Turns, out, later this week is today. Yesterday we looked at the worst Padres Opening Day starts. Let’s start today with a little optimism and look at the three best.
#3 – John Curtis, at San Francisco, 4.9.81, GS 76 – This is my favorite game of the six I’ve looked at over the past 2 days. Other than the 1969 Padres, the 1981 version was the worst team in franchise history, finishing 25 games under .500 in a strike shortened season. No one knew that on this day at Candlestick, and Curtis threw a gem. The Padres scored in the top of the first, when Gene Richards singled, stole second, moved to third on an Ozzie Smith foul out, and scored on a Vida Blue wild pitch. San Diego led 1-0 until the seventh, when Curtis gave up a two-out single to Larry Herndon. Herndon promptly stole second and scored on pinch-hitter Jim Wohlford’s single.
Life was different in 1981, so with the score tied at 1 after nine Curtis came out for the tenth and worked around a one-out single. Manager Frank Howard finally pinch-hit for him in the top of the eleventh. The game would go one more inning after that before Juan Bonilla broke the tie with a single, and Richards put the game away with a 2-run single. John Littlefield closed it out for the save. One more fun factoid: The game lasted 12 innings and was played in 3 hours six minutes. These days that’ll barely get you into the ninth. Padres won 4-1. Curtis’ final line: 10 IP, 7 H, 1 R (earned), 0 BB, 2K.
Curtis remained with the Padres through most of the 1982 season, before being sold to the California Angels on 31 August. Does his name ring a bell? After retiring from baseball, he became a freelance writer, and his work did appear occasionally in the UT.
#2 – Randy Jones, vs San Francisco, 4.10.75, GS 80 – You had to figure the lefty with ‘the Karl Marx Hairdo’ was on this list, and he is. Five years before Curtis’ game, another opener against the Giants, and another extra inning affair. Giants starter Jim Barr and Jones matched each other, scoreless inning for scoreless inning. Neither team really threatened to score. Padre Johnny Grubb doubled with one out in the second, then was doubled off the base to end the inning. San Diego put runners on the corners with one out in the third, but Barr worked out of it. Willie McCovey doubled with one out in the fourth but was cut down trying to stretch it into a triple, costing the Padres a runner in scoring position. Yes you read that correctly. McCovey was a Padre in 1975. San Fran put runners on the corners with one out in the fifth, but Jones retired Steve Ontiveros on a 1-4-3 DP.
The Giants didn’t put another runner into scoring position until the bottom of the ninth, when Doug Rader was bunted to second with one out. Jones intentionally walked Gary Maddox, retired Derrel Thomas on a lineout to RF, and got Gary Thomasson to roll out to first. Jones left after nine innings, and his relief, Rich Folkers, opened the tenth by surrendering back-to-back doubles which gave San Fran the lead. They plated a second run and won 2-0.
Both starters pitched quite well. Barr’s GS of 79 was just a tick below Randy. Jones’ final line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 4K. Randy was the Opening Day starter the following year as well, and pitched for the Padres through the 1980 season, winning the NL Cy Young in 1976.
#1 – Dick Selma, vs Houston, 4.8.69, GS 83 – The very first San Diego Padres MLB Opening Day start remains the best in franchise history. Selma threw a masterpiece. He gave up a run in the top of the first. Jesus Alou led off with a single and stole second. After Joe Morgan walked, and Norm Miller flied out to center, Doug Rader (again?) singled to score Alou. One-third of an inning into Padres history and they trailed 1-0. That would be all Selma allowed. From that point on, he scattered 3 hits, allowed one more walk, and struck out 12. The Padres evened the score on an Ed Spiezio HR in the fifth, and took the lead in the sixth when Ollie Brown’s double scored Roberto Pena. San Diego welcomed the Major Leagues to town with a 2-1 win. Selma’s final line: 9 IP, 5 H, 1 R (earned), 2 BB, 12K.
That was Selma’s only win as a starter with the Padres. Less than three weeks later he was traded to the Cubs for Joe Niekro and two other players.
Follow Mike on Twitter @Padres_Trail .