Padres rally in 9th to hang tough in NL West

LOS ANGELES — The Padres would like you to know that, halfway through their 2022 season, they’re still very much alive in the National League West. They proved it on Sunday afternoon with a ninth-inning rally that they needed in the absolute worst way.

Having dropped three games to the rival Dodgers this weekend, and nine straight in Los Angeles overall, the Padres mounted a furious ninth-inning comeback to stave off a sweep with a 4-2 victory at Dodger Stadium.

“We just kept fighting ’til the end,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “It would’ve been a really tough game to lose. Obviously, there are some games in the middle of the season that are bigger than others. This was a huge swing for us to win this game today.”

Jake Cronenworth started the rally with a lined single off the back of Craig Kimbrel. The Dodgers’ closer remained in the game, only to serve up Luke Voit’s game-tying double and Eric Hosmer’s go-ahead single. Two batters later, Ha-Seong Kim added the insurance with a two-run home run off Yency Almonte into the left-field pavilion seats.

And, with that, the Padres reached the true halfway mark of their 2022 season, sitting 47-34 — an unmitigated success, considering the injuries they’ve dealt with, and the fact they’ve yet to play a game with superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Still, the way their weekend was going, it looked like the NL West might be slipping out of reach. Instead, with the comeback Sunday, the Padres moved 3 1/2 games back of LA — very much within striking distance, with half of their season still to be played.

“If we want to win a World Series, if we want to go deep in the playoffs, this is a team that we have to keep up with, that we have to beat,” said left fielder Jurickson Profar. “The first three games didn’t look so good. To get the win today, it feels great — and it’s a great encouragement going forward.”

Boy, did they need it. Because the first 35 innings of this weekend’s series were ugly. Prior to their four-run ninth, the Padres had scored just four runs all series. Their defense and baserunning, meanwhile, were stunningly poor for a team that has been clean in both aspects for much of the season.

In the third inning Sunday, the infield let a routine popup drop on the first-base side of the mound — a ball that should’ve been Hosmer’s. Then, both Jorge Alfaro and Voit failed to run out deep fly balls that they thought would be home runs. Voit’s mistake came in the ninth inning, when he thought he’d hit a go-ahead homer but ended up with a game-tying double off the very top of the wall.

“I should’ve been at third, See said. “That was my fault for not busting out of the box. But luckily we won the game. Hoz came up huge, and obviously Kim with the dagger.”

Indeed, there are lessons to be taken from a series like this one. And they’re easier to swallow on the heels of a victory.

“A team that good, you can’t afford to give them any free outs, any free 90 feet,” Hosmer said. “We definitely know there’s some things we’ve got to clean up from this series. But we’re happy with the way we fought, with the way we kept battling back and to end up with a win.”

That battle started with left-hander MacKenzie Gore, who found himself trailing after six pitches but worked his way through 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. Gore kept the Padres in it. So did right-hander Nick Martinez, pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. So did Profar, who delivered his National League-leading eighth outfield assist, nailing Mookie Betts at the plate with two outs in the fourth.

The Padres needed all of it. Because they needed to win this game. Even Melvin — never one for hyperbole — could acknowledge that much.

“If you look at the standings — I don’t a lot — but going into this series losing a fourth one?” Melvin said. “You can count. This keeps us within shouting distance. We’re still not fully whole as a team yet.”

To that end, even though the Dodgers have dominated the Padres over the past 12 months, Melvin recalled where things stood for San Diego last June. It was the Padres who’d beaten LA seven of 10 times, before things got awfully lopsided in the other direction, with the Dodgers winning nine straight down the stretch, then five of the first six to start this season.

“As you saw last year, this club had their way with the Dodgers early on,” Melvin said. “It’s not until the season goes a little further than anything’s decided.

“But certain games, at least for your confidence as a team, are bigger than others. And today was a big one.”

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