And 50 games into the 2010 campaign, those pesky San Diego Padres are still in first place in the National League West after a 3-2 win over the Nationals in 11 innings on a walk-off single by Nick Hundley on Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of 28,591 at PETCO Park.
"We'll get them in the walk-off fashion or the regular fashion, it doesn't matter to us," said Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, who had his first multi-hit game since May 9 with a pair of singles and an RBI. "We're pretty resilient. When you've got good pitching like that, you're going to be in a lot of games. It's been somebody different every time."
The Padres' formula for success has been pretty standard throughout the first two months of the season. Strong pitching and defense will keep the team in a close, low-scoring game, especially at home, and usually a new offensive hero will have to emerge to push San Diego over the edge.
"We're playing good baseball," Padres manager Bud Black said. "We're pitching well, playing fundamentally and I think our offense will pick up. Our challenge is to continue moving forward."
On Sunday, that hero was Hundley for the second consecutive contest. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the 11th inning and pounded a 2-2 fastball from Matt Capps to left to score Lance Zawadzki, who reached second base on an infield single and throwing error by Nationals second baseman Adam Kennedy.
"I know I was the last position guy we had, so if I didn't get the job done, we might have had to use a pitcher down the line, and it might have gotten a little hairy," Hundley said. "[I was] just trying not to put too much pressure on [myself] and have a quality at-bat."
Hundley had provided nearly all of the offense for the Padres (30-20) the night before when he hit a three-run homer and tripled and scored in San Diego's 4-2 over the Nationals (25-26) on Saturday, but he was left out of the starting lineup on Sunday in favor of veteran Yorvit Torrealba, whom Hundley has been sharing time behind the plate with all season.
"I thought I'd have a chance to come in and pinch-hit later on in the game," Hundley said. "I knew Torrealba was catching, but I've got to stay ready and prepare myself like I was playing."
The walk-off win in extra innings was San Diego's second of the week -- Jerry Hairston hit a walk-off home run in the 13th inning to lift the Padres to a 2-1 win against the Cardinals on Wednesday -- as well as its third one-run victory in the past seven days.
Though he didn't figure into the decision, Padres starter Jon Garland was once again in familiar form at home, allowing five hits -- two of those being solo home runs by Ryan Zimmerman -- striking out four and walking one batter in seven innings to lower his ERA at PETCO Park to 1.15.
"The [first home run] pitch was still up a little more than it needed to be, and the second one was definitely just bad location," Garland said. "[Zimmerman's] eyes kind of lit up, and he said thank you before he even swung the bat, I think."
But other than those two mistake pitches, Garland didn't have much trouble with Washington's lineup. He retired the side in order the second, third, fifth and seventh innings, recorded his 1,000th career strikeout when he got Josh Willingham swinging in the fourth inning and got 15 ground-ball outs.
"When guys are pounding them on the ground like that, it's key," Garland said. "It's huge. That's what I want."
Washington starter Livan Hernandez allowed eight hits and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings but let two runs cross the plate in the fourth when a fielder's choice by Torrealba scored Adrian Gonzalez and Gwynn followed with an RBI single to give the Padres a 2-1 lead that would hold until Zimmerman's second home run in the sixth.
With the score tied, 2-2, heading to the eighth inning, the Padres' bullpen once again held up its end of the bargain. The trio of Mike Adams, Heath Bell (in a non-save situation) and Luke Gregerson (1-1) combined for four scoreless innings before the San Diego offense broke through.
"You can close a game out [in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings] with the arms going out there," Garland said. "They've been tremendous for us. These holds and these saves, they're one-run [games]. They're in some tight situations and big situations, and they're coming up huge for us."
And if the Padres are going to continue to be one of the biggest surprises in the Major Leagues, Hundley said they are going to have to continue to figure out ways to squeak out wins in tight games.
"We're going to play a lot of games like this," he said. "We're going to play a lot of close games where a lot's on the line late. We're going to have to have guys step up and make big plays and get big hits to be successful."
Gina Mizell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.