07/22/08 12:01 AM ET
Padres rally late to dump Reds
Kouzmanoff hits game-winner; Hoffman thwarts threat
By Corey Brock / MLB.com
Kevin Kouzmanoff thought differently, especially when Hoffman, the Major League career saves leader, started spinning his nasty changeup in the humid Ohio air and the Reds started swinging through it.
"When he throws that [changeup], you can see the bottom falling out of it," said Kouzmanoff, the Padres' third baseman, who had a clear view of Hoffman's pitches. "That pitch is dirty. I'm just glad I'm on defense and don't have to hit it."
Hoffman's escape job Monday allowed the Padres to win their first game of the season when trailing after eight innings, scoring twice in the ninth inning and then holding on for dear life in the bottom of the inning for a 6-4 victory over the Reds, snapping a vexing six-game skid in the process.
No, nothing does come easy for the Padres, who are now 1-53 in games this season in which they trailed after eight innings. Those games haven't been easy on the team, now 38-62 this season, and they certainly haven't been easy on Hoffman.
A half-inning after Kouzmanoff gave the Padres a two-run lead with an opposite-field, two-run double off Reds closer Francisco Cordero, part of a three-run uprising, it was Hoffman time, though he hasn't had much work during a stretch where San Diego had lost 23 of 29 games before Monday.
Hoffman -- 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA going into the game -- allowed consecutive singles to Adam Dunn, Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto to start the ninth inning. Even armed with a two-run cushion, all agreed this was a sticky spot on a sticky night.
"You never want to load the bases with no outs," Hoffman said. "Ultimately, you stay aggressive with your pitches because you know they're going to be aggressive."
Hoffman got the first out by striking out David Ross, getting him to chase a fastball up in the strike zone. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker then went to his bench for pinch-hitter Javier Valentin, who got ahead in the count, 1-0, but went after a pitch up-and-in, fouling it back near the Padres' dugout where catcher Luke Carlin squeezed it for the second out.
The third out wouldn't come quite so easily, with Reds phenom Jay Bruce due up next. This is where Hoffman shined most, even after falling behind in the count, 2-0. Hoffman threw two changeups that Bruce swung through and looked poor doing so.
Hoffman, leaning on the one pitch that has served him so well in his career, went right back at it, flipping another changeup even further off the plate that Bruce barely fouled off. Hoffman then came back with another changeup, one clocked at 73 mph that Bruce swung through to end the game.
"I think experience was on our side, with a guy with 542 Major League saves. He's been in that situation before. He knows how to get three outs," Padres manager Bud Black said.
So had the Padres, a day earlier in St. Louis, having watched the Cardinals load the bases in a tied game in the ninth inning. That game didn't end nearly as well as Monday's when reliever Bryan Corey allowed a game-winning grand slam.
This one wouldn't end that way and second baseman Edgar Gonzalez had a pretty good idea when he saw Hoffman starting to spin his changeup.
"Once he got going, he could control all his pitches," said Gonzalez, who had three hits to raise his average to .321 after five consecutive multi-hit games. "When he started to throw his changeup, I started laughing, it's so good. I wouldn't want to face him."
Gonzalez and leadoff hitter Scott Hairston combined for six hits, a home run and three walks on Monday. It was Hairston's walk with one out in the ninth inning off Cordero that started the Padres' rally.
Hairston then raced to third base on Edgar Gonzalez's third hit of the game. Brian Giles then topped a tough slider down and in, and Cordero and Votto collided as Hairston sprinted across the plate with the tying run.
After walking Adrian Gonzalez intentionally, Cordero served up another slider, this one down and away that Kouzmanoff took the other way, hitting over Bruce's head in right field for a two-run double.
Then it was Hoffman time, as he made his first appearance since the All-Star break and just his third appearance in the last 16 games. If he was rusty early, it showed, though it didn't take long for him to revert back to his old form.
"There are a lot of ways to get a Major League save," Black said, smiling. "That was one of them."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.