By John Philip Wyllie
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Oliver Perez and catcher Benito Santiago returned to where their MLB careers began last weekend. And for both players, San Diego will forever remain special. Although their pairing did not result in the victory the Pirates were seeking Saturday night, they did at least receive a warm reception from San Diego’s fans.
Both players had short but memorable stints in San Diego. Perez broke into the league in 2002 and won four games as a rookie. As a promising youngster with Mexican ties playing in a largely Hispanic market, Perez became an instant fan favorite. His second year produced four additional victories, but his E.R.A climbed to 5.38. After a series of poor outings Perez found himself back in the minors with Portland. He was later traded to Pittsburgh as part of the Brian Giles deal.
Things started off well enough for Perez last Saturday. His Pirates held a 3-2 lead heading into the fifth inning, but when Phil Nevin clouted a 403-foot three-run home run over the center field wall, the Padres jumped into the lead and never looked back. San Diego eventually extended its lead to 11-3 feasting off of the Pirates weak bullpen. By then of course, Perez was long gone.
Hailing from Culiacan, Perez was naturally of interest to the Mexican press. He fielded questions in both Spanish and English following the game.
“I was wild (tonight), so I will have to see what happened and be right for the next game,” Perez said. “Maybe I was thinking too much. I have to forget everything and try to work (toward winning) the next game. There are no excuses now. I always try to do my best, but sometimes you are just not in the spot where you want to be. I need to work harder on finding my location.”
Perez downplayed any special significance in losing to his former teammates.
“This is the third time that I have faced (the Padres since being traded) and (games) like this one are going to happen in baseball. They have a good team and good hitters. They won today. Tomorrow we will have to be ready.” The Pirates did in fact defeat the Padres the following day gaining a 2-2 split in the four-game series.