Under the tutelage of first base coach Davey Lopes (who stole 557 bases in a 16-year big league career), the young horses became more effective. In an 8-7 victory over Colorado at Qualcomm on June 28, the 10th win of the streak, the Padres swiped a franchise-record nine bases, including five by Jackson. Their boldness on the base paths also helped force four Rockies errors. During their 14-0 run the Padres stole 25 bases in 32 attempts, a 78% success rate, and through Sunday they were fourth in the league with 82 steals.
Team speed aside, San Diego's turnaround might best be attributed to a couple of tongue-lashings administered by Bochy and Hoffman. After a 6-2 loss to Cincinnati on May 23 that closed a lackluster 2-4 home stand, Bochy had a team meeting and let loose with a rare tirade, calling the team's play "pathetic" and "embarrassing." Says Gwynn, "It would have been easy for him to say, 'We're a young team, there's no reason to rant and rave.' But he waited and waited, and when the time was right, he came in here and let us have it."
"I had some things I wanted to get off my chest, about preparation and staying focused every day for nine innings," says Bochy. "We were having too many mental lapses and making mistakes a major league team shouldn't make."
Three weeks later, with the offense still sputtering, Hoffman called a players-only meeting. "We needed to remind people that there are certain things you earn only by playing well," says the closer, who, after blowing three of his first 12 save opportunities, had nailed 11 in a row, including eight during the 14-game streak. "We were acting like we were 20 games up, and we weren't."
Soon after that, the Padres took off. Jackson, who was hitting .233, hit .317 over the next 17 games. Rivera, the 25-year-old outfielder whose five-tool talent may finally be blossoming, hit six homers and through Sunday had a career-high 14. He also played flawless defense and made a game-saving, ninth inning catch to rob Eric Karros of a homer in a 4-3 win over the Dodgers on June 29. Owens, a former football player at Ferrum (Va.) College, whom Gwynn calls "the poster boy for this turnaround," had a 17-game hitting streak after going 3 for 5 in Sunday's 11-0 win over the Rockies.
It's also no coincidence that San Diego's run started when Sanders returned from the DL on June 18. Since then he had hit .403 with five homers and 15 RBIs through Sunday and provided punch to a mostly powerless lineup. "Reggie Sanders ignites them," says Colorado manager Jim Leyland. "You used to be able to throw a ball by him once in a while, but you can't do that anymore. His swing is so much better and shorter."
Sanders will soon get more support. Gwynn should come off the DL this week, and Leyritz should be back soon as well. Still, to make a charge at a postseason berth, the club must prove that its winning streak was no fluke. The day after the Padres completed their sweep of the Dodgers last week, Gwynn said, "I sat in the training room shaking my head because there's not a guy out there who believes this is going on. We thought we'd be competitive, but nobody expected this. Nobody."
Chuck Knoblauch's Woes
Steve Sax's most vivid memory of hell dates back 16 years to a June evening in San Diego. He had been the Dodgers' star of the future—a speedy second baseman who could hit for average and steal bases. But virtually overnight he went from All-Star-in-waiting to psychological train wreck. Sax would field a grounder effortlessly, then launch the ball over first baseman Steve Garvey's head. Or skip it past Garvey's mitt. Finally, after an errant toss against the Padres flew a couple of feet out of Garvey's reach, Sax had reached his nadir. At inning's end he jogged into the Dodgers' dugout, slammed his glove to the floor and buried his head in his hands. "That was it—the final straw/' Sax recalls. "At that moment I thought my career was over."
Minutes later Sax experienced an epiphany. "I got mad," he says. "I said, F—- it, I'm a major league second baseman, and I've thrown the ball to first thousands of times. I did it then, I can do it now." Sax, who went on to lead National League second basemen in fielding percentage in '89, pauses. "That's what Chuck Knoblauch needs to do. He just needs to say, 'F—- it.' "