If you’re a Padres fan, these are the moments you live for: Self-immolation by a Dodgers pitcher that leads to a walk-off 11th-inning win. This canny piece of non-hitting came late Saturday and includes all the drama of a game-winning hit but with the hold-yer-breath matador’s flourish that Yangervis Solarte offered the final pitch.
This was Solarte’s first game back since hurting his hamstring on April 9; after ripping through minor league pitching in his rehab stint, and flying out in the seventh as a pinch hitter, he must’ve been starving to take a stab at anything near the plate. But L.A. reliever Chin-Hui Tsao wasn’t exactly painting up there, having walked two straight by the time Solarte came up. Bags loaded, Solarte took the first three balls and on the final pitch took a half-step away from the plate, pulling his bat against his chest to watch Tsao miss low and outside. We’ll keep playing if you can throw a strike, the stepback said. And then the game ended, because Tsao couldn’t, and Solarte got to toss the bat.
This might be the high point of San Diego’s season so far. The Padres opened the season 7-15 (including an unprecedented three shutout losses to start the year) but have unclogged something, going 12-10 since and bringing a soupçon of respectability to last place, especially with two straight walk-offs vs. the Dodgers. Los Angeles, meanwhile, is a $200-plus-million, sub-.500 tapped keg of a team, a candidate for most disappointing team in the Majors if not for Clayton Kershaw’s superlative season.
The Padres are in last place, and they’re still luckier than they are good. But they’re also in the tightest division in baseball, and now only 4.5 games back of Los Angeles, the same bunch that dealt them those three shutouts to start the year. The Padres may get to play spoiler, if they stay patient.