Bookend HRs: Soto's first for SD, Manny's walk-off

Padres' big boppers offset Hader's struggles in the 9th

August 10th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- So they’d lost five straight? So they hadn’t scored in 26 innings? The Padres get to pencil Juan Soto and Manny Machado in the heart of their lineup every night. So, yeah, they figured they’d be just fine.

Sure enough, the two superstars delivered on Tuesday night. First, Soto put an emphatic end to that scoreless drought with a no-doubter for his first Padres home run in the fourth inning. Then, in dramatic fashion, Machado ended the losing streak with a walk-off three-run drive in the bottom of the ninth, capping a wild 7-4 victory over the Giants at Petco Park.

“Once we get going, and we get hot, it’s going to be a scary lineup,” Machado said. “A scary team.”

On paper, it already is. And that’s what made the Padres’ recent struggles so perplexing. Last week, they completed perhaps the most impactful Trade Deadline in baseball history. Then, their bats went ice cold. They dropped three straight to the rival Dodgers over the weekend and then were shut out by the Giants on Monday.

“There’s only one way to start a winning streak,” Soto said. “That’s winning the first one. It was really important for the team to get the energy back.”

Soto, by all accounts, is already a driver of that energy. His new teammates rave about his presence, and Machado offered the perfect anecdote from Tuesday night.

The Padres fell behind in the top of the first inning on LaMonte Wade Jr.’s solo home run. When Soto returned to the dugout, he was fired up.

“He started screaming at the dugout, like, ‘Let’s go, we got this,’ -- just trying to motivate the guys,” Machado said. “He set that tone from the get-go.”

Yep, the new guy seems to be fitting right in.

The Padres may have been scuffling offensively. But Soto certainly wasn’t. He’s reaching base at a nearly .500 clip since the trade and recently passed Ted Williams for the most walks by any player before his 24th birthday. 

But plate discipline is only half of the Juan Soto experience. His generational power makes up the other half. If you throw a 3-2 pitch outside the zone, Soto is more than happy to take his walk. But if you groove a fastball just above the belt? Soto doesn’t miss.

Alex Cobb learned that lesson the hard way. Soto launched a 395-foot drive deep into the right-field seats. Before it landed, the Padres’ newest superstar spiked his bat and turned to the home dugout, thumping his chest. Then, with the crowd whipped into a frenzy, Soto embarked on his first home-run trot in brown pinstripes – almost certainly the first of many.

“A moment like that, just to get the team going, it was really special for me,” Soto said.

Soto started another rally in the sixth, leading off the frame with a double and scoring on an RBI single from former Nationals teammate Josh Bell. The Padres carried a three-run lead into the ninth, when their new closer began to falter. 

Josh Hader simply couldn’t find the strike zone. He walked three Giants and plunked another, allowing three runs to score. It might’ve been worse, if not for a brilliant, full-extension diving catch by left fielder Jurickson Profar. Evan Longoria’s sacrifice fly tied the game, as Hader picked up his first blown save as a Padre.

“I have to catch that,” Profar said. “I have to give it all right there to try to save the game. It’s a do-or-die play.”

“A game-saver,” said manager Bob Melvin.

With the game still tied, Profar started the ninth-inning rally with a single. Soto followed by reaching on a catcher’s interference. (This guy just knows how to get on base, doesn’t he?)

That set the stage for Machado. Tyler Rogers -- whose twin brother, Taylor, was dealt from San Diego to Milwaukee in the Hader trade -- hung a 2-1 slider, and Machado squared it up. The moment it left his bat, the ballpark erupted.

“That,” Soto said, “was an amazing feeling.”

This was how the Padres drew it up. And soon enough, they’ll get to add Fernando Tatis Jr. to their collection of superstars. 

But aside from the obvious talent, Machado was quick to point out that, even at 23, Soto brings a wealth of experience as a World Series winner with the 2019 Nationals.

“I’m going to be excited to see what he brings down the road,” Machado said. “Especially being a champion -- that’s what we needed here, overall. I could feed off of that. I could learn off of that. I’ve been to a World Series. But he won it. It’s a little different.

“Just feeding off of that is going to be huge. I think he’s going to bring the best out of everyone in this clubhouse.”

He sure did on Tuesday night. The Padres hope there’s a lot more where that came from.