Padres buckle up for another ride

Padres buckle up for another ride

SAN DIEGO -- What a long, strange, exhilarating, painful, wondrous, exasperating and joyous trip it's been.

The Padres are moving on up to compete with the elite now, and nobody has any idea which outfit they'll break out for the postseason audience. Manager Bruce Bochy and upper management would love to see a revival of those spectacular May colors, when they were painting the Gaslamp Quarter red with visions of October triumphs.

The rest of the season, alas, was much less appealing in its textures, although it would be inaccurate to suggest it ever got dull with this club.

That simply would not be possible with Jake Peavy's inspired, overpowering work on the mound; with relentless Brian Giles playing with intelligent abandon; with venerable closer Trevor Hoffman racking up 38 consecutive saves and moving into second on the all-time saves list; with a deep, resourceful bullpen keeping almost every game close, and with a deep, resilient bench delivering night after night.

This is a collection of easy-going, mild-mannered, skilled professionals who talk daily about the virtues of staying on an even keel, of not getting too high or too low, of staying on a consistent emotional level.

So why has their 2005 season been a roller-coaster ride?

Undeniably, it's been a season to try men's souls. From a dismal start that had Bochy ranting and raving in the visitors' clubhouse in San Francisco to a dazzling May march from fourth to first to a long, hot summer of ups and downs to a closing fall finish complete with late-game dramatics, the Padres have managed to run the gamut of emotions -- and drag their fans through the wringer with them.

"It's been a crazy season," center fielder Dave Roberts, the leadoff catalyst, said, his season typifying the Padres' season. "I've never experienced one like it."

Injured early [groin] and often [shoulder, knee, quadriceps], Roberts managed to get on the field enough to make a personal highlight reel of offensive and defensive thrills. The Padres always seemed to be at their best when Roberts was a driving force.

The same could be said of Khalil Greene. The 25-year-old shortstop also was injured early [fractured finger] and late [fractured big toe], but he didn't let those ailments prevent him from having a productive, at times spectacular season.

For one moment standing above all the rest, it's hard to resist Greene crushing a grand-slam homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against the Nationals on Sept. 17 at PETCO Park. A certain defeat became an 8-5 victory in 12 innings when catcher Ramon Hernandez launched a three-run homer.

Ten days later, Hernandez's grand slam would seal a 9-6 victory over the Giants, reducing the magic number to two and putting the brakes on a three-game losing streak that was threatening to mushroom into something devastating.

"We just come out and play hard every day," Hernandez said. "We don't dwell on the past."

"This team knows it's good -- that's why it doesn't get down when things go bad," added left fielder Ryan Klesko, whose second half was hindered by shoulder, neck and back ailments.

PETCO Park

PETCO Park is built for right-handed pull-hitters. It is noted for its vast dimensions in right and center fields, with more inviting targets in left-center, where it's 358, and down both lines. A porch in the right-field corner extends out from the 322 sign by the pole, but it is 411 to deepest right-center. Balls generally travel better in daylight than at night, when the cool breezes off the nearby Pacific tend to chop down high fly balls, turning homers into long outs.

Foul territory is fairly conventional. The infield is immaculate; few infielders complain about bad hops. Another quirky feature is the four tiers of seats down the left-field line in the Western Metal Supply Co. building. Shortstop Khalil Greene has hit two balls into the top tier. No other player has reached that area more than once.

The visitors' bullpen down the right-field line can cause problems for a right fielder charging hard for a foul ball down the line. A few right fielders have stumbled over the mound in pursuit of a ball. Another area to watch is the camera booth alongside the dugout; the Giants' J.T. Snow once crashed against a camera while pursuing a foul popup.

Hernandez was a Giants killer all year, driving in 14 runs against the team that was the last to make the National League West interesting after the Dodgers and Diamondbacks fell by the wayside.

Nobody embodies this team more fully than the catcher from Venezuela. Hernandez was arguably the team's MVP before injuring his wrist diving back into first base in Minnesota on July 17 -- two days after starter Adam Eaton, on his way to the All-Star Game with eight consecutive wins and a 9-1 record, injured the middle finger on his right hand pitching in Detroit.

The absences of their durable receiver and No. 2 starter weren't as devastating as they could have been. Always there was somebody emerging from somewhere to pick up the slack in unexpected fashion.

With Hernandez disabled, Robert Fick, who hadn't caught in four seasons, performed capably and spiritedly behind the plate until a deadline deal with the Mariners landed Miguel Olivo.

Viewed as a disappointment in Seattle, where he was batting .151, Olivo emerged as an immediate and enduring impact player both offensively and defensively.

"Olivo saved our hide," Hoffman said. A fellow Dominican Republic native, Pedro Astacio, was right there with Miguel, saving hides.

With Eaton out, Astacio, claimed off the waiver wire after he was released by the Rangers, turned out to be as consistently effective as any of the Padres starters over the final two months of the season.

"This has been one unusual season," Giles, the most durable and productive of the Padres, said. "Everything that could happen has happened. We've pulled out a lot of games in our last at-bats and lost some we should have won."

Let the roller-coaster ride continue.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.