SAN DIEGO -- In a way, the fate of the National League West sits in the Padres' hands after all.
Victor Caratini bounced a walk-off infield single in the 10th inning at Petco Park on Thursday afternoon, ending a dramatic 7-6 victory over the Giants. It snapped a five-game losing streak that has seen the Padres fade almost entirely from playoff contention. They remain six games behind the red-hot Cardinals in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot.
Nonetheless, San Diego’s performance over the next 10 days should go a long way toward settling a fierce division race between the first-place Giants and the Dodgers, who are now separated by a game. After four against the Braves this weekend, the Padres play Los Angeles and San Francisco three times apiece before the season ends. In the meantime, they’re left with only slim playoff hopes to fight for -- though, rest assured, they plan to fight.
“Our season’s on the line, everything’s on the line,” said center fielder Trent Grisham, who homered and walked on Thursday. “We’re trying to get to the playoffs and win a World Series. … That’s how we see it. That’s how we’re going to continue to see it. We’re going to continue to play hard, continue to come to the field every day ready to go, just like we’ve done all year long. Win, lose or draw, we’re going to leave it all out there.”
Right-hander Yu Darvish was mostly solid for the Padres, as he exited with a two-run lead and two men aboard in the sixth. But when San Diego went to lefty Tim Hill, the Giants countered with righty pinch-hitter Austin Slater, who popped a three-run homer over the short wall in left. Darvish finished having allowed four runs on three hits, while striking out seven.
It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for Darvish. He was an easy choice for the All-Star Game based on his first three months. But he struggled as he endured back and hip trouble in July and August. Thursday marked Darvish’s final regular-season start at Petco Park in his first year as a Padre, and he reflected graciously on it.
“First and foremost, I would like to give my thanks to the fans,” Darvish said. “I had my share of ups and downs this season. But regardless of the outcome … they’ve cheered me on. I want to say thank you.”
After Darvish’s exit, the Padres responded with back-to-back homers from Grisham and Ha-Seong Kim. Back and forth they went. Tommy La Stella tied the game at 6 half an inning later with a two-out RBI double.
It all set the stage for Caratini in the 10th. The Padres backstop came to the plate with the tying run on third after Kim’s sacrifice bunt. He sent a chopper to La Stella, who made a diving play at second, but his throw home was too late to nab Jurickson Profar.
“As soon as [La Stella] dove, I had a good feeling Pro was going to get in there,” Grisham said. “It was cool to watch.”
In a way, the Padres' 10th inning was emblematic of everything they’d tried and failed to do over the past month. There have been plenty of times -- the first two games of this series come to mind -- where the Padres have briefly resembled their playoff-caliber selves again. But they simply haven’t come through when the moment called for it.
All in all, it has resulted in a precipitous fall from grace. The Padres are 15 games below .500 since mid-August. As recently as 12 days ago, they led a Wild Card race that they now trail by six games.
"I feel like we could’ve done a better job as a group, especially myself on the front line," star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. lamented after Wednesday’s loss -- in which the Padres trailed by seven runs, then brought the winning run to the plate in the ninth. "Just [finding] a way -- I feel like we lack a little bit in that as a team."
A day later, Caratini simply needed to make contact to give Profar a chance to scamper home. He did so, and sure enough, Tatis was first over the railing to greet Caratini at first base with a bear hug. The Padres haven’t done it enough lately, but this time, they found a way.