Loose newcomer loosens Braves' grip

September 02, 1993|By Ross Newhan | Ross Newhan,Los Angeles Times

ATLANTA -- He had not had time to read all about it. He had not been here long enough to experience the pressure or agree with the impression of Barry Bonds and others that the San Francisco Giants suddenly seemed to be chasing the Atlanta Braves in the National League West rather than the other way, the way it really is.

"He was probably the loosest guy on the team," Giants closer Rod Beck said of John Patterson after Patterson gave the Giants a desperately needed 3-2 victory last night.

Patterson hit a pinch-hit home run off Mark Wohlers in the ninth inning to break a 2-2 tie and re-establish San Francisco's 4 1/2 -game lead on Atlanta to the disappointment of 49,290, stopped in mid-chop.

Call it the height of pennant-race improbability. Call it "the calvary arriving in the nick of time," as San Francisco manager Dusty Baker did.

Patterson, who arrived Tuesday night, delivered his first major-league homer in his first major-league at-bat of a season in which he had been sidelined until August by recovery from rotator-cuff surgery.

He faced heat-throwing Wohlers after only 35 at-bats during his just-completed rehabilitation assignment at Single-A San Jose, but his story is only part of the improbability.

It had been two years to the day since Wohlers had given up a home run at the major-league level, a span of 71 games.

"I guess it was my night," Patterson said. "Was there a full moon?"

Wohlers, behind in the count 2-and-0, wondered, too.

"I didn't know much about him, but that doesn't matter to me," he said. "I'm a fastball pitcher and I threw him what I thought was a good one. I wouldn't pitch him any differently 10 minutes from now."

Time seemed to be running out on the Giants as they tried to stave off the relentless Braves, but they were breathing easier after Beck registered his 39th save, retiring Fred McGriff, Terry Pendleton and David Justice in the bottom of the ninth.

Giants pitching coach Dick Pole had held a meeting with his pitchers before the game, encouraging them to be aggressive again, Beck said.

Starter Bryan Hickerson allowed only bases-empty home runs in the fourth and sixth innings before Kevin Rogers, Mike Jackson and Beck provided flawless relief, handing the Braves only their fourth loss in the last 21 games.

The switch-hitting Patterson, 26, was the only left-handed hitter on the Giants' bench when Baker went to a pinch-hitter for Jackson to open the ninth. Patterson hit .184 with no homers in 32 games with the Giants last year, but Baker said he didn't hesitate, knowing Patterson is a confident hitter against the fastball.

"A lot of teams would have given up on him after his surgery, but he has too much talent for that," Baker said. "He can hit and he can run. He can do the things you look for down the stretch, and I have to thank [GM] Bob Quinn for having the intuitiveness to get him up here."

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