Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nice start

From Hells Bells to Heath Bell, the Padres couldn't have asked for more from their home opener.

Trevor Hoffman, the retired save king, trotted to the mound for a ceremonial pitch to ring in San Diego's 43rd opener, Hells Bells sounding once Hoffman left the bullpen at Petco Park.

Heath Bell, who succeeded Hoffman in 2008, reveled in "the coolest sound in San Diego," and four hours later secured a 3-1 victory over the World Series champion Giants.

Between the Bells and Bell, Giants manager Bruce Bochy watched the same frustrating movie for the umpteenth time, even if some of the actors were new.

"Groundhog Day," Bochy said, referring to the Padres' 12-6 record against the Giants in 2010. "It's very similar to what they did last year."

Several of the Padres performers joined the team last offseason, notably pitcher Aaron Harang, whose third-inning escape from having runners on the corners with none out was, in Bochy's words, "the turning point of the game." Harang said fastball accuracy greased the escape, which came against the lineup's Nos. 1-3 hitters. Giants partisans griped that the plate umpire was generous to Harang, but Bochy didn't grouse to reporters afterward.

"You have to give (Harang) credit," he said.

Bochy praised the Padres, seconding Hoffman's comment that Bud Black's team is "being underestimated again" by people outside the club.

"It always comes down to how you throw the ball and they have a good staff," said Bochy, a pitching-first manager since his rookie year with the Padres in 1995.

Beyond the pitching, if there's one reason why the Padres are 3-1 and the Giants are 1-4, it's defense. The Padres were far handier with the  leather than the Cardinals in the opening series at St. Louis, and Tuesday they again received slick work from the newcomers at shortstop and in center field, Jason Bartlett and Cameron Maybin. Coming off a poor defensive series at Dodger Stadium, the Giants gave the Padres their third run in the third when pitcher Madison Bumgarner fumbled a two-out nubber off the bat of speedy Chris Denorfia.

The Giants, despite a stellar spring training, are smelling like stale champagne six days into the first World Series defense in their San Francisco history.

"We're disappointed in our start," Bochy said, "but, bottom line, this is a good club."

Bochy said opening the season on the road with a wide array of starting times added to the test. "We'll get in a rhythm here," he said.

Bell singled out the defense of Maybin, saying opponents' drives that appeared to be doubles from the bullpen are ending up in his glove. He called Bartlett the majors' most under-rated shortstop, defensively. The two are part of a retooled lineup whose sum, Bell said, may be greater than last year's attack that had Adrian Gonzalez.

"I think we have a little better hitting all around and a little better D," he said.

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