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FLA@SD: Venable wins it in the ninth on walk-off hit

SAN DIEGO -- One out away from what would have been an appropriate finish on the day the Padres honored a closer, Mike Cameron turned their game with Florida into a Julius Caesar moment.

But Trevor Hoffman Day couldn't possibly end in anticlimax, so Will Venable had the last word, with a bases-loaded, no-out single in the bottom of the ninth to seal the 4-3 victory over the Marlins on Sunday.

"This was an awesome day. We had to play well for Trevor," said Venable, who'd also had the first word, with a game-leadoff homer that helped build a 3-2 lead that survived until Cameron's attempt at party-pooping.

"That's what we call a 'bookend game' for Will. It was great to see," said San Diego manager Bud Black after the Padres had completed their first four-game sweep at home in more than three years.

More importantly, perhaps, they avoided what would have been a major civic letdown. They survived a blown save at the end of a day dedicated to the honor of the greatest closer of them all.

With two outs in the top of the ninth, Cameron said that he hadn't come to praise the Padres, but to bury them. At least that's what his bat said -- pulling a game-tying home run off Heath Bell. Cameron had been one of two players (Saturday's starting pitcher Clay Hensley was the other) representing the Marlins in the pregame ceremonies for Hoffman.

A couple of hours later, he took Hoffman's successor out of the park to pull the Marlins into a short-lived 3-3 tie. Bell's slumped shoulders reflected his mood.

"I was thinking, 'Really? I felt bad for the team, after they'd played so hard for eight innings," Bell said. "I was frustrated by the blown save, but that was over-and-done with. On a day like this, I guess only Trevor Hoffman should get a save. And I should stop giving up game-tying homers to Cameron.

"What had Trevor talked about? That this is always a team sport. So if I only gave them that one [run], it gave the team a chance to win."

It didn't take very long to use that chance. Nick Hundley led off the bottom of the ninth against Edward Mujica (8-5) with -- what else? -- a triple.

Hundley's fourth triple of the week and fifth of the season -- matching Benito Santiago's 1990 club record for catchers -- put him in prime position to score the game-winner minutes later on Venable's single off Mike Dunn, a left-hander.

Venable's winner came after some obligatory strategy by Florida manager Jack McKeon -- loading the bases with a pair of intentional walks, then bringing Cameron in from center to form a five-man infield.

"No, I don't think I've ever batted against a five-man infield," Venable said. "I just focused on the task at hand, looking to elevate the ball."

Along with it, he elevated everyone's mood in the home clubhouse.

"It was a great, emotional win on a very emotional day," Black said. "I'd been told a little of what to expect [in the pregame ceremonies] but it surpassed my expectations. That might've been the best I've ever seen.

"After that, sure, Heath would tell you he'd rather have had the save. But he pitched aggressively, and am proud of the way he came back."

"This day was all about Trevor Hoffman. It was unbelievable to see how many people came back for him," said Hundley, who shares Hoffman's University of Arizona alma mater.

Winding up as the day's overlooked hero was the young left-hander most responsible for enabling the uplifting result.

Amid all the pageantry that cast uncertainty on when the game would start, Black had predicted his starter, Cory Luebke, would not be bothered by the circumstances.

He couldn't know that the rookie would be inspired by them. Or, be intimidated by them into his sharpest performance.

"It was special. I'm watching all that from the bench, and suddenly I thought, 'Hey, I gotta get locked in.' By the time it got to the end, the anthem [delivered on tape by Trevor's late father, Ed], I was about to tear up," Luebke said. "I didn't want to give up five runs in the first and ruin it all."

Tendering arguably the best effort of his young 14-start career, Luebke registered a career-high eight strikeouts in six innings of three-hit ball. He retired 18 of the 21 men he faced in protecting an early 3-0 lead and helping the Padres improve their second-half record to 19-18.

San Diego also finished off a season sweep of seven games of Florida. None since the identical 7-0 edge over the Cubs in 2006 have the Padres so dominated the seasonal series against an opponent. Their most recent four-game sweep in PETCO Park was of the Mets, on June 5-8, 2008.

The Padres, typically, did most of their scoring against Florida starter Anibal Sanchez in the first inning. Venable spanked the third pitch of the game for his fifth homer, and two outs later Kyle Blanks lifted a double into the left-center gap for two more runs and a 3-0 lead.

Luebke protected that lead in hitless fashion through 3 2/3 innings, until Mike Stanton picked on a full-count delivery for his 30th home run of the season.

Luke Gregerson, the second of three San Diego relievers, yielded an eighth-inning run on a John Buck sacrifice fly. Bell entered with two outs in that inning but, rather than recording his first four-out save of the season, wound up with his third victory in seven decisions.

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