El Duque does it all in win vs. Padres
Veteran right-hander hits, steals, scores and tosses gem
SAN DIEGO -- In some ways, Howard Johnson remains a disciple of Davey Johnson, his manager in his first six seasons with the Mets. Manager Johnson knew to conduct a team meeting when it would have -- or seem to have -- its greatest impact, the day Dwight Gooden would pitch.
So it is for the younger Johnson, the Mets newly appointed hitting coach. Five days on the job, HoJo wanted to re-introduce early batting practice to the Mets' scheme. But he wisely waited until Tuesday afternoon, hours before the offense would assert itself as it rarely has in recent weeks. No fool, that HoJo.
If only he were so prescient.
Of course, it wasn't that way. Or was it? Who could say? Even after the Mets' offensive makeover -- from sputtering to special -- helped produce a 7-0 victory against the Padres, who could identify the early practice as the cause and the seven-run output as the effect.
The only certainty, manager Willie Randolph said, was that "it always looks better when you hit after extra BP."
And it felt better, too.
The Mets not only scored as many runs as they had in any their previous 13 games, they were downright offensive against two pitchers unfamiliar with the surrendering runs, Jake Peavy and his relief, Kevin Cameron. The Mets' output and seven nearly flawless innings by Orlando Hernandez were a combination the Padres couldn't handle.
So the Mets emerged with their fourth victory in six games since the All-Star break, a marginally greater lead in the National League East -- 2 1/2 games -- and their first victory in five games played in Southern California this season.
"We all know pitching is so important," Randolph said, "But when you hit, it feels so good." Even the ache in the manager's surgically repaired right shoulder was diminished after this one. A dose of 7-0 eliminated the pain and the memory of the unbecoming, 5-1 loss the previous night. Lifeless play, conspicuous on Monday, was eliminated as well, perhaps another by-product of the early practice, the baseball equivalent of the NBA shoot-around. Blood flow can't hurt.
"It's nice to know we can still do it," Paul Lo Duca said, as if the Mets' offensive shortfall had reached three months. And it's been merely six or seven weeks. "Now let's remember how we did it. You don't want it to be just one night."
Lo Duca had been one of the early swingers. He drove in two runs, one with a hit. Jose Valentin and Carlos Beltran also drove in a run against Peavy.
The team about-face -- whether a 24-hour aberration or the first move toward consistent production -- was achieved by accumulating eight hits, two each by the Carlos brothers, and eight walks, a balance that tickled Randolph.
"Guys today don't think walks are glamorous," said Randolph. "But I think they're very glamorous, very sexy. I walked 1,200 times when I played. And I felt like I did my job when I walked. I believed that thing that 'a walk's as good as a hit.'"
Not to be overlooked in the demonstration of offense were the contributions of Hernandez, who was responsible for one of the eight hits, one of the eight walks and one of the Mets' three stolen bases. They qualified as relatively modest contributions only because he pitched so well.
El Duque (6-4) allowed two doubles by Adrian Gonzalez and two walks, one intentional, and defeated the Padres for the third time in four career starts against them in two seasons. Although his pitches lacked precision, they had movement. He struck out four batters and threw 95 pitches in facing 25 batters. He has won successive starts for the first time this season.
"He threw a lot of strikes. He threw all those pitches, and, I thought, for the most part, he kept it out in the middle of the plate," Brian Giles said. The Padres' leadoff man was hitless in four at-bats. "Anytime you can throw your curveball and fastball and be able to hit corners, it's going to be tough."
On the other side, Peavy, the All-Star starter, was more imprecise and lost successive starts for the first time this year. Peavy (9-4) is winless with two losses in his last four starts.
He allowed three runs in six innings. And Cameron, who had allowed one run in 30 1/3 innings for the season, allowed another in the eighth. The Mets scored three times in the ninth against Royce Ring, their former colleague.
The late scores -- Randolph calls them "add-on" runs, but aren't all subsequent runs add-on? -- also pleased the manager. "Maybe it's a sign we're starting to believe in ourselves again," he said. "It shows life and confidence when you add on runs."
And so it goes for these on-again, off-again Mets. They played well Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. They stubbed their toes on Friday and Monday. Their consistency is inconsistent, as Yogi once suggested about one of his Mets teams.
"We still haven't had that stretch of games when we hit the ball real well." Randolph said. "I'm sure it's coming. Maybe this is it."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.