Commentary

Lost weekend forces Padres into tiebreaker

Originally Published: September 30, 2007
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

MILWAUKEE -- As the ninth inning wound down more than 1,000 miles away in Denver, a near-silent visitors' clubhouse full of players at Miller Park watched with absolute helplessness, their fate hanging on the Arizona Diamondbacks' last rally.

The San Diego Padres had just been stunned 11-6 by the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, blowing their chance to win the National League wild card. Now, they had put themselves in the position of awkwardly rooting for division champion Arizona to come back against the Colorado Rockies, who, with a win, would force a one-game playoff against the Padres on Monday in Colorado for the right to play in the postseason.

Down 4-1 entering the last inning, the Diamondbacks staged a rally. And as each hit dropped, the noise slowly started growing in the Padres' clubhouse. A group of mostly young players sat on couches watching TVs with no sound, while a mix of veterans was in the lunchroom, glued to the scene at Coors.

PENNANT PULSE
Top NL pennant race stories from Sunday:
Stark: Phillies do the impossible
Arangure: Mets have no explanation
Nelson: Padres' lost weekend
Knisley: Rockies next up for Peavy
For more on the pennant races, see Hunt for October.
With the gap closed to 4-2, Alberto Callaspo came up with runners on first and third, and when the ball left Callaspo's bat, players yelled, "Get in there!" And when it fell for an RBI single, "Atta boy!" was heard throughout the room. With the Rockies up only 4-3, their closer, Manny Corpas, was in a spot unlike any he had faced before, with his team's season on the line.

"He's hasn't been in a situation with this much pressure," second baseman Marcus Giles said to team broadcaster Jerry Coleman, "so we'll see how well he does."

As the Padres consumed plates of Caesar salad and spaghetti and meatballs, Stephen Drew came to the plate as Arizona's last hope. With two outs and a runner on first, the momentum in the clubhouse picked up. All were rooting openly for Drew, and catcher Michael Barrett practically pleaded, saying, "Take his [butt] to left-center."

As Drew dug in, so did the Padres, and when he was thrown out on a potential infield hit, the clubhouse collectively groaned. One player sarcastically said, "Let's go drink some beer," while another was much more defiant, saying in an angry voice, "Let's go break their [expletive] hearts."

But the Padres -- and only the Padres -- were at fault for putting themselves in a position to have to win a tiebreaker game. And the way the day began, it seemed as though their postgame domain would be filled with bubbly, not bitterness.

"We just got beat, plain and simple," said Brian Giles, who opened the game with a leadoff homer that sparked a three-run first inning. "[The Brewers] showed up ready to play."

This Padres team always has talked about being resilient -- winning in spite of its injuries and coming together as a sum of its parts instead of a collection of superstars. But the Brewers, a young, feisty squad pushed by its manager to play hard even after postseason elimination, refused to let San Diego roll into the playoffs.

And on Sunday, the Brewers steamrolled the Padres.

"It's exactly what I expected out of them," manager Ned Yost said. "I didn't make sure of anything, they just did it. ... We played the way that we'd like other clubs to play for us, in those situations. We were going to go full out."

What eventually let San Diego down was what had been its strength all season, particularly in September: the bullpen. Padres relievers led the major leagues with a 2.98 overall bullpen ERA heading into Sunday and were tops in the bigs with a 2.33 ERA in September.

An NL scout said he saw the psychological boost San Diego's bullpen gave the entire team, and he added that when any starting pitcher other than ace Jake Peavy left the game, the team's confidence rose.

"You can just see it," the scout said, "The team is like, 'This is ours.' "

Now, the Padres will start Peavy on Monday on normal rest in what he has called "the biggest game of my career."

Peavy said he is invigorated by the challenge, eager to pitch his team into the playoffs. He would rather be celebrating a wild-card berth but said he was prepared for the Rockies. Peavy watched video before the game and during it, while his team was down against the Brewers 10-4.

"I know the spirits and mood right now in the clubhouse are a little downtrodden," Peavy said, "This is why we play the game. This is as big as it gets."

I know the spirits and mood right now in the clubhouse are a little downtrodden. This is why we play the game. This is as big as it gets.

--Padres pitcher Jake Peavy

Brett Tomko, in Peavy's position Sunday, had said he was eager to pitch his team into the postseason. But Tomko was ineffective, giving up five runs in 4 1/3 innings. Remarkably, the Padres still were in it after Tomko left, down just 6-4. Then the sixth inning came, and they imploded.

Kevin Cameron came in and walked three batters around two outs. That was when 40-year-old Doug Brocail entered to face Gabe Gross. Brocail had allowed just one earned run in his previous 15 games, and he was holding left-handers to a .179 average.

But all it took was one pitch to Gross, who hit a triple to to right field, unloading the bases and giving the Brewers a 9-4 lead.

Brocail, a self-described teddy bear, unleashed his anger in the dugout, ripping and kicking anything in his path. He paced until finally settling down. The frustration of being unable to clinch a postseason berth, when given multiple chances, finally took its toll.

"I always take out my frustrations," Brocail said. "It's better to stay out of my way. ... I'm not real happy with myself. Not only did I get the lead bigger, but I gave up three runs of another reliever's. And that pisses me off."

After losing Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron -- two of their top offensive players -- the Padres had a team meeting last week in San Francisco. Veterans stood up and said the team had rallied all season, and they talked about how it was time for everyone to contribute. That night, Giles hit a two-out, three-run homer in the ninth, buoying the club, which went on to win three straight.

But then the last two games happened. The Padres first lost a guaranteed trip to the postseason Saturday when they were one strike away and then again in the blowout Sunday.

Now they head to Colorado, hoping they have one more rally left.

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE