SAN DIEGO -- It was in a blissful stretch from April to June when these Padres, looking and playing like they could do no wrong, celebrated eight walk-off victories in their first 37 games at PETCO Park. Dancing on home plate, following another frenzied finish, became almost commonplace. Not anymore, though.
The Padres couldn't be more removed from those heady days, especially after a 6-2 loss to the Rockies on Saturday before a crowd of 21,877 added up to their ninth consecutive loss, a dubious streak that matches a similar funk set in 2003. "We've got to get that swagger back," Padres manager Bud Black said. And, in the opinion of those who spoke candidly after the game, it needs to happen fast. "It honestly seems like we're going out there not to lose the division, instead of going out there to win the division," Padres pitcher Jon Garland said. "Because there isn't a single soul in baseball that's going to feel sorry for us. "Right now, we've hit a bad spell, and it plays tricks on your mind. But this is a game of confidence. If you don't have confidence going out there, it's going to show. It's showed. So, we need to find a way to get that confidence back." The Padres (76-58) lead the Giants by two games in the National League West, following San Francisco's win over Los Angeles on Saturday. It's not just the Giants who are chasing them, either, as the Rockies (71-64) are now 5 1/2 games back with a lot of baseball to be played. Not that the Padres are the least bit worried about that now. At this point, they need to get back to playing the way they did earlier in the season, they said, when they parlayed solid pitching, sound defense and timely hitting into a first-place lead that actually felt like one. "It's a combination of a lot of things. We're not swinging the bats as a group or getting pitching performances you need to snap out of this," Black said. "... An error seems to come back to hunt us. It's a team-wide thing. "Things aren't going the way they did for five months." The loss on Saturday to the Rockies illustrated that point, as an error with two outs in the fifth inning on Everth Cabrera allowed a run to score, giving Colorado a 3-1 lead. Then there was a strange sequence in the seventh inning after the Padres had scored a run to make it 3-2. With the bases loaded and two outs, Rockies reliever Esmil Rogers, summoned from the bullpen to face David Eckstein, fired a first-pitch 95-mph fastball inside that Eckstein had to spin to get out of the way of. In the process, the ball hit Eckstein's bat, knocking it from his hands. If that ball doesn't hit Eckstein's bat, a run likely scores on the wild pitch. If the pitch hits Eckstein, a run scores to tie the game. Instead, Eckstein fell behind in the count, 0-1, with a foul ball. He would then strike out to end the rally. "We're sitting back, waiting," Padres third baseman Chase Headley said. "It's almost like we're waiting for something bad to happen. We've got to start playing better." The Rockies added three runs in the eighth inning against normally reliable reliever Luke Gregerson, yet something else that didn't happen very often in the first five months of the season, when the bullpen continued to bail the Padres out of difficult spots. In this fitful stretch, the Padres have a 5.22 ERA, they've made seven errors and they've hit .216 in their last nine games, with a .265 on-base percentage. They also only have one stolen base in that stretch, another early-season strength that has all but disappeared in the last 10 or so days. Garland allowed 10 baserunners in 4 2/3 innings, his shortest inning since Opening Day. He allowed two earned runs, walking three. Garland (13-10) retired the first two batters he faced in an inning on two occasions only to allow runs. It first happened in the third inning, when, with two outs, he walked Carlos Gonzalez before allowing a double to Troy Tulowitzki and then a two-run single to Todd Helton. That hit gave the Rockies a 2-1 lead they wouldn't relinquish. An inning later, Garland allowed consecutive singles to Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta before striking out Rockies pitcher Jason Hammel (10-7). He then got Eric Young to hit into a double play to end the inning. Garland wouldn't be as lucky in the fifth inning, though. Again, Garland got two quick outs before allowing a double to Tulowitzki. After issuing an intentional walk to Helton, Garland walked Melvin Mora to load the bases. Black went to his bullpen for left-hander Joe Thatcher. The Rockies countered with Ryan Spilborghs. Thatcher did his job, getting a soft ground ball to Cabrera, who muffed the ball and threw late as a run scored for a 3-1 lead. "It's tough as a pitcher on a staff, on a bullpen, when you feel you have to be perfect every pitch, every inning," Garland said. "We're struggling to get runs, so every run you give up, you have to fight back to get one." San Diego catcher Yorvit Torrealba, while recognizing the Padres obviously need to play better, wasn't about to get caught up in the overall impact of these losses. Not with 28 games left to be played, including more against the Rockies and Giants. "For us, for me, it's almost good that it's happening right now instead of with 10 games left in the season or something," Torrealba said. "This happens to every single team. The Dodgers lost, what, 13 in a row? The Rockies lost nine at one point I think. It happens." Right now, it's happening to them. Black contended that one victory could turn all this around. So did closer Heath Bell, who admits to being very frustrated. First place never felt quite so bad. "As soon as we get that first win, it will be like a light switch going on," Bell said. "... But right now, nothing is going out way. This isn't Padres baseball. It's times like this when you find out what you're made of, what kind of team you have."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.