Bullpen squanders late lead in loss

Bullpen squanders late lead in loss

ST. PETERSBURG -- Usually when two of three cylinders click -- normally pitching and hitting -- the Padres have a good chance at coming away with a win.

When the game in question, though, is a low-scoring one, due to two strong outings from respective starters, sometimes a small defensive miscue can drastically alter the outcome. Just ask Adrian Gonzalez.

The Padres were nursing a one-run lead in the seventh inning and Greg Norton cracked a tricky hopper to Gonzalez's glove side that crawled up his body and scooted into shallow right field, allowing two runs to score. Gonzalez was credited with the error, and the Rays had their winning runs in their 11-4 victory.

Simple as that.

Padres manager Bud Black was disappointed in the play, but he defended his first baseman, who had only one error in the 62 games heading into Tuesday night.

"I think [the hit] had some overspin on it," Black said. "From the dugout, we thought it might have broken [Norton's] bat. It was a low sinker that just took a high hop.

"It had some spin on it, and I think it just jumped up on him. It's a tough play, but we're used to him making outstanding plays."

If that weren't enough, Gonzalez fumbled another grounder an inning later that prevented the inning-ending out. Two batters later, Carlos Pena blasted a 415-foot grand slam off reliever Doug Brocail for the game's final margin.

It just wasn't the Padres' day.

The Padres are in the midst of a season-worst four-game losing streak and surprisingly enough, most of it lies with a bullpen that proved itself to be nearly air-tight through San Diego's first 59 games. Though Padres relievers hold a collective 3.46 ERA over the last four games, they are 0-4 with two blown saves in that time.

"I think what you've seen the last few games is not what you saw at first," Black said. "But like I said, these guys are human. They're not invincible like they've shown for such a stretch of games. And today, they got some balls through."

What's possibly most disappointing is that two faulty innings masked a great battle between youth and age on the mound. The 23-year-old Scott Kazmir brought with him fire and energy, not the least of which came in the form of a mid-90s fastball. Greg Maddux toted 22 years of experience that amounted to 338 Major League wins.

The two came into the matchup with similar stats -- Kazmir at 4-3, 3.92 ERA to Maddux's 5-3, 3.82 ERA. They even fought to a 2-2 tie through the first four innings. But they couldn't have been any more different.

Kazmir punched out 11 Padres and had what Maddux tabbed as "a pretty good heater, slider and change up, and off-speed stuff." That didn't stop San Diego from taking a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a Kevin Kouzmanoff comebacker that hit Kazmir in the lower back and scored Mike Cameron from third.

The Padres would add another two in the sixth by taking advantage of a double and a wild pitch, and again pull ahead 4-3. Kazmir, meanwhile, ran his pitch count too high, too early, in what has often been the case for him this season. He needed 10 pitches to get the sixth inning's second out, but then fanned Paul McAnulty and walked off the field to a standing ovation.

Even though he'd played at Tropicana Field just two other times in his career, fans rose to their feet for Maddux, too. The honor wasn't lost on him, either.

"It was pretty cool," Maddux said afterward. "It is very gratifying as a player to come to a place you've played maybe once or twice before, ever. It's pretty cool."

At the time of Kazmir's departure -- just after the lefty's 115th pitch of the night, Maddux had thrown only 60. He lasted another four outs before he issued a walk to Elijah Dukes that prompted a short conference at the mound and signaled the end of his evening. He then trotted toward the dugout, slowing just briefly enough to doff his cap gratefully to the crowd of 12,870 who stood to honor his performance.

"Yeah, I did," Maddux said without hesitation, when asked if felt ready to turn over the ball when Black approached the mound. "You just know. You've lost enough games in that situation to know that the bullpen's got a much better chance of finishing the game than you do. I know it didn't work out way, but it has a lot of times in the past.

"You just know."

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