Two-homer game gives Soto career-best 35

September 27th, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO -- It’s autumn and is locked in. What else is new?

“I wish there was one month left,” Soto said Tuesday after he’d launched a pair of no-doubt home runs in the Padres' 4-0 victory over the Giants at Oracle Park. “That’s October.”

No, the Padres aren’t technically out of contention just yet. Soto’s two homers, and Seth Lugo’s 8 2/3 brilliant frames, kept them alive, while officially eliminating San Francisco.

But the Padres are hanging by a thread, needing to win out while five days' worth of results elsewhere also go their way. As such, Soto appears destined to miss out on the October stage he loves so much.

This hasn't been Soto's favorite season, not by a long shot. He started the year slowly, then grinded through those struggles. He dealt with the effects of a finger injury that bothered him when he swung -- and he played through it.

“It’s just been a roller coaster,” Soto said. “I started slow. Then I got hot. Then back slow, then hot, then slow -- it’s just baseball. That’s how it goes. You’ve got to just come every day, try to grind.”

Soto’s two home runs on Monday were his 34th and 35th of the season, setting a career high. His 17 multi-homer games are tied for third-most all-time before turning 25, behind only Eddie Mathews’ 19 and Hal Trosky’s 18.

“Guys like him -- and there are very few of them -- you know he’s going to be selective,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “You know he’s going to walk if you don’t throw it over the plate. And if you do throw it over the plate? That’s his 35th homer.”

Remarkable that Soto could feel so iffy about his season, while having done what he’s done: He’s hitting .276/.410/.524 with those 35 homers and 108 RBIs while leading the Majors with 128 walks.

On top of it all, Soto is poised to play a full 162-game season for the first time in his career. And, somehow, he’s gotten stronger as the year has worn on.

“It means that I've been doing a really good job of trying to maintain my body -- my workouts, my treatments and everything,” Soto said. “So I feel pretty good about it. I feel like I've been doing the right [things].”

If only he had another month ...

(A quick aside for those of you interested in the Padres' long-shot permutations: They need to win out, while the Cubs lose each of their remaining five games, while the Marlins lose exactly five of their last six and while the Reds win no more than one of their remaining four. San Diego can be eliminated as soon as Wednesday with a loss, a Cubs win or a Marlins doubleheader sweep. Really, “long shot” is an understatement.)

But back to Soto ...

“I feel really good,” he said. “I’m in the right spot. I’m in the right moment. I can hit the ball out everywhere on the field. So I think I’m right where I need to be.”

Soto used all fields on Tuesday, jumping on John Brebbia’s first-pitch offering in the first inning for a solo shot to straightaway center. After he’d walked in the third and singled in the fifth, Soto took Ryan Walker deep to the opposite field in the seventh -- no easy feat on a chilly night by the Bay.

Those two homers were more than enough to back Lugo, who put an exclamation point on his first season back in the rotation after five years spent mostly in the bullpen. He finished with a few bests of his own -- a career-high 8 2/3 frames on a career-high 123 pitches, to finish with a career-high 146 1/3 innings.

“Physically I feel good, and mentally, I feel confident, so it’s a good place to be, headed into whatever’s next,” Lugo said.

Lugo, too, was quick to note that he wished “next” involved a postseason start. His future with the Padres remains uncertain. Lugo will likely decline his $7.5 million player option for 2024, though that doesn’t mean he’s not open to a reunion with the Padres. After they gave him a chance to return to a starting role, Lugo posted a 3.57 ERA in 26 starts.

“I enjoyed the season,” Lugo said. “I don’t enjoy where we’re at in the standings. But this has been a great experience with the clubhouse, with the coaching staff, with the organization.”

Even if it appears destined to end about a month sooner than Lugo and Soto ever hoped it would.