What the Taco Train desperately needs is some buzzards’ luck
A couple of weeks ago Alex Dickerson was en fuego, having set a Padre rookie record by homering in four straight games. After a grueling 10 day road trip the Padres had a day off and then began a homestand the following day against the Reds. One of the major storylines of the night was whether Dickerson could continue his streak and deposit one over the fence.
The second batter of the game, Zack Cosart of the Reds, cracked a deep fly into left center. Dickerson and center fielder Travis Jankowski both tracked the ball but neither got there in time. They collided and Dickerson’s hip violently jammed into Jankowski’s head and then grinded into the warning track like an oil drill.
He remained motionless for what seemed like a year.
Ultimately he was able to get up and gingerly walk off the field with the help of the trainers. X-rays proved negative, nothing more than a deep bone bruise. While he wouldn’t play again that night or for a number of games, Dickerson’s career would resume soon enough.
Still, typical Taco Train luck. The second batter of the game!!! Everything headed in a positive direction and then boom. Splat. The Curse of Preston Gomez – and/or the Curse of the Great Padre in the Sky – had struck again.
Gomez was the crusty manager of the 1970 Padres, a hapless team if there ever was one. On July 21, 1970 young right hander Clay Kirby was on the mound versus the Mets. Kirby did not allow a hit through 8 innings but found himself down 1-0 and in the bottom half of the inning his place in the order came up with two outs. Gomez pinch hit for him and Clarence Gaston proceeded to strike out.
I was among the 10,373 people at the game. My family had moved to town a few months previous and it was my second game watching my new favorite team. When Gomez pinch hit for Kirby I booed as loudly as everybody else. A few fans jumped on the field in an attempt to get at Gomez but were restrained. Fans could be silly back then too.
The relief pitcher Gomez brought in, Jack Baldschun, immediately gave up a hit to the Mets’ first batter, Bud Harrelson. The boos intensified. The Pads ended up losing the game 3-0.
Gomez afterwards said all the things you’d expect. He had “played it by the book.” The goal in major league baseball is to win, not throw no-hitters. Little did Gomez know what thinking inside the box versus thinking outside the box could, and would, do to a nascent franchise. By its sheer geographic location – surrounded by the desert to the East, the border to the South, the water to the West and Los Angeles with the Dodgers and Angels to the north – the Padres desperately needed to think outside the box more than any other professional franchise. Instead they had “played it be the book”, playing by the rules as they were written for others.
We’ve been paying for it ever since.
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I was at the Kirby/Gomez “no hitter” Curse game. I was at the Holy Roller game. Though I love the man and what he did for the Padres, I cried when they retired Steve Garvey’s number. By my estimation I witnessed in person, watched on tv or listened on the radio to over 3,000 of Tony’s 3,141 hits. Jerry Coleman’s initials aren’t J.C. for no reason.