'Definitely, this one hurts': Bullpen allows six-run rally in tough loss

April 26th, 2024

DENVER -- The Padres managed to do something on Thursday afternoon that they hadn’t done in nearly 47 years.

And they wish they hadn’t.

For the first time since Sept. 15, 1977, San Diego blew a lead of five or more runs in the eighth inning of a game or later in an eventual loss, dropping the series finale against the Rockies at Coors Field, 10-9. The Padres had been the only club dating back to the start of the 1978 season without such a loss.

Afterward, manager Mike Shildt walked into the visitors’ clubhouse with some admitted “agitation,” but it was the outcome that had him upset, not his players.

“I tell you what,” he said. “This group, outside of the result at the end of the day, the heart and the competitive spirit and those guys getting after it with everything they’ve got … it doesn’t work out every time, but I’ll take this group any day of the week because I’ve got a bunch of gamers. I’ll take that over the long haul.”

Over the long haul of a Major League season, things like this do happen. But in the moment, the raw frustration and disappointment is fresh, necessitating a balancing act between the “that’s baseball” mantra and the gnawing feeling that you let one get away.

“Definitely, this one hurts,” said Fernando Tatis Jr. “ … It’s a disappointment. There’s no way around it. Nobody wants to take that ‘L.’”

What became an “L” looked very much as though it would be a “W” entering the eighth inning. With one out and San Diego leading, 9-4, reliever Yuki Matsui gave up a Brendan Rodgers double and then walked pinch-hitter Sean Bouchard. Shildt turned to Wandy Peralta, who to that point in the young season had been stellar, coming in with a 1.50 ERA in 13 appearances.

Peralta left a changeup over the heart of the plate to Hunter Goodman, and Goodman smashed it over the left-center-field wall for a three-run homer. That was only the beginning of what would devolve into an utter catastrophe for Peralta -- the sequence from there was: single, walk, single, passed ball, wild pitch, strikeout.

Peralta then gave way to Stephen Kolek, who promptly surrendered Elias Díaz’s go-ahead double to complete the collapse.

“Obviously, there are no excuses,” Peralta said through an interpreter when asked about whether the altitude affected his performance. “It’s just a terrible game. We should’ve won with that lead. … There was something to [the altitude], but I want to repeat: there are no excuses. … There are no words when something like this happens.”

Shildt had some.

“Look, the guy proved he’s human a little bit today,” he said. “ … He just wasn’t able to get any balls hit at people, wasn’t able to get anybody to hit it on the ground.”

Fly balls and Coors don’t mix. But Shildt had a reason for keeping Peralta in the game even after the series of mistakes.

“The second a guy gives up a home run, I can’t just go take out a guy that’s got a microscopic ERA and has got righties out all year,” he said. “… I’ve got a veteran guy out there who knows how to get a ball on the ground. … It didn’t work out. Things don’t work out all the time.”

The Padres were without two key players with Manny Machado on paternity leave and rookie Jackson Merrill being scratched just prior to the game with right groin tightness. But after going without a homer in the first three games of the series at Coors Field, they launched two on Thursday -- Ha-Seong Kim hit a two-run shot in the third and Jurickson Profar delivered a two-run blast of his own in the sixth.

And despite starter Randy Vásquez, the club’s No. 12 prospect, only lasting 2 2/3 innings over which he gave up four runs, the bullpen’s early day started out well -- Jhony Brito and Enyel De Los Santos threw 3 2/3 scoreless frames to get the ball to Matsui in the seventh.

But as Shildt said, things don’t always work out.

“I’m gonna tell you what,” he said. “I’ll run Wandy Peralta out there any and every day in the eighth inning with the lead.”

In baseball, there’s the pain of the moment and the long view of a marathon season. Often, the two collide.

For Shildt and the Padres, Thursday was a day for both agitation and admiration.