Notes: Walker's intensity on the rise
Infielder brings experience, extra focus to Game 2 start
SAN DIEGO -- It is the same game, essentially, but it also is different. Todd Walker's 2003 experience with the Red Sox taught him that."It brings you to a level you can't tap into all year," said Walker, who drew the start at second base on Thursday against the Cardinals' Jeff Weaver as the Padres tried to get even in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at PETCO Park. In 12 games in the 2003 postseason, Walker went a little crazy with the bat. He batted .349 with a .767 slugging percentage, delivering five homers in 43 at-bats. Batting third, between Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez, in his postseason debut at Oakland on Oct. 1, Walker homered in his first at-bat against Tim Hudson and homered again in the seventh inning against Ricardo Rincon, accouting for three RBIs in a 5-4 loss in 12 innings. "I'll never forget that first at-bat, going deep on Hudson," Walker said. "The feeling was just incredible. You have so much adrenaline flowing in games like this. The big key is controlling it and making it work for you." Down 2-0, the Sox came back to win the series before taking the Yankees to seven games in the ALCS, where Walker batted .370 with four extra-base hits in 27 at-bats. "It makes you focus more intently," Walker said of the difference between October baseball and that which precedes it for six months. "We've talked about that over the years, people I know who have been in the playoffs. You know you can focus all your energy into each pitch. "As much as you try, you just can't consistently reach that level during the regular season. It's just not physically possible." Walker had two at-bats in Game 1 against the Cardinals, getting robbed of a two-run single on a spectacular sprawling play in shallow right field by second baseman Ronnie Belliard in the seventh inning. That would have cut a 5-1 deficit in half and perhaps changed the game's tone and momentum. "It's a different game if the guy doesn't make a great play," Walker said. "It is very frustrating, but I've played this game long enough to know that happens. Some days, things just don't go your way. What you learn in baseball is you don't let one day affect the next." Manager Bruce Bochy said he elected to go with experience in tabbing Walker over rookie Josh Barfield in Game 2.
"Walker, he's faced Weaver a lot more than Barfield, so that's the thinking more than anything," Bochy said. "Both of them are very good players, good hitters. I just went with the matchup today."Gloves on call: Barfield, who started 138 regular-season games at second, compared to 13 by late-season acquisition Walker, was likely to get a middle-innings call along with shortstop Khalil Greene if the Padres managed to take a lead against Weaver. That usually means a shift from shortstop to third by Geoff Blum to accommodate Greene, the acrobatic shortstop whose struggles with a left hand injury have prevented him from making a start since Aug. 17.
Greene consistently has said he doesn't see much sense in trying to play -- hitting in a slightly diminished condition -- given how well the team has fared with Blum at short. Bochy said Greene looked much better on Thursday swinging the bat and might see some at-bats in the series.Barfield said he would have liked another shot at Weaver, having faced the big right-hander on June 16 in Anaheim. Trailing, 3-0, in the fourth in what would become a 5-4 victory, the Padres got back in that game on Barfield's two-run double. He also had extra bases taken away against Weaver in the third on Chone Figgins' catch at the wall in left-center field. "I felt like I saw the ball well and had some good swings against Weaver," Barfield said. "But I'm pulling hard for Walk. He's one of my favorite guys, and I have tremendous respect for what he's done in the game." Blazing Bard starts: Bochy got his hottest hitter in the lineup for Game 2, starting Josh Bard behind the plate in place of Mike Piazza. This brought another left-handed bat into the mix against Weaver -- one that produced 16 hits in 30 final regular-season at-bats over Bard's nine-game hitting streak. A switch-hitter who made 50 starts behind the plate, Bard, 28, batted .378 over the last month of the season after hitting just .239 in August, finishing with a club-best .522 slugging percentage and .333 average. "This is what you dream about," Bard said. "I've been feeling real good at the plate after working real hard with [hitting coach] Merv Rettenmund. We made a couple of adjustments. For a while, I was losing my ability to drive the ball. What we did was pretty minor, but it's had results. "I can't say enough about what Mike and Rob [Bowen] have done to make this catching [triumvirate] work. Mike's obviously been a huge leader, and Rob's been content to keep his mouth shut and stay ready to play." Popular decision: The Padres took a calculated risk in putting Chan Ho Park on the roster after he'd faced only three hitters following Aug. 23 surgery on his lower intestine. But Park paid them back with two scoreless innings in Game 1. "I feel very appreciative of the management," Park said. "I can see how they think about me. It was a challenge for them. It was a huge gift. It's was a huge gift, not only for me, but for Koreans back in Korea, who are expecting a lot. "Thousands of people came to my Web site, and they are very happy I pitched in the first game; this is so special. It was the first time I pitched in the playoffs in my 13-year career. That has been one of my goals, and for my fans back in Korea, their goal, too. Hopefully, we'll go all the way to the World Series and pitch in one of the games." Park had relief experience pitching brilliantly for Korea in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. "It's different when you get prepared to start," Park said. "It's a totally different feeling. I still would like to be a starter. It's different, but you've got to do what you can do, and you've got to give up what you cannot do. I just know that now is the opportunity to be a member of the bullpen to go maybe one out or one batter or two batters, or whatever I can do best to get them out." "I had a tough regular season, so I couldn't make it as a starter in a playoff game. But this is huge for me." Road sweet road: Walker thinks too much is being made of the Cards stealing home-field advantage with Chris Carpenter's Game 1 gem. "I know our record at home [43-38] and on the road [45-36], so obviously it doesn't matter to me where we play," Walker said. "This team's been able to respond during some difficult times, and I'm sure it won't be any different [in Game 2]. "We played good baseball down the stretch in games people looked at as big games. Nothing bothers this team. I can't thank management enough for bringing me here and giving me a chance to play with these guys. It's been a blessing."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.