'Very weird' 2nd inning doesn't derail gutty Snell

October 21st, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Just like they have all year, the Padres have leaned on their starting pitching during the postseason. Despite the Game 1 loss, Yu Darvish gave them a chance to win.

Staring down a potential 2-0 series deficit on Wednesday, the Padres turned to left-hander to help them send the National League Championship Series back to Philadelphia tied one game apiece.

Snell’s stat line won’t reflect it, but he played a key role on Wednesday. The 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner worked through shaky defense in the second inning to limit the damage to four runs over five innings in an 8-5 win over the Phillies in Game 2 of the NLCS at Petco Park.

“He battled, man,” said Padres catcher Austin Nola. “He’s done that lately, the past couple months. He’s been able to come back after a tough inning and come back and attack. Because we all know that stuff is electric.”

After a six-pitch first inning, Snell ran into trouble in the second, though most of it can be chalked up to bad luck.

Snell gave up a leadoff single to Bryce Harper on a 3-2 curveball. Harper worked a good at-bat, but didn’t barrel the ball against Snell, producing just a 71.9 mph exit velocity. The ball ultimately found the outfield grass. Nick Castellanos followed with another bloop single, this one with a 60.9 mph exit velocity, off Snell. Castellanos’ single had a .260 expected batting average.

The left-hander then left a curveball over the middle of the plate to Alec Bohm, who singled in the first run of the game. Though a mistake by Snell, it was the third consecutive hit off him that didn’t register as a hard-hit ball, which are batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher.

“Just tough luck,” Snell said. “They put the ball in play. But obviously very frustrating because I’m making really good pitches, and yeah, they were just getting hits. Just a weird inning. Very weird.”

Following a strikeout of Jean Segura, the Padres’ defense started to show cracks. Matt Vierling hit a towering fly ball to right field. With the 1:35 PT start time, the sun was bright at Petco Park, making it difficult for Juan Soto to track the ball. Soto lost the ball -- which had a 99 percent catch probability, per Statcast -- and it bounced in for a double.

On the ensuing at-bat, Jurickson Profar had a chance to make a play in left field but stopped short, allowing Edmundo Sosa to single in the third run of the game. The play had a 95 percent catch probability. A Kyle Schwarber groundout, which could’ve been a double play had Brandon Drury not bobbled it, pushed the Phillies’ lead to 4-0.

Snell needed 37 pitches to navigate through the frame.

Of the five hits Snell allowed in the second, only one (Vierling’s) had an exit velocity of 95 mph. The Phillies averaged an 82.1 mph exit velocity off Snell on Wednesday, his lowest mark of the ‘22 season. He generally kept Philadelphia’s lineup off balance, recording 14 swings and misses.

“That was not our cleanest inning in the world, and it seemed like everything that was hit was soft served on him,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “That can be really frustrating, and at times it feels like it’s never going to end. But you make good pitches, that’s all you can do.”

Instead of letting the inning spiral into the rest of his outing, Snell and Nola had a quick chat in the dugout. Snell understood the magnitude of the game. He knew the Padres’ chances at reaching the World Series would significantly diminish if he didn’t keep his team within striking distance.

Snell responded by going to more breaking balls the second time through the order, retiring 10 of the last 11 batters he faced, five via strikeout. Most importantly, Snell got through five innings, which bought time for the Padres’ offense, which erupted with a five-run fifth inning.

“My whole goal is to try to beat [Aaron] Nola,” Snell said. “I knew it was going to be tough because I know how good he is, but your goal is to always try to outlast their starter, and if you do that, usually you set your team up for a chance to win. … I like to put that in my head and try to go after it and give us a shot to win.”

With Harper set to lead off the sixth, Melvin said he considered sending Snell back out for an extra inning. The left-hander was at 89 pitches. But he opted against it considering Snell was sitting in the dugout for 39 minutes while the Padres’ offense went to work.

Melvin instead turned to Nick Martinez for two innings and Robert Suarez and Josh Hader in the eighth and ninth, respectively, to shut things down. It’s the script the Padres have followed in the postseason. It was made possible by Snell’s gutsy outing.

“There are certain games that frustrate you,” Melvin said. “But he pitched great.”