SAN DIEGO — For two months, the Padres have battled the inevitable. They were given up for the dead more times than Jimmy Hoffa. They were given their last rites every night for the past 10 nights.
Finally, it is over.
The Padres, who finally had fate in their own hands, suffered an excruciating death in the pennant race, losing, 2-1, in 13 innings to the Cincinnati Reds.
It leaves them five games out with three to play.
It doesn't take a mathematician, or even Yogi Berra, to say, "It's over."
The most painful aspect of the defeat was that after all of their hoping, all of their praying, they actually had a chance to win this National League West race.
When the scoreboard flashed the final score from Los Angeles in the ninth inning of the Padres' game--Dodgers 1, San Francisco Giants 0--the Padres finally had a chance.
All they had to do was defeat a team that came into the night with a 73-85 record.
Instead, in the words of Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn, "It turned into our worst nightmare."
In a rather cruel irony, the Padres' defeat was perhaps fitting to their wacky season. This was a team who looked lethargic for the first five months of the season. These past seven weeks, with 27 victories in 36 games, there was not a hotter team in baseball.
So how do you figure the Padres would lose two of three at home to the Reds and collapse when they had a chance to win this game?
And certainly the crowd of 17,136 that left San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium had to be wondering why in the world the Padres were pitching to Eric Davis in the 13th inning.
The situation was this: Herm Winningham was standing on second with two outs in the 13th when Davis came to the plate. He has hit 34 homers and driven in 100 runs this season, including six homers and 20 RBIs just against the Padres.
Padre pitching coach Pat Dobson went to the mound to consult with Calvin Schiraldi.
"We talked about what we were going to do with him," Padre Manager Jack McKeon said. "We gave Schiraldi a choice of who he was more comfortable pitching to, and he said he'd rather pitch to Davis."
Give Schiraldi a serious error in judgment.
Davis slapped a 1-0 pitch off the left-center wall, scoring Winningham. Todd Benzinger, the man who Schiraldi opted not to face, flied out to center for the final out.
The Padres made one last gasp when Gwynn opened the 13th with an infield single, and was sacrificed to second by Phil Stephenson.
Chris James hit a grounder to shortstop for the second out while Gwynn ran to third. But there he stood at the end of the game, as Garry Templeton swung at a third strike.
At 10:56, the Padre season was over.
The Padres were three outs away from elimination way back in the ninth, when they went into their last at-bats trailing, 1-0.
It came down to three outs. Three measly outs of a season that started seven months ago, a winning streak that began seven weeks ago, and a workday that began seven hours ago when the Padres started filtering into the clubhouse.
Bip Roberts, who has been as responsible as anyone for the Padres' comeback surge, stepped to the plate. It was, as he would proclaim later, the biggest at-bat of his life.
Strike 1. Ball 1. Strike 2. John Franco was in complete control. Roberts was sweating. Franco threw four more pitches, and there was Roberts not leaving the plate until he lined a single to left.
Roberto Alomar tried to move him over with a bunt. He failed twice. He swung away at the third pitch, and stroked a single to center, with Roberts stopped at second, not about to challenge the arm of center fielder Davis.
That brought up Gwynn, the most prolific batter in the National League over the past six seasons but currently in a two-for-17 slump. It was just last Friday when Gwynn was faced with the same situation, and he elected to hit away. He popped up to shortstop, and the Padres wound up losing, 3-2, to the Dodgers.
This time, he bunted. It was perfect. Roberts moved up to third and Alomar to second as Franco had no choice but to throw to first.
With first base open, the Reds opted to intentionally walk Jack Clark, bringing up Chris James, who was in midst of a zero-for-15 slump.
James slapped a 1-1 pitch to shortstop Jeff Richardson, and Roberts was off at the crack of the bat. Richardson scooped it up and thought briefly about going home. He decided not to chance it, and went to first. James was out, but there he was punching his arm in the air, knowing the game was tied.
Now, with two outs and first base open, the Reds again went to the intentional walk to Templeton, bringing Benito Santiago to the plate.
Ball 1. Strike 1. Ball 2. Strike 2. Ball 3.
The crowd then went bonkers, and Franco stopped, looked around to see what was the commotion. It was the scoreboard, revealing that the Dodgers' victory was official.
They cheered even louder.
Franco toed the rubber, set, threw to the plate, and everyone took running.
Santiago jumped away from the pitch. The crowd screamed. Alomar danced across the plate.
Sorry. Strike 3.