WASHINGTON — The Padres have had their share of hits through the first 50 games of the season. Nothing like the seventh inning on Thursday, though. The Nationals hit seven straight balls and scored five runs to impress the Cubs.
After two innings, the Padres looked down at the prospect of a sixth straight loss — and their third to a last-place team. They sat five games under .500 and were on the brink of their worst losing streak of the year. Only at the end of May. But could their season be winding down?
On a team loaded with major stars that has the highest payroll in franchise history, it’s Odor — a minor league signing this spring — who has been the Padres’ most reliable clutch hitter of late. Sure enough, Odor launched a three-run homer with two outs in the 9th inning, leading San Diego to an impressive 8-6 victory at Nationals Park.
“Somebody has to start,” Odor said afterward. “That person is me. We’re leaving now.”
The Padres will be hoping this win gets their season headed in the right direction.
“Yeah, it wasn’t the biggest game,” said Jacques Kronenworth, whose leadoff single sparked the game-winning rally. But what we did in the ninth inning, to come back, put a lot of quality at-bats together – that’s something we have to deal with.
Kronenwirth started the ninth with a grueling eight-pitch battle against Nats catcher Hunter Harvey. He retired three straight two-strike sacrifice bunts — one of which was such a defensive swing, he nearly struck out Juan Soto in the dugout circle.
After Kronewerth’s single, Soto followed this up. Soto walked in each of his first four plate appearances, but Soto ripped to right when Harvey hung a splitter. In his second trip to D.C. since last summer’s trade, Soto finished the week by hitting 11 of 14 pitches — including seven walks. But don’t let patience deceive you.
“I tell myself, ‘Always aggressive,'” Soto said. “I walk. But at the end of the day, I walk because those pitches are balls. I don’t walk because I want to. I want to swing the bat.”
Soto singled men to first and second with nobody out, as the Padres continued their recent trend — okay, at this point, it’s not just a trend of not being able to convert with runners on base. Xander Bogaerts and Matt Carpenter hit .182 in RISP situations this season.
An upward trend as playing time has increased in Manny Machado’s absence. Odor found a 99 mph fastball in the inner half, turned it on and put it in the right field bullpen. In their last 11 games, the Padres have 3 wins with the men scoring multiple runs. Odor has all three.
“He’s a winner,” Soto said.
“It feels good when he’s at the plate now,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “He is not afraid of any situation.”
Of course, the Padres still have plenty of question marks to address. They didn’t solve their RISP problem by finishing Thursday’s game 3-for-16. Their most recent bullpen opened in the seventh.
But it’s best to face those question marks after a win — perhaps their most impressive win of the season.
“That’s what good teams do,” Soto said. “We will continue to fight. Even when we are in trouble, we have to go out there and fight.
The Padres led 5-1 in the seventh when things started to turn around. Tim Hill and Nick Martinez combined for a seven-game hitting streak to start the seventh, though Martinez was able to stop the bleeding. The inning ended when owner Brett Sullivan made a spectacular leaping tag to find Alex Call’s spike after a ball in the dirt. The defect remained the same.
Of course, no matter the number, each of the Padres’ deficits has felt acute lately. The Padres haven’t overcome a game-winning deficit since May 5. They retired Brandon Dixon after he doubled in the eighth. They appeared on the verge of scoring two more in the ninth.
But Odor — now hitting .409/.480/.818 since the day after Machado’s injury — remained steadfast in his belief that things would change. Coming into Wednesday’s loss, he said it would only take “one game” to spark a turnaround.
He picked it up after a day.
“I said,” said the smell. “It takes one game to go. Let’s see tomorrow.