LOS ANGELES — More than Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish coughing up hits and leads, more than Josh Hader returning to the mound for a second inning, and even more than a goose in the outfield taking a thrilling ride in a baseball game . The strangest moment of San Diego’s NLDS Game 2 win on Wednesday night was the pitch from a 31-year-old rookie that could have saved the Padrestime.
The strange thing wasn’t just that Robert Suárez happened to be in that seventh inning jam in the leadoff spot. Suarez is a right-hander who didn’t make his professional debut until he was 24, leaving halftime and a home base in Venezuela to pitch for Saraperos de Saltillo of the Mexican League, the start of a strange seven-year international journey at this Dodger Stadium. embarrassed.
The strange thing was that Suarez threw a 1-and-0 changeup to Tria Turner at the most dangerous time: runners on second and third and one out with the Padres clinging to a 4-3 lead. Suarez hadn’t gone 1 and 0 to a right-handed hitter all year.
The situation was so bleak for San Diego that Padres manager Bob Melvin played back his home fielders, giving up the tying run while simply trying to keep the inning from scoring. If Turner put the ball in play, the only way the game wouldn’t be tied would be a fireball to a cornerback.
Yes. That’s exactly what happened. Turner advanced to third on this odd changeup, which was out of bounds. After Melvin smartly walked Freddie Freeman, Suarez ended the inning by lining out Will Smith with a drive to center—on a 2-and-2 change.
The whole night was a change. The little brother stood up and knocked his older brother into the street. San Diego beat LA, 5–3, for its first playoff victory over division rivals. And now the Padres—lost in 15 of their previous 20 games against him Dodgers this year — check the lineup. It’s been a best-of-three, with the next two games in San Diego the first playoff games there in front of fans since Oct. 5, 2006, long ago when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was the Padres’ leadoff man.
“It’s probably as back-and-forth a game as you’re going to see,” Melvin said. “Too much drama about it. Fun win.”
Melvin managed a valuable game, especially asking Hader to get four outs for the first time in two years. Melvin has used six different relievers to cover 9 1/3 innings in this series, and none of them have allowed a run — none more spectacular than Suárez.
Before his escape in the seventh, Suarez rescued Darvish from two inherited runners by striking out Justin Turner on a 101-mph heater and then—with that changeup—getting Gavin Lux into a double play.
Suarez has a nasty, low spin and hard changeup — batters are hitting .089 against him — that only throws to righties 10% of the time.
There is nothing ordinary about its pitches or its history. Suarez got the gig in Mexico in 2015 after a friend suggested the Mexican League paid well. He did well enough to get a job in Japan, where he blew out his elbow, returned as a starter, pitched badly, was released and returned as the closer, which earned him a contract from the Padres last December. At 31, he signed with a major league organization for the first time.
Melvin asked Suárez to close Opening Day in Arizona. It didn’t go well: walk, walk, wild pitch, hitter. Melvin replaced him with Craig Stamen, who threw a wild pitch and gave up homer to Seth Beer on National Beer Day.
But Suarez bounced back to have an outstanding season. His 11.5 strikeout rate per nine innings was fifth-best among freshman pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched.
“He’s really put himself in as important a role as we have,” Melvin said.
In addition to being locked out of San Diego’s bullpen, the Dodgers are sabotaging their own case. In a game of defensive snaps, a pitching error by Trea Turner in the sixth preceded a game-tying single by Jurickson Profar on a game-tying but ineffective Kershaw.
“I thought he might have been a little too quick,” Roberts said of Turner’s mistake. “You’re not going to double the guy. So it was very important to get the first runner and I think the exchange was not good.”
Suddenly, the Dodgers are in trouble. They were 22 wins better than the Padres in the regular season. If the Padres were to win the series, by a .136 margin of victory, it would be the second-longest postseason upset after full seasons, surpassed only by the 1906 White Sox beating the Cubs (.147 margin).
The Padres have Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove lined up opposite Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson. They have home field, with a crowd that has waited 16 years to scream its lungs out for the Padres in October. They have a hot bathrobe. They have Manny Machado playing almost like the two-way superstar that he is.
The series flipped in Game 2, and it was easy to spot the moment. No, it wasn’t when the apparently injured bird fell in four areas. (They eventually put him in a plastic bin and wheeled him away.) That’s when Melvin was willing to concede the draw, but a 31-year-old Venezuelan rookie from Mexico and Japan wasn’t so willing. Hunter saved the game, but Suarez saved the moment and maybe the season.
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