Padres bullpen undoes Maddux's effort
Two eighth-inning homers major blows in loss to Rockies
DENVER -- It was only after he watched two San Diego relievers allow home runs in the eighth inning on Monday at Coors Field that Greg Maddux told reporters that "weird stuff happens in this ballpark from time to time."
Maddux was referring to the home runs that Scott Linebrink and Cla Meredith yielded in the eighth inning that led to five runs and then, ultimately, the Rockies' 7-5 victory over the Padres before a crowd of 31,047.
Weird stuff? Perhaps. But the way the Padres' bullpen -- once the unquestioned strength of this team -- has struggled lately, the events that occurred in the eighth inning on Monday certainly qualify more as commonplace these days than circumstantial.
For the third time in as many days, the Padres' bullpen allowed five or more runs during a game, the latest coming Monday as the Padres (53-45) saw their current losing skid hit four games, dropping them two games behind the Dodgers in the National League West.
At the root of the Padres' bullpen conundrum on Monday was Linebrink and Meredith -- two important cogs in San Diego's push toward the division title in 2006. But Linebrink and Meredith have struggled recently, leaving an already-tired bullpen in a predicament.
Linebrink inherited a 5-2 lead on Monday after Maddux -- making his fifth attempt at his 341st career victory -- allowed two runs over six innings and even coaxed his 44-year-old legs into swiping a base in a key three-run rally in the fifth inning.
Linebrink, who has now blown six saves this season, hit pinch-hitter Cory Sullivan with a pitch to start the inning before striking out Willy Taveras. Then came the unthinkable for a reliever -- a four-pitch walk to Kazuo Matsui that brought All-Star Matt Holliday to the plate.
"When you give up free bases like that [the Matsui] walk ... you put momentum on their side," said Linebrink, who allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning. "You get guys on base, you give them an opportunity."
And Holliday certainly took advantage of that opportunity.
Linebrink, who has often been beat on his fastball this season, drove a 1-1 changeup over the wall in left-center field to tie the game. It was the ninth home run the right-hander has allowed in 45 innings this season -- the same number of home runs that he allowed all of last season.
"I'm up in the zone and when you're up in the zone, you're going to get hurt," Linebrink said. "And when you are pitching behind in the count, and up in the zone, it's a recipe for disaster."
It was, and that recipe turned bad later in that inning when, after Linebrink was removed, Meredith allowed a two-run, opposite-field home run to Brad Hawpe that broke a tie and sent the Rockies (50-49) to victory.
A year ago, Linebrink and Meredith had 3.80 and 1.07 earned run averages. This season, Linebrink is at 3.80 with Meredith at 4.31.
Is a change in order for the bullpen?
Manager Bud Black said he planned on talking to Linebrink sometime Tuesday, although he wouldn't get into specifics, only to say that "there's a number of things I want to talk to him about on the pitching side."
"His command has not been where he it needs to be. He's throwing the ball to part of the plate that the hitter could get to. I know he hasn't pitched likes he has expected to pitch."
Entering the eighth inning, the Padres were certainly feeling good about their chances, as Maddux did his part, working through six innings with minimal damage. Heath Bell, who has been steady all season, pitched a scoreless seventh inning.
The Padres' offense had 12 hits, including a three-run home run by Milton Bradley in the fifth inning off Colorado starter Jeff Francis that staked his new team to a 4-1 advantage. For Bradley, it was already his third home run in 12 games with the Padres.
Even after the Rockies got a run back in the bottom of the fifth inning off Maddux, rookie third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff hit his 10th home run of the year in the sixth inning for a 5-2 lead.
Maddux, who hasn't won in July, even helped the Padres with his legs.
In that fifth inning, Maddux singled up the middle and eventually stole second base with one out. Mike Cameron walked just before Bradley sent the first pitch that he saw over the fence in left field.
"He knows how to play the game ... he's a veteran," Black said of Maddux's stolen base, the 10th of his career. "It helped us."
But it wasn't enough. Not for Maddux's 341st career victory, not enough to snap the team out of their 4-7 funk since the All-Star break, and not enough to keep the bullpen from yet another forgettable outing.
"I feel bad for Liney and Cla," Maddux said. "I feel bad for the guys and the team."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.