Helplessly hoping

Jeff Passan

MILWAUKEE – No one wanted to utter the first word. They all just sat there, on the green leather couches and around the onyx tables and in the blue folding chairs, waiting for someone to cut through the depression.

"Come on," Adrian Gonzalez said, and his whisper echoed through the San Diego Padres' clubhouse Sunday afternoon. The Colorado-Arizona game being shown on all five televisions – the one that transfixed a couple dozen grown men, most still in uniform – was in the ninth inning, and Rockies closer Manny Corpas had thrown three consecutive balls with a runner on first and no outs. Already, the Padres had blown their chance at clinching the National League wild-card berth. Now, they hoped, the Rockies would tank their game and allow the Padres to slink into the postseason the easy way.

When Arizona's Carlos Quentin laced a double to left field, the rest of the Padres joined Gonzalez in exercising their vocal cords. Temporarily, at least, every one of them had forgotten the embarrassing 11-6 loss to Milwaukee only an hour earlier, and the soul-reaming 4-3 defeat Saturday night, and the injury to their best hitter, Milton Bradley, suffered arguing a call last week – about the menagerie of things gone wrong to put the Padres in this position, facing Colorado in a one-game playoff Monday.

Gonzalez, the Padres' steady first baseman, sat on the floor at Miller Park sipping iced tea and finishing his pasta and meatballs. Marcus Giles, their wacky second baseman, plopped next to him. Cla Meredith, the reliever who had blown the lead against the Brewers, lounged on another couch. They criticized swings and analyzed pitches, discussed the long shadows and showed disgust when Arizona's Jeff Cirillo watched a hanging slider flutter through the strike zone, prayed and crossed fingers and hoped the baseball gods would smite Colorado for once.

When Corpas recorded the final out and stranded the tying runner, completing the Rockies' surge to the same 89-73 record of the Padres and forcing Monday's 7:30 p.m. ET do-or-die, the tension finally broke, the gloom lifted and the Padres, so forlorn, forced themselves to embrace optimism.

"We'll beat 'em tomorrow," boomed reliever Doug Brocail.

Of course, that the Padres found themselves in such a position seemed inconceivable enough. In spite of the injuries, the insipid offense and the questionable fielding, the Padres all season exuded the kind of calm that defines winners.

Or fools.

Initially, they looked the former Sunday. Brian Giles led off the game with a monster 444-foot home run off Milwaukee's Jeff Suppan, Geoff Blum knocked a bases-loaded double and the Padres ended the first inning with a 3-0 advantage and Brett Tomko on the mound.

The Tomko who showed up looked more the flake of 11 seasons past than the stud of September, a productive waiver-wire pickup for San Diego from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Brewers picked him apart and attacked San Diego's vaunted bullpen like vultures on the prey, their own playoff hopes dashed a few days ago.

As the Brewers piled on – 6-4 became 9-4, then 10-4, then 11-4 – Jake Peavy sat in the dugout and started thinking about Colorado. The Padres' ace and shoo-in NL Cy Young winner, who will pitch against the Rockies' Josh Fogg, had arrived early here to look at video of his last start as well as his previous one against Colorado.

"They're hot," Peavy said. "They're as good as anyone in baseball. But they're definitely a beatable team."

While manager Bud Black talked about how falling behind against Milwaukee was "deflating" and Tomko lamented that he felt "like I let the guys down," Peavy tried to divert the attention toward tomorrow. He stood the tallest and grinned the most. He even chuckled about how Saturday night he lost his money clip at a local casino.

"Hey, we're starting the playoffs with Game 7," Peavy said. "This is going to be fun. I'm excited about the opportunity. And I think the boys will come out battling, fighting tomorrow. The season is on the line. That's fun. You play 162 and you still need one more to decide if you're going home or you're in."

In his two starts against Colorado this season, Peavy has allowed two runs in 14 innings. For his career at Coors Field, he is 3-3 with a 3.96 earned-run average. If there is any team suited for a one-game playoff in the NL, it is the Padres, and only because Peavy wears their uniform.

Well, that and their general demeanor. All was back to normal 10 minutes after the Rockies game ended. The Padres held a quick meeting. They showered. The Giles brothers made regular trips to the cooler between their lockers stocked with beer.

"If these two games depleted us," Brian Giles said, "we don't deserve to move on anyway."

Eventually, everyone dragged their luggage toward the door. The itinerary on it called for a 6 p.m. departure on Swift Air 3236. They were supposed to land in San Diego by 8:10 p.m.

Not anymore. No, the Padres have to earn this postseason bid. And they have one last chance to do it.