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REMEMBER WHEN : Padre Hero Forgot Unforgettable Game

August 08, 1990|BOB WOLF

SAN DIEGO — It was one of the zaniest games the Padres have played, but the man who won it with a home run says he doesn't remember anything about it.

On the afternoon of May 23, 1970, the Padres and Giants struggled for 5 hours 29 minutes at Candlestick Park in San Francisco before shortstop Steve Huntz's leadoff homer in the 15th inning gave the Padres a 17-16 victory.

The score itself set the game apart, and so did certain other details.

Such as one Giant Hall of Famer, Willie Mays, making two errors on one play. Such as another, Juan Marichal, blowing most of an 8-0 lead. Such as the Giants firing Manager Clyde King after the marathon was finally over and replacing him with Charlie Fox.

Mays committed his rare pair of errors on a single by the same player who was to emerge as the hero of the day.

It's logical to assume that Huntz would look back on it as one of the highlights of a major league career that covered 32 days short of four years.

Amazingly, such is not the case.

When Huntz, 44, now an insurance agent, was reached at his home in Fairview Park, Ohio, he said, "I really can't recall the game. It's one game, and it's really not too big to me."

All told, Huntz, a switch hitter, had 11 home runs that season but only 16 in his career, which included two hitches with the Padres and one each with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox.

The victim of Huntz's game-winner in San Francisco was an obscure rookie right-hander named Miguel Puente, who was to make just five other appearances in the majors before vanishing with a 1-3 record and an 8.05 earned-run average.

Huntz's home run was his sixth of the season and one of nine in the game. The Padres set a club record of five that still stands, the others being hit by Chris Cannizzaro, Cito Gaston, Ron Slocum and Nate Colbert. The Giants hit four, two by Mays and one each by Ken Henderson and the third Hall of Famer in their lineup, Willie McCovey.

While Huntz claimed total non-recall of the game, other principals had vivid memories.

Colbert, the Padres' big power man of that era and their first fan favorite, had an interesting story to tell. He went five for eight, including a two-run homer that temporarily broke a 14-14 tie in the 11th, but the game dragged on so long that he missed a mandatory National Guard meeting in Oklahoma City the next day.

"I had a 6 o'clock flight out of San Francisco," said Colbert, now a coach and member of the community relations department for the Padres' Riverside farm club. "I had to be there (in Oklahoma City), and when the game went into extra innings, I knew it was going to be touch and go.

"Preston Gomez (Padre manager) tried to get me a later flight, but he couldn't get one until the next morning. When I hit the home run, I thought that gave us the win, and I started packing my bags.

"When they tied it up again, I figured I was in big trouble. But I said to myself, 'Fine, that's it.' I didn't want them to give anybody preferential treatment.

"As it turned out, I never got to the meeting. But I made it up at a later time, and I didn't get a penalty."

Like everyone else at Candlestick and those watching on television in San Diego, Colbert assumed the game was as good as over when the Giants staked Marichal to an eight-run lead in the first two innings. They got to Padre starter Clay Kirby for seven runs in the second.

"At that point, I thought we'd be lucky to get out of there alive," Colbert said.

But the Padres jumped on Marichal for five runs in the third, and the man they called the Dominican Dandy failed to survive the inning. Cannizzaro started their comeback with a bases-empty home run; Gaston, now manager of Toronto, kept it going with a three-run homer, and Ollie Brown chased Marichal with a run-scoring double.

Said Gomez afterward: "That was the most surprising thing of all. Give Marichal an 8-0 lead, and you have to bet your life that he'll win the game."

The Padres used 21 players, the Giants 22. Among them were seven pitchers for each club.

Not one Giant pitcher managed to escape without allowing a run. Two Padres, Tom Dukes and left-hander Danny Coombs, were unscored upon, and Coombs earned the victory with a fine four innings.

Considering the way baseballs were flying around and out of Candlestick, Coombs' scoreless pitching may have been the most remarkable feat of the day. The Padres' run total is still their highest ever, although it has since been tied, and their 21 hits and the 23 they gave up were club records that have since been broken.

After the game, Coombs said, "I was sitting in the bullpen, laughing at all the crazy things that were happening, and before long, I was the last guy down there."

Colbert was the most prolific hitter with his home run and four singles. Mays went four for six, with two singles besides his two homers, but his performance is best remembered for the successive errors with which he played a single into the equivalent of a home run.

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