Forget weathering, Padres become the storm with 11-run statement game

Amid flurry of injuries, San Diego separating itself in NL Wild Card picture

June 30th, 2024

BOSTON -- Because of some quirks from a bygone era of scheduling, the Padres arrived in Boston this weekend with nearly 11 years separating them from their most recent appearance at Fenway Park. It didn’t take them long to get acquainted with the place. In two games, they’ve already done a decade’s worth of mashing.

San Diego obliterated the Red Sox, 11-1, on Saturday afternoon, and has now scored 20 runs in the first two games of the series. homered twice. Rookie Jackson Merrill went deep for the second time in as many games. Even Brett Sullivan, the team’s light-hitting No. 3 catcher, yanked one around Pesky’s Pole in right for his first of the season.

“Last week or so, we’ve turned it up a notch,” Machado said. “It’s been fun to be a part of.”

Indeed, the Padres have unequivocally played their best baseball of the year over the past 10 days. This game might’ve been their most emphatic statement to date. Boston right-hander Tanner Houck entered his start with a 2.18 ERA. The suddenly red-hot San Diego offense was undeterred. The Padres scored one in the second, two in the third, one in the fourth and six in the fifth -- with eight of those runs charged to Houck.

San Diego has now won nine of 10 games at a time when the National League playoff picture seems to be coming into focus. The Padres currently occupy the second NL Wild Card spot, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals. It’s still tight. But there’s finally a small measure of separation from the chasing pack.

“We’re just looking for continual improvement,” said Padres manager Mike Shildt. “You get continual improvement, then you’ll get all areas firing together.”

The Padres could’ve been forgiven for merely doing their best to stay afloat through the All-Star break. Lately, they’ve been hit hard by injury. They’re still without second baseman Xander Bogaerts and right-handers Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove. On Monday, Fernando Tatis Jr. joined them on the injured list with a stress reaction in the femur bone in his right leg.

The healthy Padres -- or at least the Padres who are healthy enough to play -- vowed to pick up their teammates. They’ve done precisely that, with contributions from expected and unexpected sources alike.

“The message has been clear since Spring Training,” Machado said. “We’ve got to back each other up. We’ve got to pick up each other’s slack. When one guy goes down, the next guy has to step up.”

Machado has been at the center of that push. Even as he plays through a right hip flexor strain, Machado has put aside his early struggles to elevate his game. He is batting .385 over the past two weeks, including two no-doubters on Saturday -- one over the Monster and one to straightaway center field.

Merrill, meanwhile, is on quite a power surge himself. With nine homers in June, he equaled Ryan Schimpf (July 2016) for the most by a Padres rookie in a calendar month. He’s got one game left -- and, clearly, Merrill likes hitting at Fenway Park. (A childhood Red Sox fan, Merrill called his homer on Friday night “probably the dopest moment of my baseball career.”)

Then, there’s Sullivan, whose homer on Saturday is probably most emblematic of the Padres’ next-man-up approach. Starter Luis Campusano landed on the injured list with a left thumb bruise last week. Backup Kyle Higashioka has continued to rake in his place, with eight homers of his own this month.

But Higashioka got the day off Saturday, before he backstops knuckleballer Matt Waldron on Sunday afternoon. In his place, up stepped Sullivan -- who made sure Higashioka touched his bats before the game, then called Higashioka and his .854 June slugging percentage, “Barry Bonds.”

Evidently, it rubbed off. The Padres’ catchers stayed hot. Sullivan laced a low line drive that carried into the second row inside Pesky’s Pole.

“That was pretty freakin’ cool,” Sullivan said. “Especially to just help out, keep this train moving. The boys have been playing absolutely amazing. To get Higgy the day off … I just tried to do what he was doing.”

The contributions didn’t end there. Michael King -- a Rhode Island native who attended Boston College -- pitched six innings of one-run ball with an estimated 45 friends and family members in attendance. Luis Arraez reached base four times. Ha-Seong Kim reached three times.

The Padres, it seems, haven’t merely weathered the injury storm. They’re thriving amidst it.