Slow starts have doomed the San Diego Padres to nonrelevance the last several years, and they're not exactly off to a blazing start in 2014 at 2-4.
So Alexi Amarista's pinch-hit, three-run home run Sunday off fireballer Nathan Eovaldi to lift the Padres over the Marlins was especially timely. It snapped a four-game losing streak and avoided a sweep by the Marlins.
More importantly, it was the Padres' first clutch hit in a week as the team struggles to find some offense. Sunday was the 25th birthday for Amarista, the Padres' super-sub, who didn't start.
"Some guys were giving me a hard time. You always play a guy on his birthday," manager Bud Black said with a grin after the game. "We didn't start him, but he ... showed me, I guess."
Through an interpreter, Amarista told the media, "Instead of getting a gift from my teammates, I gave a gift to the team. To go through the series and get a 'W' the way we did and do it for my birthday, I can't feel better than that."
The 4-2 victory in Miami made a winner of starting pitcher Ian Kennedy (1-1), the first Padres starter to notch a win. The four-run outburst -- all scored in the seventh and eighth innings -- doubled the number of runs the Padres have averaged in the season's first week.
The euphoria can't mask how poorly the Padres have hit as they open a three-game interleague series Monday in Cleveland. The team is hitting .189 with three home runs and clearly misses the bat of slugger Carlos Quentin, on the disabled list with a bruised knee.
In six games the Padres have led for exactly four innings. They've trailed in all six games, putting pressure on a pitching staff that has had no margin for error. The team's top hitters, Chase Headley (.130 batting average), Jedd Gyorko (.095) and Will Venable (.190) are all struggling.
Rookie left-hander Robbie Erlin, taking the injured Josh Johnson's spot in the rotation, is scheduled to start Monday against the Indians. Cool, rainy weather is forecast in Cleveland.
But at least for one day, the Padres can bask in the warmth of Amarista's birthday bash.