Richard's shutout leads Padres to sweep

Richard's shutout leads Padres to sweep

Richard's shutout leads Padres to sweep
SAN DIEGO -- Catcher John Baker said his heart sunk a little in the ninth inning Wednesday when, two outs from seeing pitcher Clayton Richard toss a shutout, Padres manager Bud Black jogged from the dugout to the mound.

That usually means one thing, Baker thought.

"When I saw him come out ... it was something I was dreading," Baker said.

Instead, all Black did was offer encouragement to Richard -- something about getting a ground ball -- before patting him on the back side and jogging right back to the dugout.

Baker, his spirits lifted, was happy to see Richard get the opportunity to finish what he started -- a five-hit shutout that punctuated a three-game sweep of the Cubs, as the Padres held on for a 2-0 victory in front of a crowd of 24,663 at Petco Park.

In earning his second career shutout -- the other occurred on Sept. 21, 2010, against the Dodgers -- the left-handed Richard walked two, struck out five and got 11 ground-ball outs in a 110-pitch performance that impressed about everyone in the home clubhouse on a sun-kissed afternoon in San Diego.

Black said he didn't even bother to ask Richard the obvious question when he arrived at the mound, just after Richard issued a one-out walk to Starlin Castro. Instead, Black looked him right in the eyes and told him that "this is your game."

"I think that provided the little extra spark," Baker said. "I was fired up that Clayton was going to get the opportunity to finish."

After the walk, Richard (9-11) then got Wellington Castillo to fly out to Cameron Maybin in center field before getting Josh Vitters to ground out to second baseman Logan Forsythe, who carried the ball to second base for a force play that ended the game.

"It was his game," Baker said.

This was the third time this season that Richard has pitched into the ninth inning. On July 2 against the D-backs, he allowed two runs in 8 2/3 innings before being relieved. Then on July 18 against the Astros, he allowed four runs in 8 1/3 innings before departing. Close, but never a complete game.

This time, Richard stuck around to the end, the result of several quick innings against the Cubs (43-66), who were swept at Petco Park in a series of three or more games for the first time since May 22-24, 2009.

"I don't want to take anything away from the pitcher. He managed to keep his pitch count down after falling behind a few hitters," said Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney. "There were some situations we could've capitalized on, and didn't, and you have to tip your hat to a guy for finishing the game."

Black made note of the fact that Richard -- who is known as a ground-ball pitcher -- actually worked well at the top of the strike zone on Wednesday, a risky venture for any pitcher given the fine line between getting harmless fly balls and serving up gopher balls on pitches hitters actually do get on top of.

"It's not something we wanted to do," Richard said, smiling. "Sometimes, that's just a mistake, or it's a guy out front on a changeup."

Richard was nearly matched zero-for-zero by Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija (7-10), who allowed one run on four hits over seven innings. He walked two and struck out six, and even broke a bat over his knee after striking out looking in the seventh inning.

"That was fun. That's not an easy thing to do," Baker said of Samardzija's antics.

The Padres (49-64) scored the only run they would need in the second inning, as Chase Headley started the inning with a double to the gap in right-center field. Headley then moved up to third base on a Mark Kotsay ground ball to the right side and scored when Will Venable doubled into the right-field corner.

The Padres added a second run in the eighth inning against Cubs reliever Jeff Russell, as Yonder Alonso looped a slider to shallow left field that Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano couldn't make a play on.

From there, Richard took care of the rest, giving the Padres their eighth shutout of 2012. The victory Wednesday was their 10th in the last 12 games at Petco Park.

The road gets daunting for the team starting Friday, when they open a three-game series in Pittsburgh. From here to the end of the regular season, the Padres will play 13 of their remaining 16 series against teams with winning records.

That can wait, though, as the Padres were able to put a tidy bow on a 5-1 homestand against the Mets and Cubs with Richard's gem.

"You never want to get taken out in a situation like that," Richard said of Black's visit to the mound in the ninth inning.

Richard was then asked if he was looking to see if Black raised his right arm to signal for All-Star closer Huston Street to enter the game, thus ending Richard's day. Richard smiled.

"I'm just hoping he doesn't [raise his arm]," Richard said.

On Friday, Black said that a roster move will occur in Pittsburgh, as catcher Nick Hundley will join the team. Catcher Eddy Rodriguez, who was 1-for-5 with a home run in two games, will be optioned to Triple-A Tucson.

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.