SAN DIEGO -- The Padres think they’ve built a roster capable of withstanding every challenge October baseball might throw their way. They’ll probably find out soon enough.
San Diego’s biggest homestand in 10 years is off to a roaring start, after a 1-0 walk-off victory over the Rockies on Monday night. (Though can you really call it a walk-off when it’s Jorge Mateo flying around the bases at 30.8 feet per second to score the winning run?)
The Padres moved nine games above .500, as they cruise toward their first postseason berth in 14 years. They’ve made it clear they want more than just a trip to the postseason. They want “the big cake,” and Monday’s game offered every indication that the Padres might have built a contending roster from top to bottom.
“You know what was so special about tonight?” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “So many guys got to show off … and feature some skills that they have to contribute.”
Sure, the Padres have big names who they’ll ask to do the heavy lifting come October -- like Dinelson Lamet, who worked 7 2/3 scoreless frames with 11 strikeouts, showcasing an untouchable slider that might be the best in the entire sport.
But they also have an incredibly useful mix of fringe pieces -- like pinch-hitter Greg Garcia, who opened the ninth inning with a single. Like utility man Jurickson Profar, who followed by looping a double into the right field corner. Like Mateo, a next-level speedster who was acquired with precisely this role in mind -- a pinch-runner in tight games down the stretch.
“Profar got that ball down the line,” Tingler said. “You could see Mateo's biggest asset that he brings: the speed.”
“I played with him last year,” said Profar, Mateo’s teammate in the A’s organization. “As soon as I hit it, I said, ‘We have a chance to win it here.’”
Profar’s heroics -- and Mateo’s elite wheels -- ensured that Lamet’s career night would not go to waste. His 7 1/3 innings were a career high, and his 11 strikeouts brought him within two of Jacob deGrom for the National League lead.
“It's a powerful combo of the velocity with the fastball, 94-97, with a powerful slider,” said Rockies manager Bud Black. “The slider has depth, it has break in the hitting area, it's sharp. … He's going to be a guy that we're going to be looking at for a while if he continues to pitch like this and stay healthy.”
Lamet has evolved from inconsistent power arm to ace-caliber starter, and it didn’t take an overhaul. The formula was simple, actually: When you’ve got a slider like his, you throw the dang pitch.
Lamet has always relied heavily on his slider. He’s the only pitcher in baseball this season to record a start of at least 75 pitches while using his slider for at least half of them. He’s now done so nine times.
But even by Lamet’s standards, he’s been throwing his slider more than ever. And more than anyone else. Lamet threw an absurd 66 sliders on Monday night -- 15 more than any pitcher has thrown in a game this season. Since the advent of Statcast in 2015, only two pitchers have thrown more sliders in one game -- Chris Archer in ’17 and Tyson Ross (in a 7 1/3-inning no-hit bid for the Padres) in ’18.
“If my slider is showing up that night ... I know that I can go to it,” Lamet said. “Knowing all these games count more, that’s why I’m throwing it more.”
It’s working, so why not? Opposing hitters entered play Monday night with a .104 average against Lamet’s slider, and that was before he finished seven of his 11 strikeouts with the pitch.
The Padres, of course, traded six players to acquire Mike Clevinger at last week’s Trade Deadline. But Lamet is making a serious case to unseat Clevinger for the role of Game 1 starter. His stuff is sufficiently dominant, and he lowered his ERA to 2.24 on Monday night.
“He’s such a tough, tough matchup when he has that electric stuff,” Tingler said.
“This one hurts,” Tingler said. “But at the same time, we’re going to have some guys step up, and we’re going to keep this offense, defense, the whole thing … we’re going to keep it moving.”
In Tingler’s eyes, it’s merely the newest challenge for a roster that seems ready for an October full of them.