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Padres a loose, confident bunch

SAN DIEGO -- There are no crazy cowboys, Dominican midgets or Jack Daniels-slinging sessions before the first pitch. But step into the San Diego Padres' clubhouse and you might need to rub your eyes twice for a reminder that you're on the West Coast, and not in Fenway Park's 2004 locker room.

"Haven't done any whiskey shots yet," reliever Alan Embree said with a smile.

But there are kooky characters aplenty and team camaraderie in San Diego this season. With 10 former Red Sox players on the Padres' roster, Embree said he feels the aura and friendship in Southern California this year is similar to that of Boston's 2004 World Series team.

When Embree and Mark Bellhorn were trying to come up with a name for their fantasy football team, they took one look around and it was quite simple: Red Sox West.

"Guys like each other. We all get along."
-- Alan Embree, Padres reliever

"It's similar, maybe not as rowdy," Embree said, "but guys like each other. We all get along."

Which is a rarity. As Dodgers pitcher Brett Tomko pointed out, baseball can be a microcosm for society.

"Just take a look at when guys stretch on the field," Tomko said late this summer. "Usually the Dominican guys hang with each other, the white guys from the South are in another group and so on."

But there are rare instances in which a team and its players find common bonds. A sign posted in the Padres' clubhouse on Monday read: BBQ at Brian Giles' house after tomorrow's game. RSVP. We need a count.

Although a 5-1 loss to the underdog Cardinals on Tuesday in the Division Series opener disappointed and frustrated many, there was little doubt that the team could come back. Usually a loss leads to a silent clubhouse and the scattering of players as if they're cockroaches hit by light.

But not in San Diego. Many players sat together after the defeat drinking cold Bud Lights and talking about the game.

Giles, the team's 35-year-old right fielder and a native San Diegan, asked 24-year-old first baseman Adrian Gonzalez if his dad could make Mexican staple carne asada at the cookout that evening.

As Louisianan Todd Walker, 33, was leaving the clubhouse, Russell Branyan, a 30-year-old Georgia native with a twang, asked him, "Hey, are you going to Gillies' house tonight?"

And while the quartet of 40-year-old Texan Woody Williams, Giles, his brother Marcus (an Atlanta Brave) and Gonzalez lingered in the clubhouse, rapping about the game and the upcoming cookout, left fielder Dave Roberts, born in Japan but raised in San Diego, was getting dressed. Giles yelled out across the room to his teammate.

"Hey, you coming tonight?" he asked.

"What kind of food you got there?" Roberts hollered back.

This is a clubhouse, after all, that is overseen by general manager Kevin Towers, a man who yearns to open his own chips-and-salsa stand one day that will serve top-shelf tequila and Mexican beers. Towers values "character" guys, and when he had the opportunity to trade for a player at this year's deadline who had a less-than-stellar reputation, Towers declined, despite knowing the bat could have helped his team's anemic offense.

"The clubhouse chemistry has been tremendous. We haven't really had any factions," Towers said. "Well, except Redneck Row over there," he added jokingly, as he pointed to an area that included the lockers of Embree, Jake Peavy and Scott Linebrink.

Before facing a Cardinals team that had lost nine of 12 and nearly had a historic collapse, talk amongst the players was about how they're the better team, and expected to win. Alabama boy Peavy, their 25-year-old ace, chose to pitch to Albert Pujols and paid for it. But the Padres still led the majors this season with a 3.87 team ERA despite Peavy's inconsistency (11-14, 4.09 ERA).

"We have a good team, Minnesota has a good team and they lost Game 1," Peavy said. "The boys are going to come out on Thursday, and I promise you, expecting to win."

And they will look to 43-year-old San Diegan David Wells, who at one point thought his gimpy knee would prevent him from throwing another pitch, to try to even the series.

When Wells takes the mound for his 17th postseason start, manning second base behind him will be Josh Barfield, a kid whose diapers Wells has been rumored to have changed. Barfield, 23 and from Texas, was a baby when Wells was in Toronto's system with his dad, Jesse.

From dirty diapers to postgame barbecues, the Padres are linked by camaraderie and chemistry. As a result, they know that when they enter the clubhouse on Thursday, their confidence in each other will be natural, not forced. And maybe, at some point, someone will bring the whiskey.

Amy K. Nelson is a writer/reporter for ESPN The Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.