SAN DIEGO — Trailing by two runs against the rival Dodgers, down to their final six outs, the Padres sure picked an opportune time for their best inning of the season.
They spent most of their Saturday night waiting for a big hit that might swing the game. Heck, they’ve spent most of their season waiting for that big hit.
And when they finally got one? The floodgates opened on a wild seven-run eighth inning and an 8-3 Padres victory before a raucous, sold-out Petco Park.
“This is what we play for,” said Manny Machado, who homered in the fourth inning and hit a two-run single to put the Padres on top for good in the eighth. “For games like this.”
Thing is, games like this one have proven elusive for the 2023 Padres, who have struggled immensely in late-and-close situations. Saturday marked the first time this year they won a game in which they trailed by two runs or in the eighth inning or later.
In the aftermath, they vowed that a come-from-behind win like this one could serve as a spark for something bigger. The victory moved the Padres within three games in the National League Wild Card race, the closest they’ve been to a playoff spot since June 15.
“If we keep playing baseball like that,” said Juan Soto, “we’re going to go a long way.”
The Padres’ eighth-inning hopes rose when they loaded the bases with one out. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called for left-hander Caleb Ferguson to face the lefty-swinging Soto. Soto hit a slow dribbler to second that Kiké Hernández threw into the Padres’ dugout.
The game was tied — and the Padres had the matchup they wanted. Machado had already taken southpaw Ryan Yarbrough deep for their first run. This time, he lined a thigh-high fastball from Ferguson through the 5.5 hole, plating two runs and putting San Diego top for good.
From there, the Padres poured it on. Jake Cronenworth added an RBI single. Garrett Cooper kept the rally alive with his first Padres hit. Trent Grisham brought home two more, and manager Bob Melvin wouldn’t even need to use closer Josh Hader.
It marked the first time the Padres had scored seven runs in a single frame against the Dodgers since September 2006. Adrián González, Todd Walker and Mike Cameron all went deep in that inning. A young future manager named Dave Roberts notched an RBI single.
“Just a big game,” Machado said. “Coming back, obviously after last night [when] we were ahead in the game and they came back and had that big inning, then tonight, being down the whole way — the script’s flipped.”
It proved an especially eventful night for Machado. In addition to his homer and his go-ahead hit, he grew displeased with a strikeout in the sixth inning when he believed Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol had come set too soon. Machado argued animatedly with plate ump John Bacon, though he says he was always cognizant of the line he didn’t want to cross.
“I’m not going to get tossed,” Machado said. “I’m just trying to give him information. I’m smarter than that. It’s a big game — they need me in the game. I’m just trying to lay down the facts.”
In the eighth, Machado experienced some hamstring tightness after he escaped a rundown and slid safely into third base. He was evaluated by a team trainer but remained in the game and indicated he doesn’t expect to miss any time.
“Whatever, we got the win, and I scored the run after that,” Machado said.
The next step for the Padres is building on a night like this one. They’ve underwhelmed for four months. But lately, there are signs things might be turning. They swept the Rangers last weekend, setting up an aggressive Trade Deadline in which they added to the big league roster in a meaningful way.
“We know how good we are. We know we have the guys in this building to do something,” said starting pitcher Blake Snell, who allowed three runs over five innings. “We’re just going to keep going, keep competing, keep knowing that we should be winning every single game.”
Still, the one hurdle they needed to clear was finding a way to win a game like this one. And now that they have?
“It’s contagious, like anything — good stuff or bad stuff,” Melvin said. “We’ve been rolling along with bad stuff here late in games and not being able to get it ignited. Hopefully, this gives us the feeling we can do really special things late in games here against good teams.”