SAN DIEGO -- Not that the Padres pulled out all the tricks in opening their final 10-game sprint down the stretch with a 4-3 heartstopper over Cincinnati while fighting to stay a half-game behind San Francisco in the NL West and moving past Atlanta in the NL wild-card chase on Friday night, but. ...
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Chris Young, making just his third start in 15 months, forcing a Cincinnati lineup that has scored more runs than any other NL outfit to scrounge for just one over five innings? (Granted, MVP favorite Joey Votto didn't start because of a nasty sinus infection, but still.)
Miguel Tejada continuing to swing as confidently as if he were standing in the local batting cage?
Two more stolen bases to push their second-in-the-NL total to 119?
Rookie Mike Baxter knocking a sacrifice fly to pick up his first career RBI?
Will Venable playing all three outfield positions as manager Bud Black was pushing every button he could find, pinch-hitting here, pinch-running there, changing pitchers five times and picking the perfect moment (again) to insert Tony Gwynn Jr. into the game?
Facing Cuban sensation Aroldis Chapman and living to tell about it?
Huff and puff and. ...
"And we won by one run," All-Star Adrian Gonzalez exclaimed.
Yes, 152 games in, that's still how the Padres roll. Do the little things right, and they add up to big things.
Consequently, the Reds now must wait until at least Sunday to clinch the NL Central. With St. Louis winning and the Reds losing Friday, their magic number remains locked at three.
|Bud Black continues to push the right buttons as pinch-runner Tony Gwynn Jr. scores Friday. (Getty Images)|
"I haven't been here all year, but this was the biggest win since I've been here."
Key moments were buried throughout this grand, tense game, but it's best to start at the end and work backward: Tejada knocked in three of the four Padres' runs, including the final two with a full-count single through the hole between short and third against Reds reliever Nick Masset with two out in the seventh to bring San Diego back from 3-2.
Tejada's smile afterward as he was standing on first could have lit up the entire Hotel Del Coronado, it was so luminescent.
"Because it was a one at-bat game," Tejada said.
Tejada now is hitting .378 with three homers and 13 RBI over his past 11 games.
"He's on everything right now," one veteran American League scout who has been watching the Padres lately said before Tejada moved into the starring role yet again Friday. "I mean, everything.
"I've seen him enough from the American League to know that this guy is a very good hitter," Black said. "When the stakes are high, he gives you very good at-bats."
For a similar reason, Gonzalez was thrilled to see Young return to the rotation in St. Louis last weekend despite having been disabled since the second day of the season. That's when his surgically repaired shoulder went south on him, and Young spent the rest of the summer rehabilitating it in a race against time as the summer evaporated.
That the Padres plugged him back in at this point in the season is a testament to Young's hard work ... and to how darned young and plain they are. Young's fastball had extra snap against the Reds. Why, it had improved from 82, 83 mph to 86, 87.
Let's just say Young wasn't going to challenge Chapman on the Oooh and Ahhh Meter. We'll get to him in a moment.
"He knows how to pitch," Gonzalez said of Young. "He actually does better with tougher situations, and that's the kind of guy we need.
"I told him back in May and June, 'Hey, just get healthy for the last month, and be the guy we know you can be.' I'm extremely happy for him."
Young was aided in part by Stairs' leap with two out and none on to end the third.
Stairs, listed generously at 5-9, looked like ... hmmm, who? Michael Jordan?
"More like Spud Webb," Stairs quipped. "Actually, I think I monkeyed it up. As an outfielder, you see the ball going back that's potentially over the fence, you want to put one foot up on the wall [for leverage on the jump]."
Venable and Tejada each swiped a bag in the fourth to help erase the Reds' 1-0 lead and knot the game at 1-1. Stairs led off the fifth with a base knock, Gwynn came in to run for him and wound up scoring on Baxter's single.
By the time Reds manager Dusty Baker called for Chapman, in the seventh, it was too late. All-Star Arthur Rhodes and Nick Masset helped implode the Reds' 3-2 lead, and by the time Chapman came on the scene, even 25 pitches that each were clocked at 100 or more couldn't make a difference.
"I'll go on record and say that's the best velocity fastball I've ever seen," Black said. "It's a legit No. 1 [catchers put down one finger for the fastball]."
"Best thing I ever saw," Stairs, the 15-year veteran, said. "Hardest thing I ever saw."
The Padres have nothing like that, and they aren't too proud to admit it. For them, it's taken a village all summer. Every man in. All hands on deck.
Exactly what was on exhibit on a warm Friday evening as baseball's most improbable story in 2010 wrote one more improbable chapter as the book nears its end and the finish remains not quite written.
"That's how we've played all year," Stairs said. "In those 10 games we lost [the season-high losing streak they suffered a couple of weeks ago], we didn't do the little things. We weren't hitting balls hard. We weren't getting doinkers.
"Now, we're hitting balls hard, and we're getting doinkers."
Heck, when Young threw over to first base with Drew Stubbs aboard in the fourth, Gonzalez attempted to deke him, feigning that Young's throw was wild. Gonzalez took two quick steps into foul territory as if he was chasing the ball ... then wheeled around and applied a quick tag in case Stubbs fell for it.
Stubbs looked at him and smiled. This time of year, you just never know.