GRAND SLAM walk off home run in the 9th by Norris wins it for the Padres 6-2!!! It doesn’t get any more exciting than that as the Padres even the series with the Pirates 1-1.
All’s well that ends well, but it was an uncertain road taken by the Friars tonight to get to the finish line. They trailed in this game for a good part of it, but they out pitched, out played, and out hit the Bucos for the last three innings to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Shields and Liriano were both coming off solid starts so it figured to be a pitcher’s duel from the outset, and to a certain extent it was. Liriano was brilliant using his fastball, changeup, slider repertoire to its fullest to keep the Pads off balance for most of the game. He even changed his modus operandi a little when he saw some Pads hitters starting to look out over for his off speed pitches so he started busting them in with the fastball, which he normally prefers not to do. He ended up punching out 11 over his 6 inning of scoreless work.
Shields was not quite as sharp as Liriano, but in typical James fashion he battled and kept the damage to a minimum. He had runners in scoring position each of the first three innings, and was finally touched for two with two outs in the 3rd on a a 2-strike off the end ground ball by Alvarez to the short stop position which was vacant due to the infield pull shift. The ball rolled through and plated two, but the inning could have been more troublesome were it not for a nice out at the plate two batters earlier. With a runner at third Shields struck the batter out, however the ball got away from Norris. The runner at third attempted to score but Derek got to the ball quickly and shoveled it to Shields who had run in to cover home and they got the runner out on a bang-bang awkward sliding play that was challenged by the Bucs but upheld.
After that inning Shields cruised through the fourth and fifth, allowed runners to reach in the 6th but worked out of it, and left after six trailing 2-0 with his unblemished 6-0 mark in jeopardy.
As was the case tonight, often times when you’re offense is getting shut down by an opposing starting pitcher you know the best chance you have is for that pitcher to leave the game. He’s so locked in, and shutting you down so convincingly that you’re only hope is that he reaches a pitch count and has to be pulled before he completes nine innings of work. You don’t even care at that point who’s in the opposing team’s bullpen because they can’t be any tougher than the guy who’s mowing you down right now. Fortunately that pitch count reached Liriano after the 6th, because any deeper in the game may have been too late for the Pads tonight.
Once Liriano left the boys had a renewed chance, and they took advantage right away. Middlebrooks lead off the 7th with a walk, and Gyroko then singled. Almonte showed bunt for the first two pitches of his at bat, but once he was 2-0 Buddy let him swing, and swing he did lining a double to the left center field gap scoring both Will and Jedd to tie the game at 2 a piece.
Benoit and Kimbrel posted zeros in their inning of work each to set up the dramatic bottom of the 9th. Gyorko lead off with a walk. Almonte then bunted to the right side to move the runner but the pitcher’s throw was wide to the second base side of the bag and Alvarez at first couldn’t move his feet in time to adjust as the throw went by him. Thanks to the error Gyorko ended up at third and Almonte at second with no outs. Spangenberg was intentional walked to load the bases and create the force out at home. With a 5-man infield in place Amarista grounded out to second base and Gyorko was forced out at home – one out. The Pads were actually lucky that only one out was recorded on that play as the catcher, Cervelli, had a prime opportunity to double up Almonte, who apparently must have gotten a bad jump on his way to third. For some reason Cervelli froze and didn’t throw the ball allowing Almonte to reach third safely…thank you! Solarte then grounded out to the shortstop and Almonte was forced out a the plate – 2 outs, the bases still loaded but the specter of this golden opportunity being wasted loomed large.
Norris next came to the plate having struck out in all four of his previous at bats on the evening, and now the outcome of this opportunistic inning and quite possibly the game was weighted heavily on his shoulders, – no pressure!!! The Pads second best hitter with runners in scoring position showed his toughness and propensity to come through in the clutch once again by launching the second pitch he saw high in the air, just clearing the wall in left center field to record the dramatic walk off grand salami! It was the sixth grand slam walk off in padres history, and it was the first time since 1900 that a player had hit a walk off grand slam after also striking out four times in the game, making that home plate mob scene celebration that awaited him that much sweeter….WHAT A FINISH!
The Pads needed that one after the rough loss yesterday, and hopefully tonight’s exhilarating victory can help catapult them into a run of wins that they are certainly capable of rattling off and have been waiting for all season.
It will be Ross’s turn on the mound tomorrow to keep the momentum rolling. First pitch is at 7:10, and can’t wait for you to join Jesse Agler and myself for the call on the Mighty 1090.
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