Richard, Stairs use old-school talent to win
Left-hander allows one run in seven innings to beat Mariners
SEATTLE -- Four hours before Saturday's game at Safeco Field, before they closed the roof and before the rain started to fall, Matt Stairs took swing after swing in a round of early batting practice, peppering the seats in right field.
San Diego manager Bud Black, standing nearby, marveled at Stairs' prodigious swing and, of course, the distance and carry of each and every one of the balls that he hit into the empty seats and onto the ballpark's concourse.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
"I saw about 50 of those in BP," Black said. "It's a classic, old school swing. Matt Stairs could have played in every era."
Luckily for the Padres, Stairs is still swinging away in this era, as his solo home run in the fourth inning Saturday helped the Padres to a 2-1 victory before a crowd of 28,670.
The home run for the 42-year-old Stairs was his first with the Padres and tied him with Todd Zeile for the Major League record for home runs with 11 different teams. Stairs, never one to get too sentimental in such accomplishments, was sheepish about all of it.
"It means a lot of teams don't want you and a lot of teams do," Stairs said, smiling as he leaned up against his locker.
There was certainly plenty for the Padres (25-18) to smile about Saturday as their starting pitcher, Clayton Richard, allowed one run in seven innings, despite an inauspicious start in which he not only allowed hits to the first three batters he faced, but also forgot to cover first base on a hit in the inning.
It got better from there, though.
Richard (4-2), who lowered his ERA to 2.72, allowed seven hits and didn't walk a batter. He finished with six strikeouts and got five ground-ball outs, none more important than a ground ball that third baseman Chase Headley turned into a 5-4-3 double play in the sixth inning when the Mariners (16-27) scored their lone run.
"That was huge," Headley said of the ball hit by Franklin Gutierrez. "In my opinion, that might have been the best I have seen him. He was tremendous, even when they got a few runners on."
Richard needed 95 pitches to get through seven innings and Black, knowing his bullpen was rested, wrestled with the idea of sending the left-hander back out to start the eighth inning. Instead, he went with Mike Adams, who worked a scoreless eighth inning.
"It starts with the fastball; he had great life on it. When it was down, it's sinking. When it's up, it's riding," Black said. "I've seen Clayton throw the ball with authority in the strike zone."
Because of the way he was throwing, Richard nearly persuaded Black not to go his bullpen, considered by many to be one of the best units in baseball. That proved just how well Richard threw the ball.
"You have to give that guy over there a lot of credit. They did a great job tonight of going back and forth with his changeup and fastball," Seattle catcher Josh Bard said. "He was locating down like that with his fastball and throwing a changeup off of it, it makes it pretty tough."
For Richard, who was obtained in July from the White Sox in the Jake Peavy trade, the defining point of the game was the same as it has been for every one of his starts, regardless of the opponent.
"First-pitch strikes are really the most important part of pitching," he said. "Good things seem to happen after that."
Good, but not always conventional, which more or less summed up the wild bottom of the ninth inning when closer Heath Bell was summoned to get the final three outs for a save, which would be his 12th of the season.
With one out, Mike Sweeney doubled down the left-field line and Jose Lopez reached on an infield single chopped over the head of Bell. But Bell came back from a 3-0 deficit in an important at-bat against Milton Bradley to strike him out before getting the final out of the game on a Casey Kotchman ground ball to shortstop Everth Cabrera.
"Mentally, I don't think I was all there," Bell said. "I think my mental game got a little rusty. Suddenly, Milton's up, and there's two guys one. I got locked in."
Bell, an All-Star last season in his first year as a full-time closer at this level, realized those quick inning devoid of drama don't happen every night.
"When you get a 1-2-3 innings, it's really nice, but it doesn't always happen that way, and you're in the grind. There's going to be nights like that."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.