SAN DIEGO — Padre Manager Greg Riddoch looked on the field momentarily Thursday, rubbed his eyes and pinched himself, making sure this was not a dream.
For a fleeting moment, the Padres actually had a semblance of a team, and they capitalized on their fortune with a 4-0 victory over the Houston Astros in front of 13,066 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
There was starter Dennis Rasmussen (1-0), convincingly showing the league that he is back by pitching seven shutout innings and lowering his ERA to 0.64 in two starts since returning from the disabled list.
There was right-handed reliever Larry Andersen, who watched the bullpen--and the Padres--suffer in his three-week stay on the disabled list, pitching a 1-2-3 inning like days of old.
There were Bip Roberts and Jerald Clark returning to their starting outfield positions after missing the past two games by nagging back and Achilles' heel injuries, respectively.
The Padres snapped a four-game losing streak with only their second shutout of the season, winning at home after losing 10 of their past 11.
"It was kind of strange to see so many of us back," said Andersen, who has been out since May 8 with a herniated disc and a bulging disc in his neck. "There was talk about us forming a disabled union. We would have been the majority, too, because there are so many of us out there."
The Padres, who have placed nine players on the disabled list this season, expect to have all but pitcher Greg Harris back within two weeks. In the meantime, they'll continue to make roster moves, with more expected today.
Right-handed reliever Wes Gardner likely will accept an assignment to triple-A Las Vegas today, making room for starter Jose Melendez. Gardner was informed Wednesday that he has cleared irrevocable waivers, and because of his five years of major league service time, he has the right to refuse a minor-league assignment and become a free agent. By doing do, however, he also would forfeit the remainder of his $575,000 salary.
Melendez becomes the eighth Padre pitcher this season to make a start, and if all goes according to plan, he'll push Adam Peterson into the bullpen. Peterson (1-1, 3.80 ERA) will take Gardner's spot as the long man in the bullpen. Melendez will become the 17th Padre to pitch in a game this season--already one more than they used all last year.
And in case anyone had the idea that the rash of injuries would handcuff Riddoch's decision-making, he dispelled the notion Thursday afternoon when he yanked All-Star catcher Benito Santiago out of the game after the fourth inning.
"Lack of hustle," Riddoch said.
Was it one play?
"An accumulation of things."
How long will Santiago be benched?
"I haven't thought about it," he said. "He won't play (today)."
Perhaps fittingly then, it was back-up Tom Lampkin who doubled into right-center in the sixth inning to drive in Tony Gwynn for a 2-0 lead. Three batters later, Jose Mota hit a two-out, two-run single into center for his first major-league RBIs.
"Once I saw the lineup card, the last thing I expected was to be playing today," said Lampkin, who has made only three starts this season. "When the bullpen phone rang, I just ran out there, and decided to make the best of it. Everything worked out great."
Despite the offensive heroics from unlikely characters, the Padres' pitching performance was foremost on management's mind. The Padres, recall, had no idea what to expect from Rasmussen when they brought him back to the big leagues. They had left him down the maximum 30 days on a rehabilitative assignment, and when he returned, they couldn't tell whether he'd be Cy Young or they'd be saying sayonara.
Maybe the Astros aren't the '27 Yankees, but they have scored one run in 14 innings against Rasmussen.
He allowed eight hits and 11 baserunners, but the only time he appeared to be in trouble was at the outset. The Astros, who didn't arrive to their team hotel until 2 a.m. Thursday after their late-night victory over the Dodgers and skipped batting practice, looked as if they were going to pummel Rasmussen exactly as they did Orel Hershiser. After leadoff hitter Gerald Young grounded out, Casey Candaele, Mark Davidson and Ken Caminiti singled to load the bases.
Next up was first baseman Jeff Bagwell, whose five home runs this season are two more than the combined total of the rest of Thursday's Astro lineup. Bagwell hit a line shot toward left field. But shortstop Tony Fernandez speared the ball and flipped to second base for the double play.
"I don't know what other people are thinking, but I'm certainly not surprising myself," said Rasmussen, who has made a conscious effort to quicken his pace between pitches this season. "I expect that out of myself. And I think everybody expects that out of me, too.
"There's not going to be anybody more frustrated than me if I don't have a good outing. I just know this is where I want to win games. I didn't want to win games in triple-A. I want to win them here."
Perhaps the only Padre whose outing was more gratifying than Rasmussen's was Andersen. He had been out since May 8, and during his absence the Padres were 7-14, dropping from first place to fourth.
"I felt like Gumby out there," Andersen said. "I tried to keep my heart in my shirt and my legs from shaking, but the insecurities kept cropping up.
" 'Did I lose it? Will I still have it anymore? Will I get anybody out?' It was a scary feeling, let me tell you."
It took a matter of 11 pitches for Andersen to be convinced. He induced groundouts from Caminiti and Bagwell and struck out Rafael Ramirez to end the inning.
"I don't think there's any way possible I'm over the injury," Andersen said, "but if I pitch through it, I'm not concerned about it.
"Right now, I'm, just going to keep going out there like it's normal, and pretend like nothing's happened."
The Padres really have no choice but to take the same approach.