Hairston is Mr. Clutch once again
Padres remain one game back of D-backs in NL West
SAN DIEGO -- Of course, he looks. It's September, a pennant race. He can't help himself.
No matter where he stood on Wednesday at PETCO Park -- the dugout, left field or at the plate -- Scott Hairston couldn't ignore the mammoth out-of-town scoreboard that runs on the right-field wall.
Nor did Hairston really want to.
"You glance at it, but you try not to look at it," Hairston said. "It's only natural to do so."
Scoreboard watching becomes a popular pastime this time of year, especially for a team in the playoff chase, though Hairston managed to look away just long enough to deliver what might be one of the Padres most important hits of 2007.
Hairston's three-run home run in the ninth inning lifted the Padres to a 5-3 victory over the Pirates before a crowd of 26,354, a victory that essentially had all the trimmings of, well, a postseason game.
At the very least, it was a postcard finish for the Padres, who were facing the prospect of falling even further behind first-place Arizona in the National League West, while failing to capitalize on a loss by the Phillies, who have seemingly been attached to San Diego's hip in the Wild Card standings.
But one swing by Hairston, who, in a little over two months with the Padres, has shown a propensity for big hits, like the game-tying and game-winning home runs that he blasted in the very same game against the Giants on Aug. 3, changed all that.
"He has made a couple of big swings since he's been here," manager Bud Black said of Hairston, who was obtained from the Diamondbacks for a Minor League pitcher on July 27. "That [Wednesday's home run] was a good one."
Hairston connected on an 0-1 slider thrown by Pirates reliever Matt Capps (4-7), a good pitch most would agree afterward, that ended up over the left-field fence. That allowed Adrian Gonzalez (who doubled earlier) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (walk) to score ahead of Hairston, who has five home runs in only 44 at-bats with the Padres.
"From my vantage point it looked like Scott Hairston hit a pretty good pitch," said Pirates manager Jim Tracy. "It looked like he went down and got a slider. It certainly wasn't a hanger. It didn't appear to be that from my vantage point. Give him credit. He hit the ball out of the ballpark."
And he certainly picked an ideal time to do it.
Hairston's home run allowed the Padres (84-67) to stay one game back of Arizona in the National League West with 11 games left in the regular season. Maybe of greater importance was the fact that San Diego increased its lead over the Phillies in the Wild Card standings to 2 1/2 games.
The Padres, who have won a season-high six consecutive games, go for the sweep of the Pirates (66-85) in the series finale on Thursday afternoon at PETCO Park. They'll do so likely still feeling giddy over winning a game that for most of eight innings they seemed in no position to win.
The pitching of Pirates starter Ian Snell -- who allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits over seven innings -- kept the Padres from doing much offensively, a point well evidenced by the two runners left on base before the ninth inning.
Snell's counterpart, Chris Young, was steady as well, as he continues to round back into what the Padres certainly hope is his first-half form when he was leading the league in ERA before being slowed by first an oblique injury then subsequent tightness in his back.
Young allowed three runs on five hits over six innings, but the Padres were encouraged by his velocity (he had five strikeouts), command (just two walks) and by the way he pitched himself out of trouble when it presented itself.
"Just from a comfort level, I feel good out there," said Young, who hasn't won since July 19, though he's generally pitched better each time out since returning from back tightness late last month.
"Better stuff overall, better location, more velocity," Black said of Young. "I think he has turned the corner. I see the look in his eye and the confidence."
The same likely can be said of Hairston, who is hitting .364 since coming over from the very team he was watching on the scoreboard on Wednesday -- the Diamondbacks. And, truth be told, Hairston was only in the lineup because Milton Bradley is still working his way back from a strained right oblique.
Black often likes to talk about "catching lightning in a bottle." He might just well have that in Hairston, who has three consecutive multi-hit games. The way he's swinging the bat, it might be hard to get Hairston out of the lineup even when Bradley is healthy.
"It has been great for me, getting an opportunity to play," said Hairston, who is probably causing Arizona to kick itself, if not for losing him but for trading him to a divisional foe. "I hope to stay here for a long time."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.