SAN DIEGO — Down but not out, the Padres delivered a statement on Saturday night, the type of out-of-nowhere rally they think could change the shape of their season.
With his team trailing by two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Padres shortstop Jake Cronenworth launched a game-tying blast into the right-center-field beach area at Petco Park. An inning later, San Diego walked it off when Phillies reliever Connor Brogdon bounced a wild pitch, allowing Adam Frazier to score the winning run in a wild 4-3 San Diego victory in 10 innings.
Through all of their recent struggles, the Padres have insisted that one big swing would turn the tide. This one certainly qualifies.
“That situation is something you always think about, two outs bottom of the ninth, trying to tie the game or win the game,” Cronenworth said. “I’m just happy I hit it over the fence.”
It was a stunning turnaround, considering the way the rest of the night had gone — and, really, considering the way this entire month has gone for the slumping Padres. They had lost four straight and eight of nine, falling into a tie with Cincinnati for the second National League Wild Card spot.
Phillies starter Aaron Nola — brother of Padres catcher Austin Nola — carried a perfect game into the seventh inning. First baseman Brad Miller’s error and Manny Machado’s RBI single ended the perfecto and the no-no in quick succession. But Philadelphia took a two-run lead in the eighth when two separate Padres relievers plunked Phillies hitters with the bases loaded.
“Everything’s been tough as of late,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “Nothing has come easy. The way the guys just continued to battle … for us to come out on top and just continue to fight, I’m really proud of the group.”
Fernando Tatis Jr. worked a one-out walk in the ninth inning, allowing Cronenworth the chance to come to the plate in a tie game as the Padres’ last hope. He worked himself into a 3-1 count against Nola, and on the right-hander’s 117th pitch of the evening, Nola made his first glaring mistake.
Cronenworth made him pay, unleashing that sweet left-handed swing on a 92 mph two-seamer that tailed over the middle. He sent the ball soaring 410 feet, beyond the right-center-field fence, the deepest part of the ballpark. Phillies center fielder Travis Jankowksi went tumbling over the wall — a familiar one for the former Padre — but couldn’t come up with the baseball.
Usually reserved, Cronenworth erupted as he rounded the bases. The rest of Petco Park did, too.
“I knew I hit it really well,” Cronenworth said. “And I know it’s really hard to hit one out at the beach. I was just hoping Jankowski didn’t catch it, because he made an incredible effort.”
There was still work left to do, of course, and Mark Melancon did the heavy lifting. He had pitched a quick, scoreless top of the ninth inning, with Tingler simply looking to get his closer some work after he’d pitched just one inning in the past 10 days.
Suddenly, Melancon was called upon for a second frame on Saturday night — this one seriously high leverage. He stranded the Phillies’ automatic runner by striking out Andrew McCutchen, setting the stage for Frazier to score the game-winning run.
“To be on the winning side tonight, it can definitely springboard something,” Tingler said.
Now, for the tricky part: Making it count.
The Padres endured a similar roller coaster in June, when they returned home from an abysmal stretch, capped by a three-game sweep in Colorado. That night, Victor Caratini’s walk-off home run beat the Reds and sparked a four-game sweep of Cincinnati and a three-game sweep of the Dodgers.
The Padres could desperately use a run like that right about now. Having led the Reds by 6 1/2 games in the Wild Card race less than a month ago, they’ve seen that lead evaporate. Their schedule only gets tougher from here. The Padres needed a spark, and maybe this was it.
Think of it this way: There’s a world in which Cronenworth’s game-tying home run is a remember-where-you-were moment, one of the biggest home runs in Padres history, a springboard to their 2021 postseason run. Of course, the possibility also exists that Cronenworth’s blast becomes a mere footnote in San Diego’s continued second-half fade.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Tingler said. “But, yeah, it can definitely jump-start us. Now we’ve got to get some rest tonight and get back and be ready to go tomorrow.”