Down to their last out, Padres win on Odor's homer
WASHINGTON -- The Padres have taken their share of punches over the season's first 50 games. None quite like the seventh inning on Thursday, though. The Nationals pounded out seven straight hits to score five runs, leaving the Friars stunned.
Two innings later, the Padres stared down the prospect of losing a sixth straight series – and a third straight to a last-place team. They sat five games below .500 and were on the brink of their worst loss of the year. It’s only late May. But was it possible their season was teetering?
Enter Rougned Odor.
On a team full of superstars with the largest payroll in franchise history, it’s Odor -- a Minor League signing this spring -- who has become the Padres’ most reliable clutch hitter of late. Sure enough, Odor launched a go-ahead three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning, sending San Diego to a remarkable 8-6 victory at Nationals Park.
“Somebody’s got to get it started,” Odor said afterward. “That guy is me. Now we go.”
The Padres can only hope this was the win that gets their season headed in the right direction.
“Yeah, it wasn’t the greatest game,” said Jake Cronenworth, whose leadoff single sparked the game-winning rally. “But what we did in the ninth inning, to come back, string a bunch of quality at-bats together -- it’s something we just need to grab onto.”
Cronenworth started the ninth with a ferocious eight-pitch battle against Nats closer Hunter Harvey. He fouled off three straight two-strike offerings -- one of which was such a defensive swing, he nearly took out Juan Soto in the on-deck circle.
After Cronenworth’s single, Soto followed suit. Soto walked in each of his first four plate appearances, but when Harvey hung a splitter, Soto ripped it to right. In his second trip to D.C. since last summer’s trade, Soto finished the week having reached base in 11 of 14 plate appearances – including seven times via walk. But don’t let his patience fool you.
“I tell myself: ‘Aggressive all the time,” Soto said. “I take walks. But at the end of the day, I take walks because those pitches are balls. I'm not taking walks because I want to. I want to swing the bat.”
Soto’s single put men on first and second with nobody out, when the Padres continued their recent trend – heck, at this point, it’s no longer merely a trend – of failing to convert with runners in scoring position. Xander Bogaerts and Matt Carpenter struck out, dropping the team to .182 in RISP situations this season.
Up stepped Odor, given increased playing time recently in Manny Machado’s absence. Odor got a 99 mph fastball on the inner half, turned on it and deposited it in the right-field bullpen. In their past 11 games, the Padres have gotten just three hits with men in scoring position that have plated multiple runs. Odor has all three.
“He’s a winner,” Soto said.
“You feel good when he’s at the plate right now,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s not afraid of any situation.”
The Padres, of course, still have plenty of question marks to address. They haven’t solved their RISP woes, finishing Thursday’s game 3-for-16 in such situations. Their bullpen, which had been dominant lately, unraveled in the seventh.
But it’s better to face those question marks after a victory -- perhaps their most enthralling victory of their season.
“That’s what good teams do,” Soto said. “We just keep battling. Even when we’re struggling, we’ve got to go out there and keep fighting.”
The Padres led 5-1 in the seventh when things started to spiral. Tim Hill and Nick Martinez combined to allow seven consecutive hits to start the seventh, though Martinez managed to stop the bleeding. The inning ended when catcher Brett Sullivan made an incredible leaping tag to get Alex Call’s spike after a ball in the dirt had gotten away. The deficit remained one.
Of course, every Padres deficit has felt massive lately, no matter the number. The Padres hadn’t overcome a deficit to win a game since May 5. They stranded Brandon Dixon after his leadoff double in the eighth. They appeared to be on the verge of stranding two more in the ninth.
But Odor -- now with a slash line of .409/.480/.818 since the day after Machado’s injury -- has been staunch in his belief that things would change. He homered in Wednesday’s loss and later said it would only take “one game” to spark that change.
A day later he brought that up.
“I said it,” Odor said. “It takes one game to start going. Let’s see tomorrow.”