Merrill the youngest ever to hit walk-off shot in multi-HR game

Solano also homers twice as Padres secure their first series sweep of season

June 13th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- Another day, another walk-off home run. The Padres, at long last, have their first sweep of the 2024 season.

On Wednesday afternoon, it was rookie who launched a walk-off solo home run to send the Padres to a 5-4 victory over Oakland at Petco Park. Merrill, who homered in the fifth inning as well, turned on a down-and-in slider from A’s relief ace Mason Miller and sent it a Statcast-projected 369 feet to the Petco Porch area in right field.

“I don’t even remember me swinging,” Merrill said. “It was just one of those blackout moments. You do it, and it just feels really surreal.”

Merrill became the youngest player all-time to record two home runs in a game, with one of them a walk-off blast. At 21 years, 54 days old, he’s also the youngest Padre to author a game-ending homer.

On Tuesday, it was Kyle Higashioka who played the role of walk-off hero with a home run down the left-field line. He and Merrill became the second set of Padres teammates to hit walk-off home runs on consecutive days. Bruce Bochy and Marvell Wynne did so in April 1986.

“What a beautiful approach, not trying to do too much against a guy that’s pretty nasty,” manager Mike Shildt said of Merrill’s first-pitch homer. “Just a nice sweet stroke, dropped the [bat] head and sent everybody home happy.”

With the win, the Padres became the 30th and final team in the Majors to record a sweep this year, ending a maddening trend in which they had five previous opportunities to close out sweeps and failed to do so each time.

“We’d already won the series,” Merrill said. “But that wasn’t enough.”

This season, the Padres have asked an awful lot of Merrill, their top pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. They handed him their everyday center-field job this spring -- despite the fact that he’d never really played center field before.

Defensively, he’s been excellent. Offensively, he’s been solid -- and perhaps even a bit unlucky, given the quality of his contact. Merrill leads all rookies with 64 hits, and he’s batting .279/.314/.389 across his first 68 games. Still, before this week, Merrill’s rookie performance had flown under the radar.

“Not by us,” Shildt said over the weekend. “Maybe peripherally outside of our clubhouse. But it's not getting overlooked by me and his teammates and our staff.”

After a game like this -- one that included the first left-on-left homer of Merrill’s career, then a walk-off blast against one of the sport’s nastiest pitchers -- he won’t be overlooked much longer. Especially considering the way Merrill plays.

Merrill goes all out, all the time. On Saturday, with the Padres leading by 12 runs in the ninth inning, he laid out to make a five-star catch, robbing Eugenio Suárez of extra bases. When the ball left his bat on Wednesday, he flipped his bat and pointed to the dugout before running to first base with his hand in the air.

“I’m really grateful to be his teammate,” said Fernando Tatis Jr., who had his 17-game hitting streak snapped on Wednesday. “The guy goes out there every single day to play as hard as he can.”

Merrill’s fifth-inning home run off left-hander Hogan Harris had put the Padres on top 2-0. Meanwhile, right-hander Michael King was cruising. King struck out 12, tying the most strikeouts ever by a Padres pitcher through five innings.

But when he allowed a pair of seeing-eye singles to start the sixth, King’s day was done after 98 pitches. The A’s rallied against Wandy Peralta, plating those two runs, then another. Rule 5 Draft rookie Stephen Kolek was called upon with the bases loaded and nobody out -- and he deftly escaped traffic with a pair of strikeouts and a brilliant catch by José Azocar in left.

With the Padres trailing by two in the eighth, Tatis -- in what would likely be his last chance to extend his hitting streak -- laid off a close 3-2 pitch, working a walk.

“He could’ve easily chased the hitting streak,” Shildt said. “Instead, he took a great at-bat and earned the walk on a borderline pitch. That’s winning baseball.”

Two batters later, Donovan Solano -- who had homered to end a nine-pitch battle with Harris in the second inning -- swung at Lucas Erceg’s 99-mph, first-pitch heater and launched it into the Padres’ bullpen.

The game was tied -- until Merrill untied it an inning later.