SAN DIEGO -- It's been a nice year so far for the Cassel family of Northridge, Calif.
With his mother winning a creative arts Emmy and his younger brother's NFL team starting 2-0, it was Jack Cassel's turn to come up big on Monday night. The rookie right-hander pitched six solid innings for his first big league win, leading the San Diego Padres to a 3-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Khalil Greene hit a two-run homer for the Padres, who retained their 1½-game lead in the wild-card race over Philadelphia. The two-time defending NL West champion Padres also pulled within one game of division-leading Arizona, which lost 8-5 to San Francisco.
Cassel and three relievers combined on the Padres' 20th shutout, tops in the majors and a franchise record.
With their 82nd win, the Padres are guaranteed their fourth consecutive winning season and just the 14th in franchise history.
After laboring for 7½ seasons in the minor leagues, Cassel finally made his big league debut this year. In his second stint with the Padres since mid-August, he was making his second start and fourth appearance.
After Trevor Hoffman extended his career saves record to 520 by getting the final three outs, he gave Cassel the ball from the final out.
"It makes all the hard work worth it," the 27-year-old Cassel said. "I definitely had my struggles, my ups and downs, as probably most minor leaguers do, along my journey. You're always fighting for No. 1, and everything after that is kind of the cherry on top. It's just an incredible feeling.
"To get that ball from Hoffy at the end of the game, words can't really put into place what it felt like out there."
Hoffman usually keeps the ball from the final out of his saves, except for special occasions such as another pitcher's first win.
"We passed a couple of balls back and forth, just signing, my first win and his millionth save, I guess," Cassel said. "We had some fun with that."
Cassel (1-0) started in place of Justin Germano, who was skipped in the rotation because he's been struggling. Manager Bud Black said Cassel pitched well enough to earn another start, Saturday night against the Colorado Rockies.
Cassel scattered eight hits over six innings while striking out three and walking none.
"My objective was to go out there and be me, essentially," he said. "I'm not going to overpower anybody, I'm going to try and throw strikes and get my groundballs and let this wonderful defense behind me work."
Cassel is the older brother of Matt Cassel, backup quarterback for the New England Patriots, who routed the San Diego Chargers 38-14 on Sunday night. The Padres had a team party Sunday night at the home of right fielder Brian Giles. Cassel said he didn't dare wear his brother's jersey because so many of his teammates are Chargers fans.
"I silently cheered from afar," he said. "The TV at Gilly's house is big enough to watch from across the yard. So, luckily I was back there cheering my heart out. Good thing we came out on top. I think I probably would have gone in the pool had I been cheering and the Chargers pulled it out."
On Sept. 8, Cassel's mother, Barbara, won a creative arts Emmy for art direction for Tony Bennett: An American Classic.
"It's been a good '07," Jack Cassel said.
The Pirates had runners on first and third twice against the rookie but couldn't score. Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson, who had hits in his previous five at-bats coming into the game -- including three home runs -- stranded two runners in the second and two more in the fourth. Pirates starter John Van Benschoten doubled in the fifth and eventually reached third as Cassel induced a double play, but was stranded.
Hoffman pitched the ninth for his 38th save in 43 chances.
While Cassel picked up his first big league win, Van Benschoten fell to 0-6 in eight starts this season. Van Benschoten, the Pirates' first-round pick in the June 2001 draft, has only one career victory.
Van Benschoten did lower his ERA, from 10.86 to 10.06. He allowed three runs and five hits in five innings, struck out two and walked three.
Van Benschoten said he wished he could take back the home run pitch to Greene.
"I didn't put it into the right spot," he said. "I can look back and say I only misplaced three or four pitches and be happy with that."
Greene gave the Padres a 3-0 lead with his homer off the facing of the balcony on the third level of the Western Metal Supply Co. brick warehouse just beyond the left-field corner on the first pitch he saw from Van Benschoten with one out in the fourth. It was Greene's 23rd. Adrian Gonzalez was aboard on a single.
Mike Cameron hit an RBI double in the first.
- There was a comical moment in the fifth when Giles was called out trying to steal second and he started to head toward the dugout. Problem was, Cameron had just drawn a walk. The confusion probably stemmed from Cameron's check-swing on ball four.
- It could still be several days before LF Milton Bradley returns from a strained right oblique that's kept him out since Sept. 7. Manager Bud Black said Bradley hit balls off a tee right-handed and felt good, but he didn't feel quite as good swinging left-handed.
- Cameron was back in the starting lineup in CF after missing a game due to a sore knee.
- Boston is second in the majors with 13 shutouts.