Snell's 13-K no-hit bid extends Padres' dominant stretch

September 22nd, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Six and two-thirds innings into one of the most dominant starts of his career, Blake Snell took two steps off the pitching rubber and leapt high into the air, landing on the infield grass as he flailed his arms in dismay.

Working on a no-hit bid, Snell’s 108th pitch of the night was a 98 mph fastball six inches off the outside corner. Precisely where he wanted it. Except Albert Pujols -- the revered 42-year-old slugger whose signed jersey adorns a wall in Snell’s home -- flung his bat toward the baseball. Pujols somehow made contact and grounded the ball weakly to the right side. Second baseman Jake Cronenworth had vacated the position amid the shift.

And, cruelly, Snell’s bid at a no-hitter was over.

A few yards away, on the top step of the Padres’ dugout, manager Bob Melvin reacted differently.

“I don’t want to say relief,” Melvin said. “You want a guy to be able to get a no-hitter, but pitch-count wise, it just wasn’t going to be able to make it. … I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision, to tell you the truth.”

The Padres, of course, will take it. Every time. They’re at the point in the season where individual accolades mean very little. Two batters later, Snell would complete the seventh by retiring Paul DeJong with his career-high-tying 13th strikeout. From there, the bullpen clung to the lead it had been given.

And -- no-hitter or not -- the Padres came away with a crucial 1-0 victory to hold their position in the National League Wild Card race.

“It’s not about a milestone at this point in the year,” Melvin said. “It’s just about winning a baseball game.”

The Brewers and Phillies had both won earlier in the day, meaning the Padres maintained their lead of four games over Milwaukee and 1 1/2 over Philadelphia. With their season-high-tying fifth win in a row, their magic number to clinch a postseason berth is into single digits, down to nine.

San Diego plated the game’s only run in the bottom of the second on Austin Nola’s RBI single. That was enough for Snell, who finished having allowed just two hits and two walks, while throwing a season-high 117 pitches. He lowered his second-half ERA to 2.41.

“That’s got to be some of the best stuff in the league,” Nola said. “The arsenal -- the fastball, slider, curveball, changeup -- it’s elite stuff. It just disappears.”

It’s always elite stuff. But on Wednesday night, Snell took it to a different level. Facing Albert Pujols in the top of the second inning, he dialed up a 98.6 mph fastball -- the fastest pitch of his career, according to Statcast.

Two innings later, he hit 98.9 and 98.7. The left-field scoreboard, rounding up, lit up with “99” each time. Snell was so pumped about hitting 99 for the first time in his career that he didn’t notice he was working on a no-hitter until the sixth inning.

“I was really pumped about the 99,” Snell said. “Really pumped. So that was the highlight, whatever happened.”

Snell’s dominant outing was merely the latest from a thriving Padres rotation. During their five-game winning streak, Padres starters have allowed only one run -- charged to Snell in his start Friday night.

Since then, Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Mike Clevinger and Snell have pitched scoreless ball. It’s the first time the Padres have gotten four consecutive scoreless starts since Eric Show, Tim Lollar, Dave Dravecky and Mark Thurmond accomplished the feat in 1984.

“We just build off of each other,” Snell said. “We all see it. We all know how good we are, how capable we are to do it every night. That just kind of keeps us going and keeps us hungry and striving to be the best versions of ourselves.”

The rotation has been the driving force behind the Padres’ recent surge. But they’ve played crisp baseball in all facets. Their defense and baserunning has been outstanding. Their offense struggled a bit Wednesday, but it’s generally been solid. Juan Soto again reached base twice -- including his 500th career walk. (He’s the youngest player since at least 1901 to reach that milestone.)

Suddenly, the Padres are playing perhaps their best baseball of the season -- and they’ve picked the right time for it.

“That’s when it matters,” Soto said. “Whoever gets hot in September, October -- this is the right time. … At the end of the day, you want a consistent season. But you want to get really hot in September.”