Rookie Ray Holbert turned out to be the San Diego Padres’ most un
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Rookie Ray Holbert turned out to be the San Diego Padres’ most unlikely hero under improbable circumstances.
The seldom-used Holbert hit a grand slam _ the first homer of his major-league career _ to lead the Padres to an 8-6 victory Monday night over the Cincinnati Reds.
The reserve shortstop, hitting just .100 (three hits in 30 at-bats) entering the game, put San Diego ahead to stay with his grand slam in the fifth inning off Reds starter C.J. Nitkowski.
The homer, coming right after Nitkowski intentionally walked Brad Ausmus to load the bases, capped a five-run inning and erased Cincinnati’s 6-3 lead.
``When they walked Brad Ausmus, I was teed off,″ Holbert said. ``I’ve been thinking too much up there. That time I just wanted to swing the bat.″
Instead of having Nitkowski pitch to Ausmus with runners at second and third with two outs, Reds manager Davey Johnson chose to have Nitkowski face the light-hitting Holbert.
The decision backfired when Holbert smashed Nitkowski’s 1-0 fastball into the left-field stands.
``You have a No. 8-hole hitter who’s not hitting a buck 50,″ Johnson said. ``You have to go right after him. You can’t throw him a nothing fastball, belly-button high.″
Said Nitkowski: ``Not to take anything away from any hitter, but that’s not the guy you should let beat you with a home run.″
Willie Blair (2-0) pitched 5 2-3 innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits with five strikeouts and one walk. Blair replaced starter Scott Sanders, who was lifted with one out in the second after giving up five runs _ three earned _ on five hits.
Nitkowski (1-3) allowed eight runs _ six earned _ on eight hits with four walks and two strikeouts in his five innings of work.
Holbert’s homer was the capper to a game that saw the Reds take a 5-0 lead before San Diego came back. The game also featured a triple play by Cincinnati.
It occurred in the sixth inning with Steve Finley at second base, Jody Reed at first and Tony Gwynn at the plate against Cincinnati reliever Brad Pennington.
With Finley and Reed running on a hit-and-run play, Gwynn hit a soft liner that shortstop Barry Larkin gloved while diving to his left. Larkin flipped the ball to second baseman Brett Boone, whose throw to first baseman Hal Morris easily caught Reed off the bag to complete the play.
``I’m still upset about the triple play.″ Gwynn said. ``We had a hit and run going and I tried to hit the ball in the hole. I got a pretty good pitch to hit and hit it right at Larkin.″
The triple play was Cincinnati’s first since June 28, 1989 against Atlanta. It was also the first triple play against the Padres since St. Louis turned the trick Sept. 5, 1991.
But the night belonged to Holbert. The rookie, who has started only seven games this season, was in the lineup only because regular shortstop Andujar Cedeno rested his strained hamstring for the second straight game.
The majority of Holbert’s playing time in 33 games has come as a pinch runner. That’s why Holbert’s clutch hit came as such a surprise.
``It’s been tough on him,″ Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. ``He hasn’t played much.″
Holbert’s homer gave San Diego the win after the Reds were on the verge of blowing the game open in the early innings.
Cincinnati scored three first-inning runs, two coming on Larkin’s 12th home run, the other on third baseman Ken Caminiti’s error.
The Reds came right back with two runs in the second inning on a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly by Larkin for a 5-0 lead.
But then Nitkowski pitched himself into trouble. After the Padres scored on Reed’s RBI single, Nitkowski loaded the bases with a walk to Caminiti. He then followed with consecutive walks to Eddie Williams and Phil Clark to force in two more runs and trim the Reds’ lead to 5-3.