Circle it! Padres slice magic number to 6

Machado a presence in the box, on defense and at the whiteboard

September 26th, 2022

DENVER -- On Saturday night -- after he finished his media responsibilities and before he left for the team bus -- Padres third baseman  grabbed a blue dry-erase marker and drew a massive “8” on the whiteboard at the exit to Coors Field’s visitors’ clubhouse. Then he circled it. For full effect.

In case you were wondering, yes, the Padres are keenly aware of where things stand in the National League Wild Card race. Their magic number to clinch a spot in the postseason was eight entering play Sunday.

And, sure enough, when the clubhouse doors opened Sunday evening in Denver, that whiteboard had a new number on it: 6.

The Padres appear to have put their Coors Field demons fully behind them. They throttled the Rockies, 13-6, on Sunday afternoon in Colorado. Meanwhile, the Brewers dropped their series finale in Cincinnati, and the Phillies lost in extras against Atlanta.

The Padres now hold a 1 1/2-game lead on Philadelphia for the second Wild Card spot. More important, they moved three games up on Milwaukee in the race for the final playoff spot -- and they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, too. Any combination of Padres wins and Brewers losses totaling six would see the Padres reach the playoffs for the first time in a full season since 2006.

“We’re all scoreboard watching,” Machado said. “That’s part of the beauty of it. That’s the excitement of it coming down to the end.”

Machado is doing his best to make certain that number keeps dwindling. He went 2-for-5 with three RBIs and made an outrageous play at third base, in which he ranged to his right and threw a strike across the diamond from foul territory. A few innings later, Machado’s three-run eighth-inning blast put the game out of reach.

It was Machado’s 31st homer of the season, bringing him to the 100-RBI mark for the second year in a row, as he continues to build a strong case for National League MVP.

“That’s hard to do on so many different levels,” manager Bob Melvin said. “The durability part, the consistency. The real big-time players end up knocking in 100 runs.”

On Tuesday night, the Padres return to Petco Park for a season-ending nine-game homestand -- three games apiece against the Dodgers, White Sox and Giants. Their path to the postseason has never been clearer.

“I hope it’ll be electric,” Machado said. “These last nine games at home, hopefully, it’s a playoff atmosphere, getting ready for that next step that we’re going to take.”

Most of the Padres, like Machado, will readily admit to scoreboard watching. Sure, they’ve held full control of their own destiny throughout the Wild Card race. But they’re human. They want to know what’s going on elsewhere.

Melvin, on the other hand, does not want to know. When he’s managing a game, he does his best to avoid even glancing at the scoreboard. At Coors Field, however, the out-of-town scoreboard is embedded in the right-field wall. As it just so happens, the eyeline for a manager on the top step of the visitors' dugout goes directly toward right field.

“It’s right over the pitcher’s head,” Melvin said. “Here, you cannot help it. I told myself at one point, with the Milwaukee game: ‘Do not look at the scoreboard one more time.’ Two pitches later, I’m looking at the scoreboard. There’s nowhere to go.”

The Padres jumped to an early 7-1 lead on Sunday afternoon, around the same time Spencer Steer altered that scoreboard with a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning in Cincinnati. The Padres, meanwhile, recorded a natural team cycle during their four-run third inning -- with singling and doubling before ’s two-run triple and ’ two-run homer.

The Rockies chipped away at that lead, scoring five runs on eight hits against starter , who lasted four-plus innings. But the Padres’ bullpen was excellent from there. Machado’s three-run homer broke the game open in the eighth, and Drury followed with a solo shot, leaving no doubt.

At long last, the Padres had vanquished Coors Field. They entered the weekend having won just once in their last 14 games here. Then, they took two of three, putting up a combined 22 runs in those last two games.

“It’s crunch time,” Drury said. “Every game from here on out’s [like] a must-win. These last two games were huge.”

The next nine will be no different.

“To have kind of the finish line in sight and know that we finish the regular season at home, my guess is it’s going to be pretty exciting,” Melvin said.