Blade stunner: Ball somehow stays fair on infield grass

Ninth-inning dribbler sets up walk-off double as Padres drop series in Detroit

July 27th, 2022

DETROIT -- The old adage about baseball being a game of inches never stung more than during the Padres’ series finale Wednesday afternoon against the Tigers. Three Padres players and an umpire gathered around third base at Comerica Park to stare at a ball that everyone was sure was headed foul … until it wasn’t.

San Diego was up by one run, and there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Could that have been the third? The Padres didn’t get much time to contemplate, as the next batter, Victor Reyes, stroked a two-run double to right field and the Tigers claimed the series with a 4-3 win.

“Again, we’re one pitch away,” manager Bob Melvin said. “… There's not a bunch you can think back and think that maybe you do it that much differently.”

Such has been the Padres’ luck of late, and no one is more frustrated than the guys on the field. But “almost but not quite” can’t last forever, right? Here are three reasons the tide will eventually turn for San Diego:

1. They’re plucky
On Tuesday, the Padres mustered just one single from the fourth inning through the ninth but hung on until breaking through with a three-run 10th.

San Diego couldn’t cobble much together early against the Tigers during the series finale either but managed to chip away at talented Tigers youngster Tarik Skubal long enough in the fourth inning to scrape across the first two runs of the game, on a Luke Voit sacrifice and a run-scoring single from Ha-Seong Kim.

That the Padres had managed to crack Skubal’s calm façade was evident between innings, when the TV broadcast picked up the 25-year-old chucking his hat, glove, a paper cup and a couple of water bottles in frustration in the dugout.

After Detroit came back to tie it in the sixth, the Padres responded by plating the go-ahead run on a Jurickson Profar single off of reliever Joe Jiménez in the seventh. They then carried that lead until the last out of the ninth, when Jonathan Schoop’s swinging bunt dribbled up the third-base line. Padres closer Taylor Rogers jogged next to it as third baseman Manny Machado bent over closer as if to will the ball foul.

Instead, it came to a rest on the edge of the infield grass, inches from the chalk line, a bit of bad luck standing between San Diego and a series win.

“It's hard to lose a game like that, when you're one pitch away,” Melvin said. “Regardless of what happened earlier, we had a 3-2 lead with one pitch to go and we just couldn't finish it off.”

Still, if they can continue to harness it, that fighting spirit will certainly serve the Padres well as they make a second-half push and look to take control of those same kinds of winnable scenarios.

2. The rotation is crisp
Boy, does normal rest look good on Yu Darvish. One game after Mike Clevinger held Detroit to two runs over seven innings, Darvish did the same, during his first start pitching on a five-day rotation since April.

Darvish fanned a season-high 11 in the finale to mark the 49th double-digit strikeout game of his career and second of the season. (He struck out 10 on July 2 against the Dodgers.) He walked just one against Detroit.

“I wasn't even conscious about going in on regular pace for us; I almost forgot about it,” Darvish said through a team interpreter. "So stamina-wise, I was good. And, you know, you get to pitch more games [this way], so it's more fun.”

3. Reinforcements are on the way
While the Padres are making the most of what they’ve got for now, this is also a good time of year to strengthen ranks. San Diego is expected to be aggressive as Tuesday’s Trade Deadline approaches, shopping for reinforcements in the bullpen, behind the plate and in the outfield.

The Padres are frequently mentioned in conversations with big names such as Nationals star Juan Soto -- they’re even hinted to be front-runners for this one -- and Cubs standout Willson Contreras. Big names or otherwise, the Padres are clearly willing to spend if the deal is right, so look for a lineup boost in the coming days.

Trade Deadline aside, Wil Myers’ return from the injured list is also imminent. Melvin said Myers could rejoin the roster as soon as Tuesday, and if he has left that early season hitting slump behind him, so much the better for the outfield situation.