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Giant Step for Dodgers

Baseball: Padres fall back as Rockies win, 5-4, on Bichette's homer.

September 25, 1996|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — So how does Manager Don Baylor describe the wretched road performance of his Colorado Rockies?

--"Beyond frustration."

--"Hard to watch."

--"Same story every night--bad swings, bad pitching, bad hitting, bad everything."

The answer, of course, is all of the above and more.

On Tuesday night, the Rockies stumbled across the National League West race from which they were recently eliminated.

They were coming off a new road low of four consecutive losses to the injury-riddled San Francisco Giants.

Given a spoiler opportunity, the Rockies left the San Diego Padres beyond frustration.

The Padres got 15 hits and 22 base runners but stranded 12 and ultimately lost to the Rockies, 5-4, on Dante Bichette's 31st home run off Trevor Hoffman in the 11th inning.

The loss dropped the Padres 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the West and reduced their wild-card lead over the Montreal Expos to 1 1/2 games.

San Diego had a final chance to win it in the 11th, loading the bases with one out against the sixth Colorado pitcher, Bill Swift, but pinch hitter Chris Gwynn lined to second baseman Eric Young, who doubled Steve Finley off second.

Amid the numerous opportunities, San Diego scored only a two run homer by Finley in the first and a two run homer by Ken Caminiti in the seventh.

A crowd of 23,556 had spent most of the game chanting "MVP" in tribute to Caminiti as the third baseman turned in a series of spectacular fielding plays, underscoring Tony Gwynn's pregame description of Caminiti as a "human highlight film," but it was the Rockies who emerged with a rare road win, improving their record in that department to 27-53.

Did Baylor remind his road warriors of what was at stake against the Padres. He shook his head and said:

"We have five games left and can make a difference here. If you can't get your adrenaline going with 30,000 people [in the stands]. If [our] people don't have pride and haven't been embarrassed enough, there's not a whole lot more I can say."

The Padres would waste several opportunities to render Baylor speechless after Finley followed an infield hit by Rickey Henderson with his 29th homer off 16 game winner Kevin Ritz in the first, the fourth homer by Finley in the last five games.

The torrid Finley had a chance to bury the Rockies an inning later when he batted with the bases loaded and two outs. He came about two feet shy, ripping a drive to the 405-foot sign in straightaway center where it was caught on the warning track by Quinton McCracken.

The Padres got two singles off Ritz in the third and two more in the fifth but failed to take advantage.

Fernando Valenzuela, with help from Caminiti's golden glove, held the Rockies scoreless until the fourth when McCracken doubled, Ellis Burks singled and Andres Galarraga doubled to tie the score.

Valenzuela, who had won eight straight decisions before lasting only 1 2/3 innings of Thursday's 7-0 loss to the Dodgers, kept the Padres in the game this time, working five innings on 81 pitches before leaving with the score tied, 2-2.

The Rockies broke that tie at the expense of Bob Tewksbury, Al Osuna and Doug Bochtler in the seventh. It was a strange inning in which Tewksbury, who had been moved out of his Sunday start against the Dodgers after going winless in his last five, yielded a pair of singles; Osuna hit a batter on the only pitch he threw after relieving Tewksbury, and Bochtler allowed a sacrifice fly by Eric Young and then threw a run scoring wild pitch.

The Padres were down 4-2, but not for long. A one out single by Gwynn in the bottom of the seventh preceded Caminiti's two-out homer off Mike Munoz, tying the score. It was Caminiti's 39th homer, a club record.

The San Diego third baseman would get a chance for some ultimate heroics in the ninth, but grounded into a double play, sending it into extra innings.

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