Mark Davis sucked in a deep gulp of air, slowly exhaled and turned around with a clenched fist Wednesday night after the Padres' 2-1 victory over the Dodgers.
Hello, National League West. He's back. And who knows, the Padres might be following right behind him.
Davis, who was cruising along this year with 17 consecutive saves before he lost his rhythm in Houston and his confidence in San Francisco, pitched 1 2/3 shutout innings for his 20th save.
He rescued the Padres from a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning and sealed their third consecutive victory in the ninth, moving the Padres into a fourth-place tie with the Dodgers before a Dodger Stadium crowd of 33,708.
Of course, it was Tony Gwynn who provided Davis with the save opportunity in the first place with his heroics in the eighth inning.
It came at a time when the Padres were having as much success against Dodger starter Mike Morgan as Bart Giamatti is with the judicial system. The odds may have been stacked against Morgan (5-7), who now has lost five of his past six decisions, but just like Pete Rose, he kept hanging in there.
Until the eighth.
Benito Santiago opened the inning with a single to right. Tim Flannery, after failing twice on bunt attempts to move him to second, did even better by following with another single to right.
Padre Manager Jack McKeon called upon Bip Roberts to move the runners into scoring position with a bunt, but instead, Belcher pounced on the ball and threw to third for the force. And when Marvell Wynne made the second out with a fly ball to center, you could almost hear McKeon's moan echoing throughout the stadium.
Morgan, though, then made his biggest mistake. He walked Roberto Alomar on five pitches. That loaded the bases and brought Dodger pitching coach Ron Perranoski to the mound for the second time. He called in left-hander Ricky Horton to face Gwynn.
Gwynn looked at the first pitch for a strike. He took the second for a ball. He liked what he saw in the third pitch and swung.
The ball was hit to the right side of second base. Dave Anderson dove and stretched out his glove. But when he looked inside, it was empty, and pinch-runner Luis Salazar and Roberts were coming across home-plate with the winning runs.
But, oh, these fun-loving Padres made sure it would not be easy. Greg Harris, pitching in relief of starter Ed Whitson, retired Eddie Murray on a grounder to second and induced another grounder by Mike Scioscia to first. But it trickled through Rob Nelson's legs for just his second error of the season.
The fun was just beginning. Jose Gonzales lined a single to left, but with Scioscia running, the Dodgers took no chances and held him at third.
McKeon went to his bullpen again when pinch-hitter Mickey Hatcher stepped to the plate, and out strolled Davis.
Six pitches later, the threat, inning, and for all intents and purposes the game, were over. Davis struck out Hatcher on three pitches, and Mariano Duncan went down the same way.
The only thing that kept Davis from having a perfect outing was Kirk Gibson's broken-bat single with two outs in the ninth, but Murray was caught looking at a third strike, ending the game.
"I felt I was coming out of my slump two weeks ago," said Davis, who worked 15 minutes in the bullpen June 9 with pitching coach Pat Dobson. "The big out was getting Hatcher. He's battled me in the past. He's a very tough out."
It resulted in the Padres' first three-game winning streak since the end of May--when they beat up on the Phillies--and in the process soothed Ed Whitson's anxiety by providing him with his 10th victory. And Whitson was grateful.
"(Davis) was at his very best tonight. Tonight he was as good as you can be," Whitson said. "He shut the door. What more can you ask for?"
Whitson, a quiet, gentle sort of guy whose idea of relaxing is sitting by the fishing hole all afternoon, recently bared to all how his frustrations have been eating away at him.
After surrendering three home runs in five innings against the Dodgers a week ago in a 6-2 Padre loss, Whitson picked up a bat and slammed every bit of his hostility into the dugout wall. Not once, not twice but three times.
When he was finished, he started to walk up the dugout tunnel, remembered he had forgotten his jacket, picked it up, and then proceeded to kick a chair into smithereens.
"Let's just say I had to get some things off my chest," he said.
Said Dobson, smiling at the recollection, "You're talking about some competitor there. He hates to lose as many as anyone in this clubhouse. I mean, the guy just can't stand it."
So you can imagine how he was feeling after losing three in a row, particularly considering he opened the season with a 9-2 record, recording just five fewer victories than his career-high in 1984.
Yet Whitson looked like he would be in for another night of wall-bashing when Alfredo Griffin's two-out, run-scoring single in the fifth looked as it would hold up for a Dodger victory.