Padres general manager Kevin Towers was gobbling up what he calls
the "Rolaids and Tums combo platter" as he watched the Cardinals
score four runs to take a 7-3 lead against his team in the
bottom of the eighth of their April 5 game. As Towers started
for the clubhouse, Devil Rays scout Monk Williams stopped him in
his tracks. "Don't go anywhere," Williams told him. "Your guys
are gonna come back."
Towers heeded the words of the wizened scout, and sure enough,
the Padres scored five runs in the top of the ninth to win 8-7.
"When somebody from another organization senses that kind of
chemistry on your club," Towers says, "then you begin to believe
that magic can happen."
The Padres' hot start can be traced to hard-nosed play
like this Caminiti takeout of the Pirates' Tony Womack.
The victory was one of four dramatic comeback wins San Diego
already had at week's end, including three in games when it
trailed by two or more runs entering the ninth. Last season the
Padres finished 5-81 in games in which they were behind going
into the ninth. "A year ago when teams got a couple of runs
against us early, we'd sink in our seats and think, Wow, can we
come back?" third baseman Ken Caminiti says. "This year we're
always wondering, Who's going to be the hero tonight?"
By winning 11 of its last 12 games before Sunday's rainout in
Pittsburgh, San Diego improved its record to 14-3, the best
start in the majors and by far the best in franchise history.
"We know it's still early," manager Bruce Bochy says, "but a
good start can really lay the foundation for a great season."
During this torrid April, a new Padres protagonist has starred
in virtually every game. The much-improved San Diego pitching
staff, led by ace righthander Kevin Brown, has the seventh-best
ERA (3.91) in the leaguethe Padres were 13th a year agoand
has already produced more shutouts this season (three) than in
all of '97 (two). The offense has not only featured clutch hits
from the usual suspects, like Caminiti, eight-time batting champ
Tony Gwynn and centerfielder Steve Finley, but also has gotten
timely contributions from such unexpected sources as bench
players Archi Cianfrocco and Andy Sheets.
Still, the most dramatic comeback story belongs to leftfielder
Greg Vaughn, who struggled mightily after coming to the Padres
in a deal with the Brewers at the '96 trade deadline. During a
miserable '97 season, Vaughn batted .216 with 18 homers (he'd
hit 41 in '96), lost his job to Rickey Henderson, got traded to
the Yankees and then was returned to sender when he couldn't
pass a physical because of a damaged right shoulder. "He became
the scapegoat for the bad season," Caminiti says, "and he
suffered a lot because he's the kind of guy who hears every boo."
At spring training this year Vaughn began working regularly with
Gwynn, who lectured him on delaying his swing and striking with
quick hands. The advice has helped: At week's end Vaughn was
batting .269 with five home runs and 10 RBIs. Two of his homers
have been game-winners. Vaughn credits his resurgence to a
combination of factors ranging from his regular tune-ups with
Gwynn to wearing his old Brewers uniform number23. "All I know
is that I feel a great sense of relief," says Vaughn. "Last year
was a matter of survival, but now I'm at peace with myself."
Issue date: April 27, 1998