SAN DIEGO — Things were starting to look awfully bleak early Tuesday evening in San Diego. The Padres hadn’t scored a run at Petco Park, part of a streak that would eventually reach 26 innings. A thousand miles away, meanwhile, the Brewers had jumped out to a five-run lead in Colorado. San Diego’s Wild Card lead was dwindling, its edge in the loss column on the verge of nonexistence.
But this topsy-turvy National League Wild Card race was about to deliver its wildest twist yet.
Following the seventh inning, Petco Park’s video board lit up with highlights from Coors Field. (Yep, it’s officially that time of year.) The Rockies had overcome a five-run deficit in Colorado, coming from behind again in extra innings to beat Milwaukee — on, of all things, a walk-off three-run homer against former Padres closer Taylor Rogers.
And — wouldn’t you know it? — one crazy five-run comeback begat another.
The Padres mounted a furious rally of their own, overcoming a five-run deficit to beat the D-backs, 6-5, on yet another Jorge Alfaro walk-off. Alfaro, activated from the injured list on Monday, smacked a hard-hit grounder through the middle, plating two runs in the bottom of the ninth and sending Petco Park into a frenzy.
“We never quit,” said Alfaro, who became the first Padre to record four walk-offs in a single season at Petco Park. “We’re just going to go out there and fight, compete every pitch.”
With the win, and the Brewers’ loss, San Diego moved three games ahead of Milwaukee in the race for the league’s final playoff spot. It’s the type of cushion that seemed wholly unattainable a few hours prior. The Padres were being no-hit by D-backs right-hander Merrill Kelly through four innings. Joe Musgrove walked off the mound, having allowed five runs over 4 1/3.
“That’s a hard, hard fight,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “You’re down. You don’t have any hits. It doesn’t feel great. Your Opening Day starter here comes off the mound, and now you’re down five runs — and things haven’t gone too terribly well here.
“You’ve got to dig deep to be able to come back and win a game like that. And they did.”
Jake Cronenworth got it started with a two-run homer that simultaneously broke up Kelly’s no-hit bid and snapped the Padres’ 26-inning home scoreless streak. In a beautiful bit of baseball weirdness, Ha-Seong Kim followed with a homer of his own.
The Padres had gone 97 plate appearances at home without scoring a run. Then they hit back-to-back homers. (Seriously, what a bizarre sport.)
“I don’t know if we have a signature win,” said Wil Myers, who scored the game-winning run. “But we’ll take any win we can get at this moment.”
Myers came to the plate with the Padres down to their final out, then swatted a single into center field, moving the tying run into scoring position. Then came the plate appearance of the night.
José Azocar is a little-used backup outfielder who almost never faces right-handed pitching. But he’d been used to pinch-hit for Trent Grisham an inning prior and worked a walk. The Padres’ only lefty option off the bench was a struggling Matt Beaty. Melvin put his faith in Azocar.
“It means a lot,” Azocar said. “I’d never face a righty, normally. And then he gives me the at-bat, and I was like, ‘I need to get on-base, no matter what.’”
Azocar made it happen. He found himself in a 1-2 hole, then fouled off three two-strike pitches as he worked his way aboard via his second walk of the night. He flung his bat, clapped his hands, and shouted in the direction of Alfaro in the on-deck circle.
“If I don’t do it, the guy behind me will do it,” Azocar said. “And Alfaro did it.”
Alfaro is making a habit of it. Five months into his Padres tenure, he’s already a cult hero. Really, is there anyone the Padres would rather see at the plate in that spot?
“He’s just one of those guys, as the game gets more pressure, he calms down,” Myers said.
“He certainly is not afraid of [those moments],” Melvin added. “Based on his experience and success, you wouldn’t think he would be.”
Said Alfaro: “I just try to breathe, calm down, don’t try to speed up the game. Slow it down.”
Ian Kennedy’s first pitch was a 94 mph fastball. Alfaro shot it back up the middle at 113 mph. Cronenworth and Myers scored easily.
And, somehow, the Padres had managed to take a night that was headed nowhere and turn it into an extra game’s worth of cushion in the NL Wild Card race.