Latos' 10 K's wasted as skid runs to seven

Latos' 10 K's wasted as skid runs to seven

PHOENIX -- The glass-half-full approach, which the Padres are sure to take, is as follows: They have 30 games to protect a three-game lead in the National League West.

The glass-half-empty approach, which observers back in San Diego can't possible ignore: That division lead could have been much larger.

Those natural pessimists would be hard-pressed not to feel that way after Wednesday.

Their postseason-hopeful Padres, playing far from mistake-free baseball, dropped a seventh straight game, this time of the 5-2 variety to the D-backs.

And middle-infield defense, or lack thereof, in the seventh inning was the culprit. Two miscues -- one an error, the other ruled a hit -- immediately preceded Arizona's game-changing grand slam.

"It does happen, but it's one of those things that you can't have happen," San Diego third baseman Chase Headley said of shortstop Miguel Tejada's fielding error and second baseman Everth Cabrera's inability to handle a hard-hit ground ball. "You're not going to win games when you don't make plays that you need to make. And this little funk that we're in, it's been one thing or the next. It's never been just one thing. So we have to find a way to get back to playing clean, because that's when we were successful."

A quick turnaround would stop pennant-race panicking from setting in. San Diego's advantage in the West has shrunk from 6 1 /2 one week ago to three games.

Starter Mat Latos put his club in a better position, leaving with a 2-1 lead after six. But the seventh changed his fate. Reliever Luke Gregerson (3-7) walked leadoff hitter Mark Reynolds and, due to those back-to-back miscues by his middle infielders, loaded the bases with no outs. The next batter, Brandon Allen, who had just been called up on Wednesday, pulled a Gregerson 1-1 slider into the right-field seats.

"In simplest terms, from my vantage point, it looked like an errant throw," manager Bud Black said of Cabrera's toss to Tejada, after Cabrera cleanly fielded Miguel Montero's grounder. "It had a little steam behind it and Miggy couldn't get his glove on it."

And Cabrera not handling, on an undoubtedly more difficult play, Gerardo Parra's ensuing grounder?

"That would have been another potential double play ball," Black lamented.

The developments spoiled Latos' continued individual success. The 22-year-old has now yielded two runs or fewer in 14 straight outings, a feat last accomplished in the Majors by Greg Maddux 16 years ago.

Treated to Tejada's second homer in the series -- he lifted Barry Enright's first pitch in the fourth inning into the left-field stands -- Latos was coasting on his way to a career-best-tying 10-strikeout game.

"I did what I wanted to do when I woke up this morning," he said, "which was to come out and try to put zeroes on the board and keep this game close and try to win a ballgame."

The right-hander had retired seven of the last eight D-backs batters he faced when Chris Young homered off the left-field foul pole in the sixth, tying the score at 1.

"I put myself in that [3-1] count," Latos said. "I fell behind and just fell back in the count that I had to throw fastballs to him. It wasn't a smart choice on my part. He happened to swing at the pitch -- obviously he knows fastball is coming -- and happen to get lucky hitting it off the foul pole."

Black elected to pinch-hit for Latos, who had thrown 99 pitches, with two outs in the top of the seventh. Matt Stairs, in his usual off-the-bench role singled Cabrera to third base. The next batter, Will Venable, singled up the middle to plate Cabrera and make the score 2-1.

Latos' mound replacement, Gregerson, had little defensive aid, but also gave up the big blow. Should Latos have stayed in the ballgame?

"Our bullpen, I believe, is the best in the National League," Black said. "Let's leave it at that."

Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.