SAN DIEGO — Angel pitcher Ken Hill looked like a Cy Young Award winner, a Silver Slugger batter and a Gold Glove fielder all wrapped up in one Friday night, his virtuoso performance leading the Angels to a 3-1 victory over the San Diego Padres before a record crowd of 60,230 at Qualcomm Stadium.
The right-hander gave up one run on four hits in 8 1/3 innings, hit a two-run double in the fifth inning and cut down a potential run at the plate with an excellent defensive play in the bottom of the fifth, helping the Angels pull to within one game of Seattle in the American League West.
The largest crowd to see a game in San Diego baseball history--and the largest crowd of the 1997 season--was treated to a wild postgame fireworks show, but the game was pretty much a dud for Padre fans, thanks to Hill.
"I'd say this one goes in his bag tonight," Manager Terry Collins said. "He was pretty much the ballgame."
Hill (7-11) was pretty much a bust in his six starts since the July 29 trade that brought him to Anaheim from Texas, going 1-3 with a 6.82 earned-run average, and no one felt worse about it than Hill.
But he seemed to make up for it all in one night Friday, spotting his fastball and adding a nice blend of off-speed pitches against the Padres, who scored in the ninth before Troy Percival came on to record his 22nd save.
"I knew it was just a matter of time," said Hill, who walked two and struck out one. "Everyone was bad-mouthing me, and it was frustrating being in a pennant race, knowing you don't have time, that they need help now."
Help? Hill was a savior Friday night, ending the Angels' two-game losing streak and filling the stopper void created by the season-ending injury to Chuck Finley.
"That was an all-around tremendous performance," shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. "He was huge for us, and tonight was huge for him. He needed a great performance for his confidence."
Neither team scored until the fifth, when Angel third baseman Luis Alicea walked with one out and took third on Chad Kreuter's perfectly placed hit-and-run single through the vacated shortstop hole.
Padre third baseman Ken Caminiti made a leaping grab of DiSarcina's liner for the second out, and San Diego pitcher Pete Smith probably thought he was out of the inning.
But after falling behind, 1-and-2, Hill ripped a slider over left fielder Mark Sweeney's head for a two-run double. It was the first hit by an Angel pitcher since Ryan Hancock's single against Cleveland on June 9, 1996.
"I got lucky, what can I say?" Hill said. "I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and I did--and it went far."
The Padres threatened in the bottom of the fifth when John Flaherty doubled and pinch-hitter Craig Shipley lined a single to center, Flaherty holding at third.
Quilvio Veras then chopped a grounder toward third, which Hill fielded before making an off-balance, one-hop throw to Kreuter at the plate to nail Flaherty. Steve Finley grounded out to end the inning.
The Angels made it 3-0 in the sixth when Jim Edmonds doubled to left, took third on Darin Erstad's grounder to second and scored on Tim Salmon's single to left, Salmon's 108th RBI of the season.
The victory seemed to revitalize the Angels, who had lost nine of their previous 13 games before Friday, including blowouts at the hands of Cleveland and San Diego Wednesday and Thursday.
Still, despite their spotty play of late, there was no sense of dread in the Angel clubhouse.
"There's a totally different air in here than there was in 1995," Percival said, alluding to the Angels' August/September collapse. "No one is panicking. We just had a couple of games where we didn't play hard.
"But I still come to the park every day knowing we can win. In 1995, I came to the park hoping we had a chance to win."
DiSarcina said that as painful as 1995 was--the Angels had an 11-game lead on Aug. 3 but blew it--the experience may be one reason this Angel team is so resilient.
"This is a team of guys who have been through hard times before, and we have thicker skin because of it," he said. "We realize that just because we were blown out one day, the next game is a whole new day."