Padres slay Coors Field demons to climb in WC race

September 25th, 2022

DENVER -- Fitting, perhaps, that the Padres’ final road trip of the 2022 regular season offered this test. Here, of all places. A three-game series against the last-place Rockies at Coors Field -- and all of the baggage that comes along with a Padres trip to Colorado.

Those trips have not been kind to San Diego. Including a series-opening walk-off loss on Friday night, the Padres had dropped 14 of 15 at Coors Field. But with a Wild Card race to be won, they insisted there would be no time to dwell on past results. They needed to change that narrative, whatever it took.

“We’re at the point in the season where a win’s a win, no matter where it’s at,” said second baseman . “Whatever struggles we’ve had here in the past, we just need to win.”

They did exactly that, trouncing the Rockies, 9-3, on Saturday night -- the type of complete and thorough performance the Padres desperately needed after consecutive losses had made things a bit too close for comfort in the National League playoff race.

pitched six innings of two-run ball, striking out eight. and Cronenworth both went 2-for-4 with a walk and multiple RBIs. Every Padres starter either recorded a hit or drove in a run.

With the win, the Padres moved back ahead of Philadelphia by half a game in the race for the second Wild Card spot, after the Phillies lost to Atlanta. But Milwaukee’s win in Cincinnati meant that the Padres’ gap over the Brewers for the final playoff spot still sits at just two games. San Diego’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot is eight.

“Just keep pushing,” Machado said. “One day at a time. Today was a good one, a great bounce-back from yesterday.”

For a game with stakes like this one, there was nobody the Padres would rather have on the mound than Darvish, whose remarkable consistency has defined his season. He has completed at least six innings in 22 consecutive starts.

“I think everybody feels good about it when he takes the mound,” manager Bob Melvin said. “... As far as consistency goes, through the course of the season, he’s been that guy. He’s the guy that you look to when you’re not playing great and/or not scoring runs, to go out there and give you a chance to win, hold the other team down. He’s done it all year.”

On Saturday, Darvish got a bit creative. He has struggled in the past at Coors Field, where his breaking pitches don’t always do what they’re supposed to. He countered that by throwing four-seam fastballs and cutters with 87% of his offerings, per Statcast.

Darvish surrendered a leadoff home run to Rockies third baseman Ryan McMahon, but settled in and did not allow another run until Yonathan Daza’s sacrifice fly in the fifth inning. A batter later,  made a brilliant, all-out diving catch to prevent an extra-base hit that might have tied the game.

“That was a big momentum change for us, because that’s a different game if it gets by him,” Melvin said.

Said Darvish: “That was huge. I thought that was going to be a triple, for sure.”

If Darvish, who matched his career high with his 16th win, has been the steadying presence the rotation has needed, Machado has been that and more for this starting lineup.

With two outs and a man on third base, he lined an RBI double into the left-field corner. Then he came around to score on Cronenworth's single. Machado appeared a bit hobbled after he crossed home plate, perhaps favoring the balky left ankle he has been playing through all season. It doesn't seem to be affecting him much anymore. Machado's MVP case is growing by the day.

Machado tacked on an RBI groundout in the fifth, then the Padres broke the game open in the seventh with six runs. Six cathartic runs, considering the way things have gone here.

“To put up a crooked number in this place, it makes you feel a little better,” Melvin said.

As the lead grew in the top of the seventh, it became clear that Darvish’s night was finished after six innings and 87 pitches. The bullpen could shoulder the rest. Darvish was off the hook, given a rare early breather.

It can’t hurt. He’ll have some important starts on his plate over the next few weeks.