Remember the three-game series the Padres swept from the Nationals September 19-21, 2008? Both teams entered that weekend 58-95, and with so few games left to play, it was coming down to whether the Nats, the Padres, or the Mariners, would end up with the game's worst record and resulting first round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, i.e. pitcher Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State University.
It seems the San Diego fans remember it a lot more clearly than do Nats' fans.
"Oh, it comes up all the time," Tony Gwynn told me yesterday. Gwynn, who does some analysis for the Padres' TV network once the SDSU season is over, says everyone out west knew what was on the line that weekend.
"You can't tell your ballclub to lose," he said. "That wasn't going to happen, and if you remember, that first game went extra innings before we piled up some hits and won." The Padres scored 5 times in the top of the 14th inning off of Levale Speigner and won 11-6. That still left Saturday and Sunday, but the Nationals totaled only 3 runs over those games while San Diego plated 12.
When the season ended, the Padres were three games better than the Nats, and ended up third worst overall.
"There was no chance Stephen would be available at number three, and the fans at home weren't real happy about that," Gwynn said. "They still bring it up, that lost weekend in Washington."
Fortunes change, however, and despite not getting their native son Strasburg, the Padres have done all right: Fifty victories and a three-game lead in the NL West; but Gwynn's not exactly amazed.
"I wouldn't have predicted that, but I'm not totally surprised," he said. "Pitching and defense go a long way toward winning, and we're getting good starting pitching and some great relief pitching," adding "we can also catch the ball." And how - San Diego leads the NL in fielding.
The Padres missed facing Strasburg this year, but it's a safe bet he'll take the mound at Petco somewhere down the road - he just won't be wearing those sand-colored pants.