Padres pull out wild win at Wrigley
Branyan homers in ninth; Young ejected during skirmish
CHICAGO -- Justin Hampson dressed quickly Saturday, and other than delicately moving out of the way of anxious reporters headed elsewhere, he breezed anonymously through the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field.
Hovering over a plate of the postgame spread, Hiram Bocachica sat quietly and watched baseball highlights on a television suspended from the wall, his eyes only turning away from the screen to make sure his fork hit something other than the plate.
Hampson and Bocachica, two players who essentially made the Padres' 1-0 victory over the Cubs possible, essentially saw their notable efforts overshadowed by a series of odd occurrences and peculiar circumstances all packed into a two-hour, 33-minute game.
Where to start?
There was a near no-hitter by Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano, a benches-clearing altercation that led to four ejections, a baserunner thrown out at the plate, yeoman work by the Padres bullpen and, finally, a game-winning home run by Russell Branyan in the ninth inning off Zambrano.
Get all that?
The Padres (39-28) certainly did, and they were only willing to exhale once they reached the air-conditioned comforts of the visiting clubhouse, where Bud Black was left to sort through all the details that comprised clearly the strangest victory in his short tenure as Padres manager.
There was the dominant effort turned in by Zambrano, who tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings before speedy leadoff hitter Marcus Giles reached on an infield single in the eighth after topping a ball in front of the plate that glanced off Zambrano's glove, giving him time to make it to first base safely.
"After it tipped off his glove, I knew I was in there; before it tipped off his glove, I knew it was going to be a close play for the middle infielders," Giles said. "[Zambrano] was really good today. He had some good sink on his heater. When you run it up there 91-94 [miles per hour] with some sink, it's not easy."
Zambrano's near no-hitter sort of snuck up on the crowd of 41,632, as the buzz from the fourth-inning dust-up between Padres starting pitcher Chris Young and Chicago's first baseman Derrek Lee was still fresh on everyone's mind.
Young might well have been in a position to match Zambrano had he not been ejected after he and Lee exchanged punches -- that connected with only air -- shortly after Young hit Lee in the hand with a pitch.
Lee walked slowly on his way to first base while having a short discussion with Young, and then took a punch at the 6-foot-10 righty before Young retaliated. Lee said, "We had words, and I didn't really agree with what he said. Him throwing at your head, you're kind of looking for the right words. I didn't like what he said."
Young wouldn't go into details as to what was said between the two, but he made it a point to say that the pitch wasn't intentional. In fact, Padres catcher Rob Bowen tried to make a case to home-plate umpire Mike Everitt that the ball didn't hit Lee at all, and that it was a foul ball.
"I'm not going to talk about it, but I didn't try to hit him and it doesn't have anything to do with anything that happened in the past," Young said. "I wish I could have stayed in the game. I would have liked to have been out there to contribute to the win more."
Not only were Young and Lee ejected, but so too were San Diego pitcher Jake Peavy and Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry for their roles in the altercation that was settled quickly.
Black also lauded his team's relief pitching, especially the efforts of Hampson, who was brought in cold after Young's ejection. All Hampson did was toss 3 1/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts to keep the Cubs (32-35) at bay.
After Hampson, Heath Bell (1-2) and Trevor Hoffman combined for the final eight outs of the game, with Hoffman tossing a perfect ninth inning for his 19th save of the season.
"What an unbelievable job to come into a ballgame in that situation," Hoffman said of Hampson.
Hoffman could have been lauding the performances of others in the clubhouses, like the throw Bocachica made to end the fifth inning. Ryan Theriot doubled to start the inning and moved to third on a stolen base. But Theriot was thrown out at the plate on a catch-and-throw play by Bocachica on a Zambrano flyout.
Then there was Branyan's home run in the ninth inning. Zambrano, still going strong at that point despite losing the no-hitter one inning earlier, got Adrian Gonzalez on a short popup for the first out, and he then ran the count full on Branyan.
Zambrano came back with the pitch that worked best for him Saturday, his sinker. And, for the most part, the pitch did its job. Branyan had to go down for the ball that ran low and away, picking it nearly out of the dirt and sending it over the wall in left-center field.
"Russ has that in him ... one swing of the bat where he can get the ball out of the park," Black said. "It was a good pitch. Russell is a good low-ball hitter. He got it up to the part of the park where it plays short. He hit it squarely."
And with Branyan's hit ended a game that included an altercation, a near no-hitter and about everything in between. It was almost enough to make Bowen's head spin.
"I haven't been a part of anything like that," the catcher said. "But you see those things in a tight ballgame like that ... a hard-fought battle on each side."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.