Jake Cronenworth walk decides opener vs. Marlins

SAN DIEGO — On the surface, the Padres’ past two game-winning rallies might not seem like much. Both featured only one hit that left the infield. Both featured multiple defensive miscues by their opponent. The opportunities were gift-wrapped. The Padres merely accepted those gifts.

Then you consider the 2023 San Diego Padres. How many times did their opponents present them with opportunities like these? Felt like every game, didn’t it? And how many times did the Padres capitalize? Felt like never. (At least not until late September when their postseason fate was already sealed.)

All of which is to say, rallies like these can’t be dismissed. On Monday afternoon at Petco Park, the Padres beat the Marlins, 2-1, with Jake Cronenworth’s bases-loaded walk in the seventh inning proving decisive. San Diego capitalized on a pair of errors by shortstop Tim Anderson — each of which could have ended the inning.

“It’s cliché, but good teams take advantage of opportunities,” Padres manager Mike Shildt said. “We’re a good team. And we took advantage.”

A day earlier, the Padres rallied for four runs to win the finale of their series against the Yankees, using a similar formula in the sixth. Gleyber Torres committed an error and Anthony Rizzo misplayed a bunt single. San Diego used those miscues to take the lead for good. The 2023 Padres, they are not.

A year ago, the Padres finished 24-42 in games decided by two runs or fewer. They went 2-12 in extra innings, tying an MLB record by beginning their season with losses in 12 straight extra-innings games. This year, the Padres are 11-8 in games decided by two runs or fewer, and they’ve won both extra-innings games they’ve played.

“Being really good in close ballgames is an attribute of a really good team,” said right-hander Michael King, who pitched five innings of one-run ball. “When the pressure’s on and we’re in those tight situations, you can see the at-bats get a little bit better. They get a lot tougher.

“And then, you have to capitalize on mistakes. Fortunately for us, there were a couple in that inning.”

Shildt was quick to note that the Padres made their own luck by putting the ball in play and putting together some tough at-bats in big situations. On Monday, a struggling Ha-Seong Kim led off the seventh inning with a nine-pitch battle against Marlins reliever A.J. Puk. Kim ended it by lining a single into center field.

Two batters later, Anderson booted a potential double-play ball off the bat of Fernando Tatis Jr. Two batters after that, with two outs, Anderson couldn’t corral Manny Machado’s chopper, when all he had to do was step on second base to end the inning.

“When you get those chances, especially late in the game, those are opportunities you need to take advantage of,” Cronenworth said. “The last two days we’ve done a great job of that.”

It was Cronenworth who came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded against Marlins reliever Anthony Bender. He’d already recorded his 500th career hit, a fourth-inning double, and made another dazzling defensive play at second base, robbing Christian Bethancourt up the middle in the third.

Cronenworth worked the count full, fouled off a pitch, then watched as Bender’s 3-2 fastball veered off the plate, outside. He flung his bat toward the home dugout and pumped his fist. It was decidedly more emotion than Cronenworth typically shows — because he knew what it meant.

“Big spot, knowing who’s coming in out of the bullpen,” Cronenworth said. “We have an opportunity to win the game with those guys coming in. … They’ve done an incredible job over the last couple weeks.”

Indeed, the San Diego bullpen is on a heater right now. Across the past 11 games, the relief corps has posted a 1.18 ERA. After Adrian Morejon kept the game tied in the sixth and seventh innings, Cronenworth’s walk gave the Padres a late lead. That was enough. Yuki Matsui and Robert Suarez pitched scoreless ball in the eighth and ninth, respectively, to nail down the win. The Padres moved back above .500 at 29-28.

King had been mostly sharp through five. He allowed Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s solo homer in the third, while striking out seven. Marlins starter Trevor Rogers matched King, allowing only Donovan Solano’s solo shot, setting up a battle of the bullpens and a game that would be decided late.

These days, that typically means advantage Padres.

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