Unfortunate bounce, missed chances sum up Padres' season

September 5th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- Trailing by two runs, in the midst of their attempt to tie the largest comeback win in the Majors this year, the Padres executed a flawless double steal with one out in the eighth inning Monday evening. Fernando Tatis Jr. took third. Juan Soto took second. And J.T. Realmuto’s throw skipped over the glove of third baseman Edmundo Sosa.

Tatis, in his haste to make a play, jumped up from his slide and tried to locate the baseball. It was, bizarrely, only a few feet from him. The ball struck the shoulder of third-base umpire Brian O’Nora, and it remained in the infield.

All season, the Padres have contended that the breaks simply haven’t gone their way. This was prime evidence. But if that much is true, then this much was also very true after Monday’s 9-7 loss to the Phillies at Petco Park:

“At times unlucky,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “But at times, we’ve made our own luck as well.”

Indeed, the Phillies' bullpen remained on the ropes. The Padres had men in scoring position for Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts, their two prized long-term commitments from this past offseason, due up with a chance to help keep the team’s fading playoff hopes alive.

Machado struck out. Bogaerts bounced to first. The Padres put two men aboard again in the ninth, but they came away with nothing to show for it. When all was said and done, they’d rallied from an early seven-run deficit to make it close. Then couldn’t put the finishing touches on the comeback, an all-too-familiar story.

“We’ve got to capitalize on those situations,” Machado said. “And we don’t. But it’s just about continuing to go out and battle. This team has shown day in, day out that we do that. Today was a good attest to that.”

Hard to argue with Machado’s sentiment. San Diego fell into a huge early deficit after another poor start from Rich Hill, his shortest in about four years. Hill allowed six runs and didn’t make it out of the second inning.

The Padres were instantly up against it in their quest to win four straight games for the first time all season. They also haven’t come back from a deficit of more than three runs to win outside of the Mexico City altitude this season. And yet, they scraped and clawed their way to a thrilling finish.

“A lot of fight,” said Melvin. “But at this point in time, there’s really not any moral victories.”

At a different point in the calendar, the Padres could perhaps take solace in the fight and resilience they showed on Monday. But for a team that still talks about making a postseason push, fight and resilience alone aren’t worth much when you’re trying to make up 6 1/2 games with just 23 to play.

“From here to the end of the season, it’s do or die,” Machado said. “... It’s tough times, a tough year. But we’ve just got to continue battling.”

Battling, of course, can only take them so far. Especially with two of their best starting pitchers, Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish, on the injured list. Those injuries forced Hill back into the rotation, after an August demotion to the bullpen. It’s fair to wonder if he’s headed back there soon.

Melvin wouldn’t discuss the possibility so soon after the game. But Hill now owns a 10.71 ERA in six outings (five starts) since he was traded to the Padres. If they truly envision making a late run, they can’t afford games like this one. 

“Nothing’s gone well here,” Hill said. “It’s been terrible, and nobody’s more disappointed than me. Coming here and wanting to be a contributory factor and not being able to contribute in any manner whatsoever -- it’s been pretty pathetic actually.”

The Padres did their best to get Hill off the hook. They clawed within a couple runs -- then found the bounces going against them again. Had Realmuto’s throw missed O’Nora, Tatis almost certainly scores from third. Soto might even score from second.

“Tie game, would’ve been a tie game,” Tatis said. 

“Yes, 100 percent,” Soto said. “I slid, and I got up and I saw the ball. Definitely, I had [a good] look. … 100 percent, I would [have scored].”

That much is up for some debate. Phillies shortstop Trea Turner was on his way to back up the throw. Regardless, the Padres had two men in scoring position with the middle of their order due up.

What happened next -- really, the entire bottom of the eighth inning -- just about summed up their season.