NL heavyweights battle for 10 before SD rookie KO's Crew on walk-off

May 24th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- A diving play, a daring squeeze, a dramatic escape and an unsung hero. Yep, the Padres again found a way to win. They’re making a habit of it.

San Diego extended its winning streak to five games on Monday night at Petco Park with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Milwaukee in 10 innings. This time, rookie José Azocar provided the walk-off heroics, with a two-out RBI single in the 10th.

“We’re going to fight ‘til the very last out we have,” said Padres right-hander Nick Martinez. “We’re never out of it. I really believe that.”

Given their recent results – and particularly the events that unfolded on Monday night – who could argue? The Padres keep doing just enough to win games. They insist it’s a mindset.

“That’s been our team this year,” said manager Bob Melvin. “One of the factors in us winning some close games is: We don’t beat ourselves, and we put ourselves in pretty good position. Hopefully, you get up there enough times that someone comes through.”

That’s precisely the way things unfolded on Monday. When the game could’ve spiraled, the Padres kept themselves alive. When given a chance to win it, they capitalized. Here’s a look at four decisive moments from Monday’s victory -- the types of moments that are starting to define this Padres season.

1. Cronenworth’s gem
Martinez was teetering in the fourth inning, having loaded the bases with nobody out. The Padres already trailed, 2-0. But the right-hander retired two straight, then got Kolten Wong to bounce a sharp two-hopper up the middle.

Jake Cronenworth, who started the game at shortstop before later moving to second base, laid out and made a brilliant diving stop. Then he slid to one knee and fired a strike to first, ending the inning and keeping two runs off the board.

“Honestly, I was just trying to keep it in [the infield],” Cronenworth said.

Said Martinez: “Fires me up -- I love it. These guys, we’re so tight, I know these guys are going to lay it all out there for me.”

It has been a rough start to the season offensively for Cronenworth. But his glove remains steady as ever.

“He’s like a Swiss army knife,” Melvin said. “And a really good one. Wherever he plays -- whether it’s first, whether it’s second, whether it’s short -- he plays plus.”

2. Grisham’s squeeze
The Brewers, like the Padres, have been masters at run prevention. So, with his team trailing by one in the seventh, Melvin called for some small ball.

“I’m not the guy that’s the biggest proponent of bunting,” Melvin said. “But … if you can get a run there -- a lot of times when you bunt it’s because you want that one run.”

For the second time in three games, Trent Grisham executed a perfect safety squeeze, this time tying the game at 2 and keeping the Padres alive. (The irony of this one: Grisham, a former Brewer, credits Milwaukee’s Double-A hitting coach, Chuckie Caufield, for his proficiency at bunting.)

Like Cronenworth, Grisham is off to a slow start. Like Cronenworth, Grisham has found ways to contribute -- primarily with his glove in center, but also with his ability to bunt.

3. García’s escape
Again, the Padres found themselves on the brink in the 10th. Again, they found a way out. This time, right-hander Luis García put two men aboard, in addition to the automatic runner. But he made a nice play on an Andrew McCutchen comebacker and started an impressive 1-2-3 double play, before escaping the jam one batter later.

“It’s huge for him,” Melvin said. “The last couple outings probably haven’t been his best. … That’s big for his confidence, because this is a guy we’re going to keep running out there late in games.”

Martinez in the fourth. García in the 10th. Maybe it’s no coincidence Padres pitchers keep finding a way.

“You feel that,” Melvin said. “Because everybody’s been fighting so hard this year, and you get to a time where your back’s against the wall, and you just slow it down, try to make one pitch.”

4. Azocar wins it
On a different night, Melvin later admitted, he might’ve called for a pinch-hitter. Azocar had only entered to pinch-run in the seventh. But Melvin liked what he saw during Azocar’s at-bat in the ninth. So he gave him another turn with two outs and the bases loaded in the 10th.

“He gave me the opportunity to get in the box and do my thing,” Azocar said. “That’s what happened. When you have a manager like that, they believe in you 100%. They give you opportunity. … When you get the opportunity, you need to do it.”

Azocar left no doubt. Brewers reliever Miguel Sánchez threw a slider on his hands. Azocar shot it into center field, plating the winning run -- just the latest Padre to do his part.