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Margot adds walk-off heroics to breakout year

@AJCassavell
September 11, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Manuel Margot strode to the plate in the 10th inning Tuesday night with a chance to put a thunderous exclamation point on his bounceback season. After 2 1/2 years of mostly unfulfilled promise, Margot has begun to solidify his place as a long-term outfield piece in San

SAN DIEGO -- Manuel Margot strode to the plate in the 10th inning Tuesday night with a chance to put a thunderous exclamation point on his bounceback season.

After 2 1/2 years of mostly unfulfilled promise, Margot has begun to solidify his place as a long-term outfield piece in San Diego. He’s established himself as an elite center fielder, an ever-present threat on the bases and an excellent righty bat against left-handed pitching.

Box score

With the bases loaded and the game at their fingertips, the Padres needed one big swing from their 24-year-old speedster. Margot never took one.

“A walk works, too,” he quipped later.

Indeed, a walk will have to suffice for Margot’s first career walk-off. After Luis Urías’ one-out single, Cubs reliever Steve Cishek walked three straight hitters to send the Padres to a wild 9-8 victory on Tuesday night.

Margot, who singled home a run in the second and tripled home another in the seventh, was the last of those three. He looked at four straight pitches, all down and in. On the last one, he moved his back leg out of the way and chucked his bat to the side before trotting to first base with a huge smile the whole way.

“I felt a bit more confident after he fell behind in the count,” said Margot, who boosted his second-half OPS to .765. “At that point, you're really just looking for a good pitch to hit. It didn't come.”

In some ways, Margot’s walk-off walk -- the franchise’s first since Yangervis Solarte’s in 2016 -- was emblematic of the niche he’s found in San Diego. The Padres are aiming for contention next season. In all likelihood, that means Margot will take a backseat against right-handed pitching. He’s begun to do that lately, as the Padres have used an outfield with lefty bats in the corners, pushing Wil Myers into center.

But there’s an obvious role for Margot on a contending club. He’s been worth eight outs above average this season, according to Statcast, putting him fifth among National League outfielders. Against righties, he’s become an ideal defensive replacement who can steal a base -- and, oh yeah, he’s hitting .365 against lefties.

“He's done some really nice things,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “He's been a great defender all year long, from the beginning. His baserunning has taken exponential leaps forward. He competes in the batter's box. He shrunk his strike zone down, and he takes walks now better than he ever has before.”

Margot was part of an early onslaught as the Friars tagged Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana for six runs in the first three innings. Urias pounded out three hits and Ty France gave the Padres a four-run lead with a solo homer in the top of the third.

With a three-run lead entering the eighth, Green turned the ball to 20-year-old setup man Andres Munoz. The rookie right-hander had been practically unhittable through 20 big league appearances. But the Cubs managed to solve his high-octane fastball.

Anthony Rizzo opened the frame by singling off a 98.5 mph heater. Then, Kris Bryant got 99.6, and he sent it into the left-field seats. Two batters later, Jason Heyward tied the game with a homer on a 99.9 mph fastball.

“They had some big swings of the bat on some good pitches, frankly,” Green said.

Neither team would threaten in the ninth, setting the stage for Margot to (literally) walk it off in the 10th. It’s a crushing loss for the Cubs, whose lead in the National League Wild Card race shrunk to one game.

The league-wide scope of game wasn’t lost on Margot. After taking part in four losing seasons in San Diego, he wants to be on the other end of these games next September.

“All the games are important,” Margot said. “When you're in a playoff setting, you're playing in games with pressure. The more games you play like this, it's going to help.”

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.