Kimberly Blough 6:28 p.m., March 9
Padres starting pitcher Eric Stults (pictured) has made quite an impact since being claimed off of waivers from the White Sox in the middle of May. Winning seven games against three losses, he has filled one of the holes left open by injuries to Padres starting pitching, something that has plagued the club all season.
On Saturday, the Padres faced San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, who has been stellar, winning sixteen games for the National League West winners. Stults outlasted Bumgarner and the Padres rallied and took down the Giants on Friday, 7-3, before a sell-out crowd of over 42,000 fans, at least half of which seemed to be rooting for San Francisco.
In the first inning, Eric Stults looked good until he allowed a four-pitch walk to Pablo Sandoval with two outs. Buster Posey followed, hitting a little flair into very shallow left field that speedy shortstop Everth Cabrera couldn’t quite reach, and the Giants had two men on base.
Hunter Pence then came up and hit a slider thrown by Stults - on a 3-2 count – over the left field wall for a three-run home run. It could have been worse had Cameron Maybin not robbed Xavier Nady of a solo homer to dead center by gloving it above the wall in spectacular fashion (among the best plays of the season), and the Giants jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Padres.
In the bottom of the first, the Padres got busy. Chris Denorfia led off with a triple into the left field corner, and Logan Forsythe drew a walk. Chase Headley then grounded into a force play, scoring Denorfia, and reached first by beating out the double play as Forsythe was thrown out at second.
Chase Headley then stole second base, and went to third as Marco Scutaro failed to catch the throw for an error. Yasmani Grandal hit a sacrifice fly to right field and Headley tagged and scored and the Padres closed the Giants lead to 3-2 after an inning.
The Padres took the lead in the bottom of the third inning. Chris Denorfia singled, and after Logan Forsythe flied out, Chase Headley hit his 30th home run of the season, a 428 foot shot over the center field wall for two more Padres runs.
“Cutter,” Chase said concerning the pitch that Bumgarner threw to get him over the 30 home run mark for the season.
“I’ve never been a big numbers goal setter,” Chase continued. He then credited Padres executive, Hall of Fame player Dave Winfield with changing his attitude about it after Winfield consulted with Chase.
After Bumgarner struck out Yasmani Grandal, the pitcher then gave up a solo shot to left field to Jesus Guzman on a one-ball and two-strike count. It was Guzman’s 9th of the year, and the Padres led the Giants 5-3 after three innings.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Padres faced Brad Penny, relieving Madison Bumgarner. Chris Denorfia opened with a single, but was cut down trying to steal second base.
Logan Forsythe singled, and Chase Headley walked, moving Forsythe to second base. Yasmani Grandal singled, plating Forsythe and moving Headley to second, and then Jesus Guzman doubled home Headley and the Padres increased their lead to 7-3 after five innings.
Meanwhile, Eric Stults withstood two-out rallies by the Giants in the third and fifth innings and pitched through the sixth. Stults was then lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth, with a pitch count of 102 while surrendering the three runs on six hits with three walks and five strikeouts.
“Especially in the fifth inning,” Stults said, referring to the two-out change of effectiveness. He thought that he might have lost something in his mechanics.
“A little bit out of whack,” Stults said. But he sailed through the sixth, even striking out the last batter he faced.
“The sixth inning, Buddy had a talk and reminded me that I had around 90 pitches, so pitch one guy at a time and that’s what I tried to do, I tried to get ahead [in the count],” Stults explained,
There was no more scoring after that. The speed of the game picked up considerably as Padres relievers were outstanding and the Giants relief core also stopped the bleeding.
The loss for the Giants hurts their chances of improving their position in the play-offs by leaping over the other division winners and potential division winners, while the Padres are obviously playing for pride. Stults gets the win and improves to 8-3 while Bumgarner suffers the loss and falls to 16-11.
As for complaints overheard in some local media concerning Giants fans overrunning Petco Park, let them come, let them come. Quiet them by simply beating their favorite ball club, just like the Padres did on Saturday.
After the bottom of the sixth inning, the crowd suddenly seemed decidedly fans of the Padres. Beating San Francisco does two things; it quiets Giants fans, and eventually if the Padres can beat teams like the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers and other division rivals on a regular basis, then more people in San Diego will buy tickets up and the Giants fans will have to show up at a less-crowded stadium in order to root for their team on the road because there simply won’t be room for them at Petco Park.
Logan Forsythe, who was out for two games with a sore knee, was back in the starting line-up on Saturday. Buddy indicated before the game that if Logan wasn’t ready to go after warm-ups then he could always be scratched in favor of Andy Parrino or Alexi Amarista. Forsythe seemed fine on Saturday and started as scheduled and looked good in the field from the press box.
Saturday’s sell-out was the third of the season. The first was opening day, which normally always sells out. The second was against the Los Angeles Angels during interleague play. Guess who was starting pitcher that day? Yep, Eric Stults. Two thirds of Padres sell-outs this season featured Eric Stults throwing out the first pitch that counted.
Sunday, the Padres will close out the final home stand of the 2012 season, the final game of the series against the Giants. The Padres are sending Edinson Volquez (11-11, 4.13) to the hill to battle Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (10-15, 5.15), game time at 1:05 PM PDST. As usual, XX 1090 AM will have the radio broadcast while Fox Sports San Diego carries the television portion. And as usual, if you have Time Warner or AT&T U-verse, then you’re screwed. And it’s the last day of Fan Appreciation day, the giveaway being the nifty Padres team photo that includes the 2013 schedule. Before the game, you can buy breakfast in the outfield if you have a ticket and get there early enough (no worries, there’s no batting practice Sunday except in the cage underneath the stadium so you won’t get hit by an errant line drive), otherwise you can eat breakfast at some other stadium location. And after the game if you’ve bought the dollar scratcher offered at the entrance to the stadium then you could get lucky enough to win a shirt right off of the players or coaches backs (all proceeds go towards the Padres Foundation).