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December 06, 2001

More than a prayer
By Dan Patrick

It's easy to forget the San Diego Padres were in the World Series just four years ago. Then again, other than the Yankees, recent World Series teams have been forgettable, one-year wonders, with the Florida Marlins being the best (or is it worst?) example. But here we are in June 2001 and a team picked for last in the most competitive division in baseball is right in the thick of it.

Ricky Henderson
Rickey Henderson (24) has sparked the Padres, while Ben Davis (13) sparked a perfect-game controversy.

Sometimes we perceive the Padres the same way we do the Chargers. They are not going anywhere any time soon. You can't name their starting rotation. You know Ryan Klesko because he used to be on the Atlanta Braves. You know Rickey Henderson because he's a future Hall of Famer. But their third baseman is a former No. 1 draft pick of the Houston Astros back when he was a catcher. Only the diehards know Phil Nevin and his history.

They were so desperate they had a place for Henderson. But he has been much more than a gesture in left field. Rickey had some baseball left in him and he's giving it to the Padres. Good for him and them.

Still, at the beginning of the year we all felt that the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Giants would run away from the Padres. But it hasn't happened. The unbalanced schedule will have these teams playing each other a lot this year and so far the Padres have hung in.

That no-name rotation has been great. Guys who give you quality innings like Woody Williams and Adam Eaton (though Eaton recently hurt himself opening a DVD package ? not a great omen). The closer, Trevor Hoffman, is among the best in the business. The offense has been led by Klesko, Henderson and Nevin along with outfielder Bubba Trammell and shortstop Damian Jackson. If Tony Gwynn ever gets healthy, he'd be a great addition.

The only problem in San Diego is their deplorable defense. They can't field. They could be the Twins of the West Coast if they could field. Teams with less than star-studded lineups have to be able to catch and throw because they just can't afford to give runs away and extend innings on their pitchers.

Forget about the controversy and remember that the Padres, through Ben Davis, showed everybody that they aren't going to lay down this year. They have come to play.

What GM Kevin Towers has done is pretty amazing. The Giants have Barry Bonds and his home-run chase, the Diamondbacks have Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, the Rockies have Mike Hampton and Larry Walker.

But Towers has put together a team that can play with them and he has done it with a small-market payroll.

There was a lot made about Ben Davis' bunt during Schilling's recent attempt at a perfect game. Forget about the controversy and remember that the Padres, through Davis, showed everybody that they aren't going to lay down this year. They have come to play. Sometimes that's enough to build a season on.

Between now and the end of the season, though, the Padres need to step it up defensively and maybe spend the money or make the trade that will strengthen the team. Because the rest of the teams in the division will certainly go out and get what they need.

For now, the Padres will play hard and keep surprising us. And they will hope Towers can make that one last move.

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