"I felt like I was starting to settle in to that feeling of pitching in the big leagues again," Estes said. "Then I break my thumb, and I have to start all over again."
Estes rehabbed and worked his way back to start Thursday's series opener against one of the most potent lineups in baseball. He wasn't dominating, but he didn't have to be. All he had to do was let Milwaukee hit it to third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who gobbled everything that came his way. Short hops, long hops, slow rollers, backhanders, you name it, and he got it.
"I didn't realize Mike Schmidt was at third base tonight," said Estes, who gave up seven hits and struck out one.
The stingy defense coupled with scattered runs helped ease Estes into the game. The left-hander threw 88 pitches, retired his final eight batters and reminded everyone he's not finished yet. Estes is a free agent at the end of the year. There's no guarantee that he'll be back on the Padres staff next spring.
"When you're off the radar for as long I've been, and then I came back on for four starts, and now I've been off again for three months, people have a tendency to forget about you," Estes said. "Fortunately, [the Padres] have confidence enough in me to put me out there so I do have the ability to showcase not only for my team but for the other 29 teams out there. Absolutely, this is a time when I need to go out there and prove to teams that I'm healthy and I can get big league hitters out."
Venable was playing around on the sandlot when Estes was drafted in 1991, but, like Estes, has to prove himself as a big league player. His 420-foot home run off Jeff Suppan (10-8) in the sixth certainly helped the cause, especially with Jody Gerut on his way back from injury to reclaim the center-field job.
"It was great," Venable said of the homer. "It's nice to get the first one out of the way, but most importantly, I was excited to give us an extra-run lead, that's the most important thing, is winning the game."
Venable spent a few minutes text messaging friends and family at his locker after the game and planned to call his father, former Major Leaguer Max Venable, to tell him about that first big league homer. Still, he doesn't want to take away from the team.
"From an individual standpoint, you always want to finish the season strong and take it into next year, but the idea is just to win and do everything we can individually to help that cause," Venable said. "We're taking it day-by-day, not thinking too much about the future."
The Padres never trailed. They scored first in the second, when Nick Hundley hit a sacrifice fly to plate Adrian Gonzalez, who had doubled off Suppan. In the bottom half, former Padre Mike Cameron tripled and scored a tying run on a groundout.
Hundley doubled home Gonzalez in the fourth to put San Diego back up, 2-1. In the fifth, Brian Giles singled, moved to second on a balk and scored on a single by Luis Rodriguez. Giles made a nifty slide around catcher Jason Kendall, dragging his left leg ahead of Kendall's attempted tag.
Venable, who reached base three times, led off the sixth with his memorable homer. Hundley then singled and scored San Diego's last run on a Rodriguez sacrifice fly. Ex-Brewer Mike Adams relieved Estes and surrendered a solo homer to J.J. Hardy in the seventh, but Trevor Hoffman held on and notched his 28th save with a scoreless ninth to snap the road funk.
"I know it's been piling up," manager Bud Black said of the road losses. "We haven't been good on the road. It's good to get a road win, especially considering our arrival time [around 6 a.m. on a flight from Los Angeles] and coming against a team that right now, if the season ended, is in the playoffs."