Not since Gwynn

Not since Tony Gwynn, the heart and soul of the San Diego Padres, has one player meant so much to the franchise as Mark Loretta does today. The only surprise is Gary Sheffield may be clumped in with the elite group

Padres manager Bruce Bochy leaned back in his chair early Saturday evening (July 17) and tried to assess what second baseman Mark Loretta meant to the Padres.

"The ball Mark is playing right now is inspiring," said Bochy. "He is so underrated ... everywhere. As a hitter and in the field. Defensively, his range is better than everyone thinks, and he's got such great anticipation of what is going to happen."

And Bochy isn't alone in his assessment.

Third base coach Rob Picciolo was with the Padres during much of Tony Gwynn's run and during Gary Sheffield's outstanding 1992 season.

"I can remember when Gwynn and Sheffield in 1992 did something spectacular almost every game," said Picciolo. "Mark is getting to be the same kind of player."

Especially when he visits Houston's Minute Maid Park, which Loretta did twice last week -- first as a first-time participant in the All-Star Game and then as the Padres opened the second half with three games in Houston against the Astros.

Loretta singled in his first All-Star Game at-bat, dropping a single to right center off Toronto's Ted Lilly.

Then in the first two games after the break, Loretta went 2-for-4 with three RBI, leading the Padres to back-to-back victories.

On Friday (July 16), Loretta hit a bases-loaded double off Andy Pettitte. The next night, he had a run-scoring double and two-run homer off Roy Oswalt.

For the week in Houston, Loretta was 5-for-14 with a homer, two doubles and six RBI. Including the All-Star Game, Loretta is 38-for-101 at Minute Maid Park with three homers and 22 RBI.

"I do like hitting at this park," said Loretta. "I really see the ball well here. It's got a great background. And I just like the feel of the ballpark. It's a great place."

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