Acting on instinct: Manny finds new way to win for Padres

June 12th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Between the two games of a doubleheader Saturday, Manny Machado moseyed out of the dining room adjacent to the Padres' clubhouse and noticed a handful of reporters waiting for him at his locker. He broke into a grin.

“What do you want to talk to me for?” Machado quipped. “I went 0-fer.”

And therein lies the beauty of Manny Machado -- the biggest reason the superstar third baseman is considered an early favorite for the National League MVP Award. Sure, Machado went 0-for-4 in the Padres’ 2-1 victory over the Rockies in the doubleheader opener at Petco Park. Yet, he still found a way to play the hero in the bottom of the 10th inning on Saturday afternoon.

With two outs, Machado aggressively took third base on a wild pitch, then came around to score the winning run when the throw from Rockies catcher Elias Díaz caromed into left field.

“Instincts,” Machado said. “The ball bounced away from him, and I was just trying to get to third base, take that slider away. … You just see the ball in the dirt and take a good chance.”

The Padres dropped the nightcap, a 6-2 defeat after MacKenzie Gore turned in his first poor outing in the big leagues. Gore allowed six runs over 2 1/3 innings, done in by four walks, as San Diego failed to capitalize on an opportunity to move atop the NL West. (The Dodgers, who lost on Saturday, are clinging to a half-game lead in the division.)

Still, the opener offered the perfect encapsulation of Machado’s impact. No, he didn’t record a hit (though he’s still boasts a slash line of .320/.392/.536 entering the nightcap). But when he doesn’t hit, he still finds a way to make an impact. His defense has been other-worldly, and he made a couple excellent defensive plays on Saturday.

And, of all things, his baserunning has drawn rave reviews this year. Machado is certainly not the fastest runner. But he’s 7-for-8 in steal attempts this season, and he’s been as good as anyone at taking the extra base.

“It’s just baseball,” Machado says. “It’s just knowing what’s in front of you -- knowing the score, knowing that you can’t get thrown out so you’ve got to be sure of it. It’s just pure instincts.”

Really, Machado is selling himself a bit short by chalking it up to “instincts.” Those instincts are honed by years of experience and by exhaustive preparation. For instance, Machado didn’t take off until the Padres had two outs, giving Luke Voit and Sergio Alcántara the chance to win the game at the plate. But Machado also knew that Rockies right-hander Carlos Estévez is reliant on his slider and prone to bounce it in the dirt.

“It’s anticipation,” said Padres third-base coach Matt Williams. “He knows that, with that guy, he can bounce a slider. He’s always ready for it. It’s just anticipation of the play that’s upcoming.”

Machado saw it before it happened. A split-second after the ball was out of Estévez’s hand, he was off for third base, no hesitation. That jump forced Díaz to hurry his throw, and just like that the Padres won a game that they probably didn’t have much business winning, having been outhit 8-3.

“Talk about finding a way,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin, who missed the nightcap after he entered COVID-19 protocols. “Manny’s legs have shown up this year -- whether it’s the stolen bases early on, or a ball in the dirt where you take a chance.”

Padres right-hander Nick Martinez kept the Padres in the game, with 5 2/3 solid innings, as he continues to solidify himself as a hugely valuable weapon on this pitching staff. Martinez has shuffled back and forth between the rotation and bullpen recently, and he's filled both roles admirably.

That includes Saturday, when Martinez was called upon on short notice. Late Friday night, right-hander Mike Clevinger was scratched from his scheduled start in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader. As a result, Martinez had his start pushed ahead by a day.

“He’s that utility wrench that -- whatever we need to use him, in whatever role, he’s open to [it],” Melvin said.

Martinez deflected the credit right back at his coaching staff.

“I’ve struggled with that in the past,” Martinez said. “Obviously, I’m not the same guy that I was back in Texas. But the communication here has been really good. They’ve been very transparent.”

Martinez struck out a career-high nine hitters while allowing just one run. He exited with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth. Right-hander Nabil Crismatt was called upon to escape that jam, and he did so with ease. Luis García, Taylor Rogers and Steven Wilson followed with scoreless ball, as well.

All of which set the stage for Machado, who had flied out to end the ninth, meaning he would open the 10th as the automatic runner. Two batters later, his “instincts” kicked in and won the Padres a game.

“Just another aggressive play by Manny,” said Melvin, “who helps us win games in so many different ways.”