Before the imposed rest, Clark was playing more like Roy Clark than Roy Hobbs. He had struck out in 10 of 11 previous at-bats. It was after the first game with the Reds that Clark, upset with his poor hitting, questioned his value to the team and whether the Padres would be better without him in the lineup.
McKeon responded by benching Clark and replacing him with rookie Rob Nelson.
If the layoff helped, it was hard to tell from his first three plate appearances Saturday--Deshaies walked him all three times. That gave Clark five walks in five appearances against Deshaies this season and increased his major league leading total to 58 walks.
"I wasn't necessarily trying to pitch around him," Deshaies said. "I was just missing; he has got such a disciplined eye."
When Clark stepped to the plate for the fourth time, Houston Manager Art Howe called on Darwin to protect a 1-0 lead.
"You don't want a guy tiring with Jack Clark coming up," Howe said.
The result was not what Howe wanted as Clark wiped out a lead built on Billy Hatcher's bases-empty homer in the fifth off starter Dennis Rasmussen.
"Maybe we should have walked Jack one more time," Howe said.
The homer was Clark's eighth, his first since June 5 in Houston.
Greg Harris, who came on relief of Rasmussen in the eighth, earned the victory, his third in five decisions. Rasmussen was left with his fourth consecutive no-decision despite pitching a strong seven innings.
Rasmussen left having allowed one run on five hits, striking out four and walking two. He allowed the Astros a hit in each of the first four innings, including leadoff doubles in the first and fourth, but each time was able to get out without allowing a run.
That string ended in the fifth when, with two out, Hatcher hit Rasmussen's one-one pitch into the first row of seats in the left-field stands for his second home run. It was the ninth homer the Padres have allowed in their past six games and raised their league-high total allowed to 62.
The run held up until Clark's homer as the Padre offense floundered again. They left eight runners on base, the bases loaded in the first and third.
The support was typical of the kind of backing the Padres have given Rasmussen this season. Of his 14 starts, the Padres have scored three or fewer runs in 10. In six of those games, they scored one run or fewer.
"We've been unable to get Rasmussen or any of our pitchers any runs," Clark said. "So when we do, we have to treat them like gold nuggets or diamonds because they are just so hard to come by."