PHOENIX -- The Padres ended their 53-year quest for a no-hitter this season. In a couple months, they’d like to end their wait for their first World Series title, too.
Ultimately, it was that big-picture view that denied Blake Snell his shot at history at Chase Field on Tuesday night, as Jayce Tingler made one of his toughest decisions since taking over as Padres manager. With a dominant Snell sitting on seven no-hit frames and 107 pitches, Tingler called for his bullpen to finish the job.
“It’s the last thing you want to do,” Tingler said afterward.
And although the ’pen didn’t complete the combined no-hitter, the Padres skipper got precisely the result he wanted -- a 3-0 victory over the D-backs that moves the Padres into a tie for the second National League Wild Card spot entering September.
In April, right-hander Joe Musgrove authored the first no-hitter in franchise history, perhaps removing some of the pressure from Tingler on Tuesday night. Snell didn’t get to join Musgrove in no-hit lore. But as his team embarks upon one of the most important months in franchise history, Snell is locked in, and the Padres intend to keep it that way.
“It’s just smart,” Snell said. “Is it really worth going 140, 130 pitches to try to get it? … You’ve got to be smart. We need to win games, and I put the team in a great position to win -- seven innings, no runs, and we got the win.”
Snell had thrown a career-high 122 pitches and 7 2/3 innings in his previous time out against the Dodgers last week. With that in mind, the Padres’ coaching staff mapped out a plan for Snell on Tuesday in which they would lighten his workload. They’re going to need him for five or six crucial starts, mostly against playoff rivals, down the stretch, so they didn’t want to over-exert him on Tuesday.
A simple enough plan on Tuesday afternoon. But it got a whole lot tougher when Snell channeled the Cy Young-caliber version of himself and pitched seven of the most dominant innings of his career.
“We had the idea, coming off 122 pitches and eight innings, both his career highs, this one we were going to be a little bit less aggressive,” Tingler said. “Do I think he could’ve finished it? Maybe. But did we want to get in the 135-140 [pitch] range? No, that’s something we’re not interested in.
“The main thing is winning the game tonight and him continuing to throw the ball and feeling good going forward.”
After his slow start to the season, Snell has been one of the sport’s most dominant pitchers in August. He posted a 1.72 ERA across six starts with an absurd 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings. It was precisely the version of Blake Snell that the Padres envisioned when they shipped a package of four players to Tampa Bay in late December.
“I’m just getting in my groove,” Snell said. “It just took a while. I was never worried -- all the stuff was there. But this is all new to me, and leaving [Tampa Bay] after being there for 10 years is difficult. People don’t want to understand that. But that’s the way it is. That’s how it happened with me. I finally got comfortable, and in my zone, and now I can go.”
Snell allowed two walks while striking out 10 on Tuesday. He was dominant from the outset, establishing his fastball early, then getting chase after chase after chase with his two elite breaking pitches. The Arizona hitters could do nothing against Snell's slider and curve, putting only one breaking pitch in play all night -- a slider that Jake McCarthy bounced weakly to first base, 51.1 mph off the bat.
“He mixed it up on us more this time than he has in the past,” said D-backs shortstop Nick Ahmed. “He definitely threw a lot more curveballs. The slider was harder than we’ve seen it in the past. ... When you’ve got 96-98 with the high release and angle and you throw your offspeed pitches extremely well like he did tonight, it was a tough night for us.”
Snell had his lead but simply wasn’t efficient enough for his shot at history. Perhaps at a different juncture in the season, with the stakes a bit different, Snell would’ve been afforded a chance. But the Padres need this version of Snell as often as possible down the stretch, and they posit that the best way to get it is to ensure he’s as fresh as possible.
“We need him for another five...” Machado started, then paused and checked himself, visions of October Blake Snell clearly dancing in his head.
“[Screw] that,” Machado said. “We need him for another 10 of those.”