At this time last year, Cameron was at Disneyworld with his family, two months into his recovery from surgery for multiple facial fractures suffered in a horrifying outfield collision with then-Mets teammate Carlos Beltran at PETCO Park. In a wonderful twist of fate, PETCO soon would become his new home, and he'd grace center field there with a spirit that would enrich the Padres throughout the 2006 season.
"I never had to go through what I went through last year," Cameron said. "Nobody seems to remember that the fact I can play baseball is an accomplishment in itself."
His 2005 season ended on Aug. 11, 2005, when he ran head-on into Beltran chasing David Ross' sinking fly ball. As Cameron went through the recovery process, fans wondered if they'd seen the last of the brilliant athlete from Georgia. Cameron's facial fractures were multiple; surgery was complex, rehab a long, daunting process.
"Not only did I have the collision," Cameron recalled, "but I also had wrist surgery before the season. Two surgeries in one year -- and one very critical surgery."
His will, along with the support of his family, got him through the initial early stages of recovery. When the Padres got a clean bill of health from doctors, Cameron gracefully accepted a deal to San Diego in exchange for Xavier Nady, welcoming the challenge to return to center from right and play in a spacious ballpark with a new cast of characters.
And there he was on Saturday, determined to help drive the Padres to a Game 4 in a postseason he can appreciate more than anybody after a brilliant regular season, hitting .268 with 22 homers and 83 RBIs, while leading the team with 88 runs scored, stealing 25 bases and playing superlative defense.
"I'm sure they're relaxed on the other side," Cameron said, referring to the Cardinals. "They've played better than we have so far. They've swung the bats better. We just have to find a way to turn it around. We need to give ourselves more opportunities to score runs and get back in this series. The only difference between the regular season and the playoffs is that if you lose three games in a row, you're going home."
After much discussion and debate, manager Bruce Bochy and his Padres staff decided not to start Khalil Greene at shortstop and to go with Russell Branyan at third base and Todd Walker at second, forcing Josh Barfield to the bench alongside Greene. Geoff Blum remained at shortstop.
Barfield had the Padres' only extra-base hit in Game 2, a double, but Bochy went with the left-handed hitters, Walker and Branyan, against right-hander Jeff Suppan.
"We talked at length about Khalil," Bochy said of his shortstop, who hasn't started a game since Aug. 17 after suffering a ligament tear in his left middle finger. "Blum has really done a great job. He's been playing well down the stretch here in September. He's had success off of Suppan, and Khalil has not gotten a lot of playing time.
"Khalil will admit that he's not going to be real comfortable up there at the plate, even though he's to the point now where he can take a pretty good swing. And I don't think it would be fair to the kid to throw him in there at this point."
Game 4 starter up in air:
Bochy also declined to name a starter for Game 4, electing to wait to see how Game 3 plays out. Jake Peavy, who lost Game 1 to Chris Carpenter, is an option, along with former Cardinal Woody Williams.
"At this point, we'll use all of them today if we have to," Bochy said of his pitchers. "We'll get through this game, and hopefully get a win, and we'll announce it after the game."
Confidence game: From Brian Giles' perspective, it's all about attitude. When the Padres are feeling good about themselves, they're dangerous. When they're not, they're vulnerable.
"This game's all about confidence," Giles said. "They get a great pitching performance from Carpenter in Game 1 and score some runs. They get great pitching again and shut us out in Game 2. They're a confident bunch now. It's up to us to do something about that.
"All through September, when we were winning big games, we were extremely confident that we would find a way. There were several different points where we could have packed it in, but this team responded. We know what we have to do. We just have to go out and execute."
Give a guy a break:
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez thinks he knows what the Padres need to get rolling -- a little kiss on the cheek from Lady Luck.
"I know for a fact we can come back and win this series," Gonzalez said. "Hopefully, we catch the breaks now, get a few bloopers and dribblers to find holes. Then it's a different game. We haven't been getting any of those. We're due."
Like Roberts, Gonzalez will be looking for an early breakthrough against Suppan, breaks or no breaks. With the season on the line, he's not thrilled about dealing with more of the shadows that made it difficult on hitters in the late innings at PETCO Park. It will be more of the same at Busch, where the infield was covered in shadows in the late afternoon Friday.
"With these early games, the shadows in the late innings can make it really difficult," Gonzalez said. "Late in the game, I could see that the pitch was a curveball, but I couldn't pick up the distance and misjudged the ball.
"Scoring some early runs, that's what we need to do."