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SD@MIA: Amarista hits a three-run homer on birthday

MIAMI -- In the hours before Sunday's game, a handful of Padres players tried to convince manager Bud Black that utilityman Alexi Amarista needed to be in the starting lineup.

It was, after all, Amarista's 25th birthday.

"Some guys were giving me a hard time, how you always play a guy on his birthday," Black said. "I guess he showed me."

For a team desperate for offense, Amarista's pinch-hit, three-run home run wasn't just the critical swing in the Padres' 4-2 win over the Marlins in front of a crowd of 22,496 at Marlins Park, but it collectively lifted the spirits of a team in dire need of having something good happen to them.

"This was one of my best birthdays ever," said Amarista, with first-base coach Jose Valentin acting as his interpreter.

Amarista's big swing came at the end of a nine-pitch at-bat against Marlins pitcher Nathan Eovaldi (1-1), who was cruising up to that point. Amarista fouled off six pitches during the at-bat.

"He fell behind and extended the at-bat, got a mistake and didn't miss it," said Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier. "Alexi ... is a little sneaky strong."

Eovaldi allowed three runs on six hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings. He might have been starting to tire in that final inning, as he allowed consecutive singles with one out to Will Venable and Tommy Medica.

The pitch that really got away from Eovaldi wasn't so much the home run pitch, but the one before it.

"It was a 1-2 count, I threw that curveball," Eovaldi said. "I was hoping that would be the one pitch I'd really get him on. He took it for a ball. It was up in the zone. I came back with a slider in. He pulled it down the line, foul. He put together good at-bats. He got that one slider down and in and took it deep."

Amarista pinch-hit for Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy (1-1), who was called back from the on-deck circle. Kennedy threw 96 pitches over six innings and likely could have gone back out to at least start the seventh inning.

"I'll take that every single time," Kennedy said when asked about Amarista hitting for him.

Kennedy, using a fastball-curveball combination, got six groundouts and allowed one run. He had one walk and struck out five. The curveball, Black said, was the best he's seen since the team obtained Kennedy at the non-waiver Trade Deadline a year ago from Arizona.

"It was the most I've thrown it for strikes," Kennedy said. "And I was able to get it down, too."

The Marlins (5-2) got a run back in the bottom of the inning against reliever Alex Torres, but Yonder Alonso got a sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth inning off lefty Dan Jennings to give the Padres (2-4) some much-needed breathing room.

"He drove the ball into left-center. ... We saw that a couple of years ago when he had 39 doubles," Black said. "At times, Yonder can get a little pull-happy. But he was able to stay on the slider. It was good situational hitting by Yonder to get the run in."

From there, the bullpen trio of Dale Thayer, Joaquin Benoit and closer Huston Street -- pitching for the first time since Opening Day -- combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings. It was Street's second save.

The Padres had gone 18 2/3 innings in this series without a run before Amarista's home run. The bats still aren't producing the way Black and the Padres would like or expect. But one swing saved their Sunday and kept them from a series sweep.

It might have also helped preserve their sanity.

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