A night of 'what-ifs' for Padres in 11th-inning defeat

May 11th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Alex Kirilloff shot a walk-off single past a diving Jake Cronenworth in the 11th inning Wednesday night, the Twins could celebrate a dramatic 4-3 victory at Target Field. The Padres -- now 0-4 in games decided in extra innings this season -- could only rue their missed opportunities.

And were those ever plentiful.

From an unused challenge in the first inning to another night of RISP woes, this Padres loss – their third in the past four games – was full of what-ifs. Here are a few of them:

To challenge or not to challenge?
It’s still not entirely clear whether Joey Gallo caught Manny Machado’s fly ball in the top of the first. Gallo ranged to his right and dove, juggling the ball before coming up with it in his bare hand. Cronenworth, believing the ball hit the ground, ran to second. Gallo threw to first to complete the double play.

Replays appeared to show the ball hitting the ground while in Gallo’s glove before Gallo had full control. But manager Bob Melvin opted not to use a challenge. With time between pitches shortened this season, the team’s initial replays weren’t clear as to whether the ball hit the ground.

“[The replay room said] that he caught it and flipped it up and caught it in his bare hand,” Melvin said. “Then when we looked at it, we saw the same thing. I don’t know if at one point in time the ball was on the ground, I’m not sure.”

Still, even if the Padres weren’t sure, it’s worth wondering whether the challenge would’ve been worthwhile anyway. It’s not every day that one single challenge can save a team two outs. Had they been successful, it would’ve given the Padres first and second with one out for the red-hot Juan Soto.

“That’s more – it’s really early in the game, and you’re not sure,” Melvin said.

‘Need to execute better’ with RISP
Of course, even if the Padres won that challenge, it’s not as though they’re thriving with men in scoring position. They entered play Tuesday hitting just .208 with RISP, the lowest average in the National League and second-lowest in baseball, behind only the Tigers.

The Padres then proceeded to go 0-for-6 in such situations on Tuesday. Their three runs came via Juan Soto’s solo homer in the seventh, Machado’s sacrifice fly in the eighth and Austin Nola’s suicide squeeze in the 10th. Which is to say: When the Padres needed a big hit in a big situation – it never came.

“It’s not just one guy, I feel like it’s a group,” Cronenworth said. “We just need to execute better in those situations.”

The most agonizing of those missed opportunities came in the 11th. Fernando Tatis Jr., started the inning as the automatic runner on second base. Cronenworth popped out, Machado grounded out, then after a pair of walks, Matt Carpenter struck out looking.

“We’re getting there,” Melvin said. “We’re getting some decent games. We’re having some bad ones. We haven’t had consistency with it yet. So… keep digging.”

Bullpen machinations
Starter Seth Lugo pitched six innings of two-run ball -- with some help from Tatis, who ended the third by rocketing a 100 mph throw to nail Carlos Correa at the plate.

After Lugo, the San Diego ‘pen was mostly excellent. But Melvin gambled a bit on having the game won by the 10th inning. When the 11th rolled around, the Padres were exposed.

Domingo Tapia hadn’t pitched in nine days. But what other option did Melvin have? Brent Honeywell, who pitched a scoreless seventh, could’ve provided some length. But Melvin called for lefty Tim Hill when the Twins pinch-hit with the lefty-hitting Nick Gordon to start the eighth. Hill worked a scoreless frame, and Luis García, who had struggled recently, followed suit in the ninth.

The Padres took the lead in the 10th on a flawless suicide squeeze by Austin Nola -- his second successful go-ahead squeeze in as many nights. They played for one run, rather than a big inning, counting on Josh Hader’s swing-and-miss ability.

Hader got plenty of those – five whiffs on eight Twins swings and three strikeouts. But Donovan Solano tied the game with a leadoff single.

That left Tapia for the 11th and the Padres scrambling after leaving the bases loaded. Melvin walked the struggling Correa with first base open, bringing Kirilloff to the plate.

“There’s no reason not to at that point,” Melvin said. “Kirilloff’s their highest ground-ball-rate guy on the team. You already have a guy on second base -- that’s the only run that matters. So you’re just trying to put yourself in a position where you can get a double play.

“And he hit it on the ground; he just hit it down the line.”