SAN DIEGO (AP) — Thanks to a fortuitous sun ball, the suddenly surging San Diego Padres are no longer in last place in the NL West.
Tim Stauffer won consecutive starts for the first time this year and his popup led to four unearned runs with two outs in the third inning, sending San Diego to a 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday.
It was the first sweep of the year for the Padres, who have won four straight and seven of eight. San Diego went 5-1 against Atlanta and Kansas City for its first winning homestand of 2011.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers losing 1-0 at Minnesota, the Padres broke out of a tie for last in the NL West and are in sole possession of fourth place. But they have a long way to go to challenge division-leading San Francisco.
“Nice. It’s good to get out of that cellar and keep on creeping up,” Stauffer said.
Stauffer (4-5) allowed one run and four hits in seven innings to lower his ERA to 2.97. After going 1-4 with a 3.99 ERA in his first 12 starts, Stauffer has gone 3-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his last five outings.
Heath Bell pitched the ninth for his 23rd save in 24 chances, allowing two singles.
Bell, who along with Ryan Ludwick are expected to be traded by the budget-conscious Padres, said continuing the strong performance during the next few weeks could keep the Padres from becoming sellers.
“We’re going to have to keep winning like we are right now. We’re going to really have to play well and play hard,” he said.
The Padres grabbed control in the third inning thanks to third baseman Mike Moustakas’ error on a sun ball.
With San Diego trailing 1-0, Stauffer started the decisive third with a popup. First baseman Eric Hosmer lost it in the sun and ducked out of the way. Moustakas, who ran all the way over to the first-base side of the mound, stuck out his glove and the ball bounced off it. He reached out again to try to grab the ball but it hit off his glove again and hit the ground for error.
“It went up in the air and we didn’t communicate very well,” Moustakas said. “There is a tough sun up there on that side of the field and I came in at the last second, saw the ball coming down and tried to take a swipe at it. I almost had it a couple of times. It was a weird play. But that ball has got to be caught.”
Chris Denorfia followed with a single before left-hander Bruce Chen retired the next two batters. Ryan Ludwick doubled to left to bring in Stauffer with the tying run. Rizzo hit a two-run single to right, took second on the throw home and scored on Orlando Hudson’s high chopper.
“You never know in this game. That’s why you run it out,” Stauffer said. “It was a little earlier game start than normal. It’s pretty sunny out there. I’ve seen that happen a few times. That’s a tough little spot where three or four guys are converging. We’re fortunate that got us going that inning. Any game I can get two at-bats in an inning, whether I go 0 for 2 or 2 for 2 in the inning, I’m pretty happy. Getting that lead gives you a little extra kick out there.”
Stauffer came up again with the bases loaded and grounded out to end the inning.
“I think we’re playing the brand of baseball we needed to play to be successful,” Stauffer said. “Limiting the runs given up early, then getting the lead and sticking with it with our pitching and defense, we feel pretty confident about playing with anybody. That’s how we’ve had success this homestand and hopefully we keep it rolling on the road.”
Kansas City scored its run in the top half of the inning when Melky Cabrera doubled with one out and scored on Hosmer’s single to center.
Chen (4-2), making his second start since May 5, allowed four runs, none earned, and eight hits in six innings. He returned Friday from a stint on the disabled list with a strained back muscle.
NOTES — Chen was facing the Padres for the first time since Aug. 10, 2002, when he appeared in relief with Cincinnati. ... The Royals were swept for the sixth time. ... The Royals dropped to 0-6 at Petco Park, the only active ballpark in which they don’t have a win. They also were swept here in 2004.