06/10/08 10:26 PM ET
Clark's leadership, bat help in a pinch
Veteran pleased to contribute after game-winning swat Sunday
By Ronald P. Clark / MLB.com
That momentum just happened to carry Billy Wagner's 3-2 pitch over the center-field wall, bringing the Padres from a 6-5 deficit to an 8-6 lead over the Mets they wouldn't surrender.
After entering the game hitting .231 on the season, Clark said that he was happy to finally make a sizable contribution to the team.
"You're pumped and you're excited," Clark said, "but you're still focused, because you realize that you still have three more outs to get."
The Padres got those last three outs, with Clark's hit helping extend the Padres' winning streak to five games, after losing the first two of their 10-game homestand.
Clark, who is in his 14th season in the Majors, understands the preparation it takes to be ready when your number is called.
"It's a lot different," Clark said. "You have one opportunity, oftentimes one pitch, during a course of an at-bat late in the ballgame against a quality pitcher, to put the ball in play."
It's one thing about pinch-hitting that can be overlooked. Pinch-hitters come off the bench cold, and are asked to get in the batter's box against some of the best pitchers in the league.
"When a guy like Wagner comes in, you know runs are at a premium," Clark said. "You try to keep things simple and not try to do too much. Get a pitch you can handle, try to put a good swing on it and hope it finds an area where nobody catches it."
As he watches his teammates go through each inning of a ballgame, Clark sparks up conversation with the other bench players. Either shooting the breeze or talking about the game, Clark knows how it is going from an everyday player to being one that is called on to hit or play late in games.
"Outside of doing my job when my number is called, is [my contribution of] having something to offer one of the guys that inevitably helps them be successful," Clark said. "I don't know if I get more excited for having some level of success myself, or for watching somebody take something that I've learned over the course of my career, apply it and have success with it. It's a blast."
His time and experience in the big leagues makes him a valuable locker-room presence on a team with a good amount of youth on its roster. Manager Bud Black noticed it from the moment Clark arrived.
"The stability, the leadership, the experience, are things that are invaluable for us," Black said. "We do have some youth on the bench as far as service time, and he's really taken a leadership role with the role players. To go along with Trevor [Hoffman], [Brian] Giles and [Greg] Maddux, as the veteran players who sort of set the tone for the clubhouse."
Ronald P. Clark is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.