NEW YORK (AP) — Eric Stults looked at the scoreboard after two innings and was a bit taken aback.
In his 12th season of a professional baseball odyssey that’s taken him to 10 minor league cities from Albuquerque to Vero Beach, overseas to Japan and across America to four big league clubs, the 33-year-old right-hander finally had earned a job on an opening-day major league roster.
And while he had pitched scoreless ball for two innings Thursday, his pitch count was up to 49.
“Damn foul balls,” San Diego Padres manager Bud Black said.
Stults (1-0) gritted his way through five scoreless innings of three-hit ball, combining with five relievers on a five-hitter and 14 strikeouts to lead the Padres over the New York Mets 2-1 for their first win of the season.
Jedd Gyorko doubled in the go-ahead run in the fourth for his first major league RBI, and the Padres avoided starting the season with three straight losses for the second year in a row.
“To get that first win is big,” Stults said.
Claimed on waivers from the Chicago White Sox last May, he was just 8-10 in a big league career that began with the Los Angeles Dodgers and moved on to Colorado. Finally getting the chance to pitch regularly with the Padres, he went 8-3 with a 2.92 ERA.
“Years past, I might get four, five starts and then get sent back down to the minor leagues and then come back up. I was always bouncing back and forth,” he said. “In years past, when I was bouncing back and forth, I might go six days and not pitch or seven days. And there was days I was pitching on short rest, when I would get called up. So not that that’s an excuse, but it’s I think a little bit tougher a starting pitcher when you’re routine gets thrown off.”
Stults, who beat the Mets seven years ago for his first big league win, had only one 1-2-3 inning but kept escaping trouble. He walked two and struck out seven — including four looking.
“Mixed up pitches, a variety of speeds, kept them off balance all day,” Black said. “High and low with the fastball. In and out with the fastball. Good overhand curve. Good change. Little slider to the lefty. Pitched well.”
Of Stults’ 95 pitches, the Mets fouled off 20.
“He went after hitters and was able to expand the zone when he got ahead,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Brad Brach, Joe Thatcher, Dale Thayer, Luke Gregerson and Huston Street followed. John Buck drove Street’s first pitch of the season off the facing of the second deck in left for his second homer of the series, but Street then retired three in a row for the save.
Mets starter Dillon Gee (0-1) returned from shoulder surgery last summer and was nearly as sharp as Stults. He opened with a five-pitch walk, then retired 10 in a row and wound up giving up three hits in 6 1-3 innings.
Gee didn’t pitch at all during the second half of last season. He said July 8 he felt numbness in fingers on his right hand, a day after pitching eight innings to beat the Chicago Cubs. Tests revealed a blood clot in his shoulder, and he had surgery July 13 as doctors used a vein from his groin area to widen the artery to prevent future clots.
“It felt great today,” he said. “I put it behind me a long time ago. Today really felt just like any other day, any other start.”
Outscored 19-6 in their first two games, the Padres rested Carlos Quentin from the starting lineup in the day game following a night game and inserted Mark Kotsay in left field. Justin Turner started at second for the Mets in place of Daniel Murphy, and Turner got hits in his first three at-bats of the season.
Gee gave up a run in the fourth after one-out singles by Kotsay and Yadier Alonso put runners on the corners. Gyorko, who made his big league debut Monday, pulled a 1-2 changeup over the third-base bag to give the Padres their first lead this season.
“I was able to hook it down the line. It was good to kind of get that early lead,” said Gyorko, starting at third base while Chase Headley is on the disabled list. “No one likes to look up at the scoreboard and be down eight runs with the last couple of innings to play.”
Jeurys Familia allowed another run in the eighth when pinch-hitter Chris Denorfia walked leading off, Alonso singled him to third and Familia bounced a slider over the glove of Buck, who tried for a backhand grab. That turned out to be the difference.
After the game, the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” blared in the visitors’ clubhouse.
“When you hear the music in the clubhouse,” Gyorko said, “it’s a good thing.”
NOTES: Jason Marquis pitches for the Padres on Friday in their series opener at Colorado, which starts Jeff Francis. … Jeremy Hefner starts for the Mets on Friday against Miami’s Alex Sanabia.
A sweep would have been sweet, but you can’t complain about a series win to start the season, right? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…
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