May 19 - The Magic Shillelagh
In 2002, the Anaheim Angels made a magical run to a World Series title with a balanced offensive
attack, a solid pitching staff and a monkey. This year’s answer to the Angels could also reside in
Southern California as the San Diego Padres are copying the Anaheim’s formula but instead of a
monkey they draw inspiration from an old wooden stick.
“Everyone knows the power of the shillelagh,” joked Padres television analyst Mark Grant. Baseball fans
have probably heard the expression “he’s swinging a hot shillelagh,” but few know that a shillelagh was
a club used for fighting throughout Irish history. Grant was given a shillelagh by a friend and started
waving it on the air at the start of an inning. And that inning has usually been the frame that the Padres
roar back to take the lead late in a game. For the Padres, the shillelagh has come to symbolize the lucky
breaks this team has seen over the past three weeks.
On April 27, the Padres were 9-13 and floundering toward the bottom of the National League West. The
Padres faithful, who had expected the team to contend for its first division title since 1998, thought this
wasn’t going to be the Padres year.
After the game against the Giants on the 27th, Padres Manager Bruce Bochy was quoted as saying "It's
hard to put together a game as bad as we did today. There's absolutely no excuse for it. We were just
horrible. That's pathetic baseball. They know it."
Everyone from fans to radio talk show hosts started to write this team off.
But the team itself continued to believe despite the naysayers in San Diego.
“When this team was struggling, no one had a sense of panic as far as players were concerned,” said
Grant. “They were confident that players like Brian Giles were going to hit. I’ve been with teams and
seen teams that have played like this and it just snowballs.”
It all started at Petco Park, as the Friars went 5-1 against the Diamondbacks and Rockies from April 29
through May 4. Still, fans were skeptical about the team as the Padres headed to St. Louis for a four
game set against the defending National League Champions. Instead of falling apart away from home,
the Friars flexed their muscles and took three of four from at Busch Stadium.
Even a 15-5 loss to the Cards on getaway day didn’t bother the Friars, as they headed to Cincinnati and
took 2 of 3 from the struggling Reds. The Padres didn’t stop there as they returned home on May 13th
and promptly swept the six-game home stand from the Marlins and Braves.
Since April 29, the Padres are 16-3. But it’s the way they’ve been winning that makes this run so much
more impressive. Twelve of the sixteen games have been come from behind wins, with nine different
players with the hit that put the Padres ahead to stay.
“Everybody sticks around to see them come back. People expect them to come back,” said Grant. “Every
night there is a new star and every night they are passing the torch. I know those are clichés but that
really is how the Padres are playing right now.”
Need more proof that everyone pitching in? Ten different Padres have hit home runs in May. Fourteen
different players have RBI’s. Nine different pitchers have picked up wins this month. These numbers
give people around the team reason to start remembering special teams from the past.
“I hear people bringing up the Padres 1998 World Series team a lot,” said Grant. “Personally, this team
reminds me of when I was with the 1991 Atlanta Braves. As far as the confidence of a team and knowing
that we could win, this team has the same feeling. At the All-Star break in '91, we were nine and a half
games out. By the middle of August we were half a game back and the race was on.”
Wally Joyner, first baseman for San Diego’s 1998 team, said this team reminded him of his rookie
“My first year with the Angels we won a lot of games while coming from behind,” said Joyner. “We had a
real solid group that season. Guys like Brian Downing, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Bob Boone, we
had a solid team from top the bottom. This team is a lot like that.”
Depth is the biggest difference in the Padres from last year’s team. Bench players like Mark Sweeney,
Robert Fick and Geoff Blum have provided key hits throughout San Diego’s surge. More importantly, this
team hasn’t let injuries slow them down. Shortstop Khalil Greene broke a finger and missed a month
early in the year. Pitcher Woody Williams is still out with an oblique strain. Blum just came off the
disabled list with a chest injury. A different player has stepped in and produced each time.
The Padres have even broken the fifth starter hex which plagued the team since it traded Ismael Valdez
to Florida last season. After the trade, the Padres fifth starters hadn’t won a game until rookie Tim
Stauffer won his major league debut against the Reds on May 11.
With all of the positive sentiment in San Diego, do people believe that this team can break through and
win the West?
“Absolutely,” said Grant. “The division is wide open. The Giants have their top guys injured, the Dodgers
have cooled after their hot start and it would take a record turnaround for the Diamondbacks to win the
division. The West is there for the taking.”
Grant also has pledged to keep doing his part. As the shillelagh will keep making appearances
wherever the team goes, starting late inning rallies that keep the Friar faithful believing that this is their