Star struck: NL outfield voting leader Profar walks it off

June 25th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres won’t have their star right fielder for a while, and they won’t have their Opening Day starter for a while longer. And yet …

“The show goes on,” manager Mike Shildt said.

Did and the Padres ever put on a show. After surrendering three runs in the top of the 10th inning on Monday night, San Diego stormed back for four in the bottom half, with Profar’s two-run single to the right-center-field gap capping a dramatic 7-6 victory at Petco Park.

It marked the second time in franchise history that the Padres have come back from a deficit of at least three runs in extra innings -- and the first time since Walt Hriniak’s walk-off single on July 5, 1969, in their inaugural season.

“There’s no substitute for will and belief,” Shildt said after the game. “And this team has it.”

Earlier in the day, the Padres placed Fernando Tatis Jr. on the injured list with a stress reaction in the femur bone in his right leg. They subsequently announced that Yu Darvish would not make his scheduled return from a groin injury on Tuesday, as he’s now dealing with right elbow inflammation.

For a team already missing several key players, the news was unwelcome. But in the same light, the walk-off victory -- over a fellow National League Wild Card contender -- served as something of a statement.

“It was very important,” Profar said. “We still have a really good team. Obviously, [Tatis] makes us great. But we still have a lot of good players in here that play really good baseball and know how to win.”

The bat was in Profar’s hands in the 10th inning only because of a decision by Nationals manager Dave Martinez. The Padres had rallied for two runs, and Tyler Wade’s sacrifice bunt moved the tying and go-ahead runs into scoring position. With two outs, Luis Arraez was due up. First base was open.

Martinez had a near impossible decision to make. Arraez is the reigning NL batting champ, hitting .311 this season. Profar, however, is hitting .317 and is the All-Star voting leader for NL outfielders.

“It’s just pick your poison -- and either way, it’s poison, between Arraez and Pro,” Shildt said.

Profar didn’t see it that way.

“I felt disrespected,” he said.

The at-bat itself was a seven-pitch epic. Profar fell behind in the count, 0-2. Then Nationals reliever Hunter Harvey came high and tight with his third offering, knocking Profar down. The fourth brushed Profar back again, in on his hands. Profar fouled off the next two pitches, before Harvey’s 2-2 splitter caught a little too much plate.

“He was leaning on the plate a little bit,” Harvey said. “We tried to go in. I got ahead early. I got some close pitches, just couldn’t put him away. And then I kind of gave him a gift and hung him a splitter, and he was just able to put it where we weren’t.”

Profar yanked the pitch into the right-center-field gap, where it one-hopped the fence, plating two runs. Afterward, he was quick to cite Arraez’s intentional walk and Harvey’s high-and-tight fastball as events that fired him up for the moment.

Always an emotional player, this was Profar at his peak. He was mobbed by his teammates on the infield grass, while he shouted and gestured animatedly in the direction of the Nationals dugout. Amid the chaos, one thing Profar didn’t do was touch second base for his free double, given that the ball had bounced into the stands. He was credited instead with a single.

“I don’t care,” Profar said. “I care about those two that went home.”

Slugging percentage be damned.

“He said, ‘I don’t care, we won the game,’ and I love that,” said rookie center fielder Jackson Merrill.

Merrill was part of the furious rally to set the stage for Profar in the 10th. Enyel De Los Santos had coughed up three runs in the top of the inning, including two on Nick Senzel’s line-drive home run. The Padres offense, meanwhile, was mired in a brutal offensive stretch. At that moment, their automatic runner was their first baserunner since they had one out in the third.

But Donovan Solano shot a double off the wall to open the inning. Merrill followed with a two-run single. Ha-Seong Kim worked a walk, and Wade followed with his sacrifice. After pinch-hitter David Peralta popped out, the Nationals picked their poison. Profar made them pay.