Game 5 turns with Hader viewing from bullpen

October 24th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA – The Padres coveted  for years. General manager A.J. Preller tried to acquire Hader on multiple occasions, but the asking price was always sky high for one of the best closers in baseball.

This August, the Brewers finally lowered their ask for the three-time Trevor Hoffman reliever of the year winner, and the Padres jumped on the opportunity. Even after Hader’s early struggles in San Diego, the Padres remained patient with the All-Star closer, knowing any path to a World Series was going to require Hader taking down the biggest outs in October.

But with the Padres facing elimination on Sunday, Hader watched from the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park as Bryce Harper hit a go-ahead two-run homer off righty reliever  in the eighth inning. Soon after, the Padres’ season came to an end in a 4-3 loss to the Phillies in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

“At the end of the day, you trust who you got,” Hader said. “And looking back, in hindsight, it’s easy [for people] to fault that decision. But I don’t think that was the wrong decision at all.”

After J.T. Realmuto singled off Suarez to open the bottom of the eighth, Padres manager Bob Melvin had to make a decision between Suarez and the lefty Hader, his two best relievers, against the left-handed-hitting Harper, one of the best hitters on the planet. Melvin decided to go with Suarez. It was a move that surprised nearly everyone, including those in the Phillies’ dugout. 

“Yeah, I was [surprised]. A little bit,” said Phillies manager Rob Thomson. “But I don’t question other guys. I don’t.”

Suarez quickly got ahead of Harper with a pair of sinkers. After a couple foul balls, Suarez tried to change speeds, throwing a perfectly located 91.5 mph changeup down in the zone to see if Harper expanded the zone. Instead, Harper didn’t offer, evening the count at 2-2. 

“Unbelievable take,” said Padres catcher . “Unbelievable take. That’s the pitch he swings at. The fact he patiented up and took it -- that’s Suarez’s best pitch. Hands down.”

On the next pitch, Suarez threw a 98.9 mph sinker that caught a bit too much of the outside part of the plate and Harper sent it over the left-center-field wall. Hader, who has 10 strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings this postseason and hadn’t pitched since Wednesday, stood in the bullpen and proceeded to put his jacket back on, hoping for a comeback that never came. 

“This is a really good hitter, obviously,” Melvin said. “It looked like he located away and trying to keep him in the ballpark there, maybe throw it by him. And he got the good piece of the bat on the ball.”

Melvin said he chose to stick with Suarez for a few reasons. First, Melvin said Hader wasn’t warmed up yet, which does beg the question why the closer didn’t start warming up before the inning started, knowing Harper was due up second in the frame.

Second, Melvin said Suarez’s ability to get left-handers out made the Padres’ staff comfortable in that situation. Suarez did have a slightly lower OPS against lefties (.564) this season than against righties (.571). The Harper blast was also the first homer allowed by Suarez to a left-handed batter this season.

“I thought I made some good pitches,” Suarez said in Spanish. “He had a good at-bat. I thought the last pitch was good, but he was just able to connect and get that hit.” 

Finally, Melvin said, the Padres’ plan was to get a few more outs from Suarez before turning it over to Hader. In a perfect world, the Padres would’ve asked Hader to take down the last four outs. With the way Suarez pitched this season, there was no real thought of letting Hader take down six outs. Hader, who struck out the last eight batters he faced in 2022, hasn’t recorded six outs in an outing since Sept. 7, 2019.

Had the Padres decided to deploy Hader in the eighth, they would’ve had to piece things together in the ninth. Luis García could’ve been an option for San Diego. If a pair of lefties were due up, San Diego could’ve called on .

“It’s a thought at this point, but that wasn’t what we were thinking,” Melvin said of using Hader against Harper and then figuring out the ninth later. “We were trying to get to a four-out position for Hader, and we had a lot of confidence in Suarez.”

The moment evoked other recent instances in which a team’s best reliever was left to watch a game get away late while standing out in the ’pen. In Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS, it was the Braves not going to Craig Kimbrel. In the 2016 AL Wild Card Game, Buck Showalter infamously never called on Zack Britton.

Those teams had long winters thinking about a decision that helped end their seasons. The Padres might do the same. After years of rebuilding, they were finally in position to make a run at the World Series. They had the right closer on the roster. But just like those others, he was left watching from afar.

“Obviously, we didn’t win games when we needed to, but I do what I can when I can,” Hader said. “I would love to be going to the World Series and going further in the postseason, but you can only do what you can do and you can only control what you can control. That’s just the way it is.”