After foul ball to knee, Profar makes incredible game-saving play

April 24th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Bob Melvin could’ve removed Jurickson Profar in the top of the eighth inning Saturday, with the Padres leading the Dodgers by two runs and Profar a candidate for a defensive replacement in left field.

Melvin, the Padres’ skipper, could’ve taken Profar out in the bottom of the eighth inning after Profar fouled a ball square off his knee and fell to the ground in agony. It was then that Melvin hopped from the top step of his dugout to check on his left fielder. Profar had a few words for the manager.

“I told him, ‘I’m not coming out,’” Profar said. “And he trusted me. That goes a long way.

Probably a good thing, too. Profar delivered the game’s decisive defensive play, a brilliant outfield assist in the top of the 10th inning, before the Padres walked off the Dodgers in the bottom half for a 3-2 victory.

Dodgers second baseman Gavin Lux opened the frame with a fly ball that Profar tracked down near the warning track. On second base, Chris Taylor decided he’d test Profar’s arm -- and why not, considering the way Profar had hobbled out to left field between innings on a balky right knee?

But Profar delivered a strike to third baseman Manny Machado -- his third outfield assist in as many games. That set the stage for a station-to-station bottom half of the 10th, in which Trent Grisham bunted the Padres’ automatic runner to third base and Austin Nola knocked him in with a sacrifice fly.

“I feel like last year we lost a lot of those games -- games we feel like we should win that we ended up losing,” Profar said.

Especially against the Dodgers. Last August, the Padres lost a brutal 16-inning affair at Petco Park, in which they didn’t score a run in any of their first four extra innings, despite the presence of an automatic runner on second base.

That loss was the second of nine straight losses to the rival Dodgers to end the 2021 season, and the streak grew to 10 with another defeat on Friday -- though Jake Cronenworth had a bone to pick with that notion.

“Stemming back from last year?” he asked. “Last year’s last year. This year’s this year. We’re 1-1 against them."

Cronenworth, mired in a seven-game hitless drought, broke out in a big way on Saturday night. He homered, walked and went 2-for-3 as the Padres raced out to a 2-0 lead with Yu Darvish on the mound.

Darvish was outstanding, pitching six innings of one-hit ball, striking out seven, even though it took a whopping 51 pitches to get through the first two.

“Making him work early in the game -- that’s what they try to do, especially with good starters like that,” Melvin said. “After the first couple innings, once he got going in the third and started throwing strikes, I think he found a really good arm slot for him and really wasn’t bothered by those first couple innings."

Darvish exited with the Padres leading by two runs, and Melvin had his first decision to make regarding Profar. Early in the season, he’d used José Azocar as a defensive replacement in left field, with Grisham slotting into center. But Profar has been so solid defensively, Melvin said, that he’d earned the right to stay in games when the Padres hold a late lead.

“His defense has been so good recently … to the point where you feel good about keeping him in the game because his bat might show up later,” Melvin said. “And he’s been working so hard, making those types of plays. Then you have some matchups and moves later on in the game."

In the immediate aftermath, the move backfired. Trea Turner hit a liner over Profar’s head, which was ruled a double, though Profar took a somewhat circuitous route on the play. Then, after Profar had fouled the ball off his knee, he struck out, to end the bottom half of the inning.

But Melvin’s faith in Profar paid dividends two innings later. Plus, as Melvin noted, by keeping Profar in the game, he had the ability to pinch-hit with Grisham in the bottom half of the 10th. Grisham laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. That brought Nola to the plate.

“Get something you can hit in the air,” Nola said. “We practice that all the time. You put time into situational hitting. Right there, it was everything we practiced: Get the guy over, and then I’ll get a pitch up in the zone to get up in the air.”

It was flawless situational baseball for a team that -- without superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. -- is struggling offensively.

“We have to do those things right now,” Melvin said. “Until we start hitting on all cylinders and swinging the bats throughout the entire lineup, those are the types of things we have to do in contributing to wins like this. Good pitching, good defense, manufacture a couple runs."