SAN DIEGO — Roberto Alomar fell to his knees in anguish Monday, slowly rocking back and forth, hoping that the earth beneath him would give way and provide a place to hide.
Everything that Alomar has accomplished this season, driving in more runs than any Padre second baseman in history, and covering more ground than just about anyone around, momentarily was forgotten.
For now, as cruel as it sounds, and unjust as it might be, Roberto Velazquez Alomar will be remembered as making the error that allowed the San Francisco Giants to clinch a share of the National League Western Division championship.
The Padres lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 5-3, and making the defeat all of the more painful, was the score that flashed on the scoreboard as the crowd of 34,076 was leaving San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium:
Dodgers 5, San Francisco 2.
The Giants' defeat would have provided the Padres a critical game in the standings, reducing their deficit to four games with five to play, including three this weekend against the Giants.
One more Giant victory now, or one more Padre defeat, and officially it is over.
The Padres and Reds were tied, 3-3, in the eighth inning when it happened. The Reds had loaded the bases off reliever Greg Harris, bringing Luis Quinones to the plate.
Harris, who had just walked pinch-hitter Barry Larkin on five pitches, quickly got ahead of Quinones on a one-and-two count.
"I wanted a grounder to second or short," Harris said.
Quinones complied, hitting a grounder to Alomar.
Alomar saw the ball the moment it left the bat. It was a simple ground ball. One that he has made hundreds of times this season, and thousands of times in his life.
Still, it was too big of a moment to take anything for granted now. He had made too many errors because of concentration lapses to risk a moment of carelessness.
The ball rolled toward Alomar to his left. He planted himself three steps behind the infield dirt. He went down to one knee. Put his glove to the ground. Waited.
And watched in horror as the ball hit his wrist, rolled up his left arm, bounced off his shoulder and kicked to his left.
He scampered quickly. Threw the ball to first. Too late.
Quinones was safely across the bag, and Scotti Madison was dancing across home.
The Reds had a 4-3 lead.
"I missed the ball, that's it," said Alomar, who has made a major-league leading 28 errors. "I should have had it. I know I should have.
"The ball hit me right in the wrist. It may have taken a little hop, but I should have had it."
The inning ended moments later when Herm Winningham hit a ball to the right of Alomar. This one, he fielded cleanly, flipping to shortstop Garry Templeton for the final out.
Alomar quickly hurried off the field. He came in with his head down, his eyes closed.
Perhaps mercifully, he also had no time to feel sorry for himself. He was the first batter up in the eighth, and so badly wanted to atone for the error.
He came through by slapping a single to left. Tony Gwynn sacrificed him to second. Maybe, just maybe, Alomar hoped, they could tie the score, allowing everyone to forget all about the error, even laugh it off.
Instead. . . .
Carmelo Martinez struck out.
Garry Templeton struck out.
The Reds didn't give the Padres another chance. They scored one more run in the ninth, and Reds reliever John Franco pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.
"These guys gave it everything they had," Padre Manager Jack McKeon said. "We had our chances. It just didn't work out."
The Padres took a 3-1 lead in the third inning, only to have the Reds come back and tie the score in the fifth inning.
Mike Pagliarulo opened the third inning by hitting his third home run since joining the Padres. Darrin Jackson followed with a single to center, and Ed Whitson sacrificed. Bip Roberts followed with a double to center, scoring Jackson. He went to third on an errant pickoff throw by Tim Leary, and scored on Alomar's sacrifice fly.
The Reds, who were considered the favorites by many to win the National League West, came back with a Todd Benzinger home run in the fourth inning, and a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning by Randy O'Neill.
Three times, the Padres had golden opportunities to score.
Three times, they failed.
In the fifth inning, Ed Whitson opened the inning by walking on four pitches, and after Roberts flied out to deep center, Alomar walked. Gwynn strode to the plate. He hit the ball sharply, but right to shortstop Jeff Richardson, who turned the easy double play.
In the seventh, Jackson walked with one out. Tim Flannery came in to pinch-hit for Whitson. Rob Dibble's first pitch to him was inside, bouncing off catcher Jeff Reed's mitt, allowing Jackson to reach second. He went to third on Flannery's groundout, leaving Roberts to drive him home. Instead, Roberts flied to center.
In the eighth, Alomar stood on second as Martinez and Templeton struck out.