SAN DIEGO -- Blake Snell -- at the moment, perhaps the sport's most unhittable pitcher -- spent most of his start on Tuesday night chasing history. He carried a perfect game into the seventh inning and struck out 11 Angels, becoming the first Padres left-hander to rack up 10 punchouts in three consecutive starts.
At this juncture of their season, the Padres simply can't afford to be wasteful of an effort like that.
And yet, Snell was afforded so little breathing room that Jo Adell’s seventh-inning single not only ended Snell’s no-hit bid -- it broke a scoreless tie and sent San Diego to a crushing 4-0 defeat in a playoff race that is growing tighter by the day.
Snell pitched seven innings of one-hit ball, but still came out on the losing end on Tuesday night at Petco Park. After six perfect frames, he walked David Fletcher to open the seventh, then later walked Jack Mayfield. Both of them scored on Adell’s clean line-drive single to left-center. Right-hander Emilio Pagán surrendered two more runs in the ninth.
“It’s disappointing,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “Those are the types of performances that we need, and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
The Padres’ loss, coupled with a Reds victory in Chicago, moved the two teams into a virtual tie for the National League's second Wild Card spot. Having played two games fewer than Cincinnati, the Padres hold a one-game edge in the loss column, and thus a lead by percentage points.
“We need to win,” Snell said. “Each start means a lot. I like it, knowing I have to win. So any time I give up a run or anything like that, it really hurts.”
Snell was coming off a start last week in Arizona in which he didn’t allow a hit across seven innings. But after 107 pitches last week, Snell was lifted early.
On Tuesday night, Snell was much more efficient, sitting on 66 pitches through six perfect innings. His 13 consecutive hitless frames set a franchise record, breaking the mark of 12 1/3 set by Bill Laxton in 1974.
“It’s disappointing to not get any runs on the board and not get any traffic,” said Tingler. “You feel like you threw just a dominant performance away from Blake tonight.”
If there's a positive to be taken from Tuesday night, it's obviously Snell, who is on an absolute tear. He's now worked at least seven innings in his last three starts. In that span, he's surrendered only three runs on four hits. (The Padres, it should be noted, have managed to win only one of those starts.)
But Snell's turnaround dates back further than those three outings. Since the beginning of August, he owns a 1.85 ERA, and he's seemingly gotten a bit better each time out.
“That's the best I've ever seen Snell,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon. “Good for him. That's the best I've seen him across the board. … I've been around way too many perfect games and no-hitters, and it smelled like that. It smelled like that in the first inning when I saw Snell's curveball. It had no hump to it. Just straight down. And a great fastball and he commanded the slider.
“He was that good. He had no-hit stuff tonight."
With Snell dominating, and Joe Musgrove locked in as well, the Padres suddenly have quite the 1-2 punch. If Yu Darvish can find his early-season form, that makes for an imposing rotation in a potential short playoff series.
Then again, the Padres need to get there first. In that regard, this loss was particularly brutal. On Friday, San Diego will embark on a 10-day, 10-game road trip through Los Angeles, San Francisco and St. Louis. It's perhaps their toughest trip of the year.
The Padres need wins in the bank before they leave. Their two-game series against the Angels seemingly presented the perfect opportunity -- the last two games on their schedule against sub-.500 opposition. But the San Diego offense fell flat. Angels left-hander Packy Naughton matched Snell with five scoreless frames. The Padres mustered only four hits of their own, and prior to the ninth inning, they saw only one runner reach scoring position.
“Bottom line is, we’ve got to be better as a group offensively,” Tingler said. “[Snell] shouldn’t be throwing a perfect game [without run support]. We’ve got to have some runs on the board and give him a cushion.”
When Snell was lifted during his no-hitter last week, he lauded the decision. In the midst of a playoff race, the Padres needed him fresh. They needed more dominant starts like that one.
On Tuesday, in the heat of that very playoff race, they got one. And they couldn’t make the most of it.