If you haven’t watched much of the San Diego Padres this year (and the new schedule has made it so San Francisco Giants fans likely haven’t), then you’re probably a bit stumped as to how this team can have that record.
They have two generational talents, the type of stop-everything-and-watch-this-at-bat guys that some fans go their whole life waiting to root for. They have two other position players who combined to sign for $630 million this offseason. And they have a fifth position player who has somehow been better than all of them this year.
And it’s not just the offense. The pitching staff is littered with talent, including a Cy Young winner who leads the Majors in ERA, and arguably the top closer in baseball.
Glance at the roster, then glance at the record, then glance back at the roster, then glance back at the record, then look around for help. It’s like watching David Blaine pull the four of clubs that you were thinking about out of a San Marzano tomato in a sealed can inside a sealed box inside a sealed case on a pallet wrapped in saran wrap. Half of your brain is comforted knowing there’s a logical explanation out there somewhere. The other half of your brain is shooting sparks and smoke and blowing gaskets as it threatens to explode in frustration because you can’t conceptualize what that logical explanation might be.
And then you watch the Giants beat the Padres on Thursday night — a win that kept the Giants holding strong in Wild Card position, while pushing the Padres into a futility tie with the Washington Freaking Nationals — and suddenly it all makes sense. Now you see how a team with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto and Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts and Ha-Seong Kim and Blake Snell and Josh Hader can bow out of the playoff picture with such balletic finesse.
They gave you a glimpse — a mere flicker — in the first inning when Pedro Avila, after retiring the first two batters he faced, walked Mitch Haniger on four pitches. That led to a rare but glorious thing — a Joc Pederson infield single — which came with an extra base tacked on when Machado threw from the 5.5 hole and sent the pitch into his own dugout with nary a bounce, which was about as impressive as an awful play can be. The look on Machado’s face suggested he was more interested in the impressiveness than the awfulness, which kind of epitomizes the Manny Machado experience, and is also something recommended by nine out of 10 therapists for helping cope with a disastrously lost season.
That led to a Mike Yastrzemski walk, which loaded the bases in a bizarre and gracious two-out rally, which only ended when a J.D. Davis ground ball was turned into a fielder’s choice that was about 0.0001 seconds away from being not turned.
But it was the third inning where the Padres went full Padre, and you should never go full Padre. The 10-batter inning netted the Giants six runs, their highest single-inning total since a blissful ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels more than three weeks ago.
Let’s go batter by batter, because it really was that entertaining.
First up was LaMonte Wade Jr., who hit a ground ball right at first baseman Matthew Batten, who opted not to catch it. Bold choice. It would not work out. Runner on first, no outs.
Second up was Thairo Estrada, who hit a good old fashioned single. Runners on first and second, no outs.
Third up was Haniger. He struck out swinging. He later tripled so let’s focus on that part of his second game back after a two-and-a-half month absence. Runners on first and second, one out.
Fourth up was Pederson, who picked up his fellow NorCal kid with an opposite field single, scoring the first run. Runners at the corners, one out.
Fifth up was Yastrzemski, playing in his second game since returning from the IL, and giving the team quite a boost. He smashed one right back up the middle for a single, scoring the second run. Runners at first and second, one out.
Sixth up was Davis, who chopped one to Machado, who threw an errant bullet to Batten (or, more accurately, away from Batten), which resulted in an error on Batten (which should have been an error on Machado), scored the third run, and allowed Yaz to move over. Runners at the corners, one out.
Seventh up was Wade Meckler, who presented his “hit 10 singles get a free safety squeeze” card to the cashier and was given his gift on the house. He dropped a bunt down the first base line and, between his speed and the Padres looking like they’d never seen a bunt before, eked a single out of it, while scoring the fourth run. Runners at first and second, one out.
Eighth up was Blake Sabol, who did that thing that you do when you’re playing doubles in tennis, and you purposely hit the ball right down the middle in hopes that each player will defer to the other and as a result no one will hit it, which is what the Padres did except with extra style points when Kim doinked it off his shin like a college kid trying to show you their Lionel Messi impression after 13 beers and not realizing it’s a lamp post, not a soccer ball they’re trying to kick. It was officially a double, and it scored the fifth run. Runners at second and third, one out.
Ninth up was Casey Schmitt who, playing in front of a huge group of friends and family, juuuuuuuuuuust missed one, but the consolation prize was that he did something that seemingly no Giant can do these days and had a nice situational at-bat, flying one out to deep left field to score the sixth run. Runner on second, two outs.
Tenth up was Wade again, who flew out to end the inning, but not before making Avila throw eight pitches, which brought his total up to 77 on the night, which ended his game after three innings.
Sound fun? Now let’s try watching it.
Who ordered the six-run inning with a side of small ball? pic.twitter.com/3Hr4plpFmV— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 1, 2023
If you think the Giants had a frustrating and feckless month, imagine cheering for the Padres, who have double the talent and quadruple the length of the lousiness.
The six-spot in the third kept you from shifting in your chair uncomfortably all game long, because the Giants flirted with disaster in a way that’s amusing when you’re in a blowout and not so much when you’re not.
After four glorious no-hit innings by Jakob Junis (who, in his last nine games, has given up just three earned runs in 20.1 innings), Sean Manaea took over and performed a lengthy monologue titled, I Am Brian Wilson.
In the fifth inning, he gave up a one-out walk and a two-out single, but invoked an inning-ending 69.4-mph groundout by Trent Grisham. Nice. (point four).
In the sixth inning, he issued a one-out walk, and a two-out single again, then added a walk to load the bases, then struck out Garrett Cooper on back-to-back unhittable sweepers.
In the seventh inning he allowed a leadoff single followed by a walk, before tricking Grisham into grounding into a double play, and then retiring Kim.
In the eighth inning he gave up his fifth walk to start the inning, then got Machado to line out, before handing the ball to Ryan Walker who, being young and inexperienced, didn’t get the Wilson reference and thus let one of the runs score.
Scott Alexander also let a run score when he came on for mop-up duty in the ninth, and his plans of getting back on track in a low-pressure environment were, unfortunately, thwarted.
Along the way, Yastrzemski blasted a majestic opposite-field homer, helping set the final score at 7-2.
The Giants won their fourth game in five days, partially because they were better than the Padres, but largely because the Padres were worse than the Giants.
Honestly, that’s a pretty sound strategy.