SAN DIEGO — Slam Diego lives. The Padres playoff hopes? They might just be alive, too.
Elsewhere on Tuesday night, the Padres got plenty of help in their bid to crash the National League playoff race. They took the field at Petco Park against the Orioles needing to capitalize, needing to deliver a statement of intent — and within no time, Gary Sánchez had done exactly that.
Sánchez launched a first-inning grand slam, the first by a Padres hitter this season, sending San Diego to a much-needed 10-3 victory over Baltimore. With the win — and results elsewhere — the Padres moved within 5 1/2 games of the final Wild Card spot in the National League.
Not where they’d like to be. But, you know, baby steps.
“Most important for us is just trying to win the series,” Sánchez said through Spanish interpreter Pedro Gutierrez. “Personally, my mindset’s not really thinking about the playoffs or things like that. It’s just, ‘What can we bring in day by day?’ … Today worked out; same mindset for tomorrow.”
The climb remains a steep one. The Padres must jump four teams to move into a playoff position, and they trail all of those teams by at least three games. Still, on Tuesday, the Marlins, Reds, Cubs and Brewers all lost. (The Giants won.)
The Padres, of course, have done plenty of losing lately, too. They entered play Tuesday having dropped seven of eight.
“The results haven’t been there lately,” Sánchez said. “We know that needs to change. That needs to happen for us. If we take everything one game at a time, fortunately, we can turn this around.”
Staked to an early lead, Michael Wacha pitched five scoreless innings in his first start back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him more than a month. His return should provide a major boost to a rotation that is without Joe Musgrove.
Wacha threw only 77 pitches, limited by a pitch count. After long innings in the fourth and fifth, his night was done. The Padres weren’t taking any chances. Nonetheless, Wacha kept the Orioles off the scoreboard, with five innings of three-hit ball. He struck out five and walked one, using his changeup as his primary putaway weapon, as usual.
“It was a long six weeks of rehab,” Wacha said. “A lot of time spent with these trainers getting me back on the field. It’s good getting back out there and competing with this group again.”
After a scoreless top of the first, the San Diego offense provided Wacha with all the support he would need. The buildup to Sánchez’s slam was nearly as impressive as the feat itself.
The Padres’ struggles with men in scoring position have been pronounced, to say the least. But after Ha-Seong Kim’s leadoff double, Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts and Jake Cronenworth all worked two-out walks, with Cronenworth’s plating the game’s first run.
“It was an overall team effort,” Sánchez said. “Obviously the rest of my teammates, they had great at-bats, didn’t chase anything outside of the strike zone. Nobody chased. We were disciplined, able to take those at-bats one at a time. I was fortunate to just come in with the bases loaded and get my pitch.”
Flaherty’s 1-1 offering was a thigh-high fastball just off the outside corner. Sánchez went with it and launched it 380 feet to the opposite field, the first Padres grand slam since Cronenworth’s 363 days earlier.
For a team once given the nickname “Slam Diego” because of its frequency of grand slams … it had been a while.
“Let’s hope we have a lot more on the way,” Sánchez said.
The Padres didn’t stop there. In the second, Manny Machado doubled home a pair. In the fifth, the newcomers joined the fun. Garrett Cooper and Ben Gamel drove in runs with doubles. The Padres led by 10. They could scoreboard-watch the rest of the way if they wanted.
They didn’t. In a playoff race like this one, filled with so many would-be contenders, the only surefire way to gain ground is to win your own games.
On Tuesday night, at least, they did exactly that. Then again, they’ve won games like this one before. They’ve merely struggled to build any measure of momentum when they do.
“We’ve said that a lot,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “We’ve played games like this, and then it’s the follow-up that’s the most important thing.”