The Padres were hoping to play Game 7 on Tuesday rather than putting the final touches on their Cloud 9 ride.
Instead of wrestling with the Philadelphia Phillies for the final World Series invitation, general manager A.J. Preller and manager Bob Melvin held court with the media. Not yet 48 hours after the Padres were eliminated by the Phillies in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Preller and Melvin tried to make sense of what happened and what lies ahead.
The sting of the Padres’ deepest run in the playoffs since 1998 was evident. The pain that accompanies a late loss in the postseason hung in the room. The longing for nine more innings in front of those rabid Padres fans was obvious.
“We have the motivation to do it again,” Preller said.
Preller, an Encinitas resident, gave long-suffering Padres boosters a thrill by constructing a team that shocked the New York Mets and slew the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs. That the Padres were but three wins from only their third World Series, with a chance to win their first World Series title, wasn’t lost on Preller or Melvin.
“The season was hard, but I think it served us well as we got to the postseason,” Preller said.
There were a few questions on Melvin’s usage of Game 5 pitchers, after right-hander Robert Suarez left a cookie over the plate in the eighth inning for Bryce Harper, the Phillies’ left-handed hitting superstar. He deposited it into the left-field bleachers for a go-ahead, two-run homer.
But Melvin never wavered on his decision to leave lefty Josh Hader in the bullpen. Just because the calculation failed doesn’t mean it was the wrong move, Melvin said.
Much of the briefing was spent on what went right with the Padres during their roller-coaster season, which often fostered a love-hate relationship between the Padres and their faithful followers. The Padres supplied many opportunities to send fans in the other direction, but they were just too good, and too entertaining, to be shut out completely.
Instead the patrons stuck and they delivered what was needed in the season’s final months. So much that before power was cut from the microphones, Melvin made another point.
“They were immense in our success,” Melvin said of the crowds. “They were a big part of it. They were almost like another roster player.”
A peek at the Padres’ squad reveals more smiles than frowns, as if there were any remaining. With offensive weapons such as third baseman Manny Machado, right fielder Juan Soto and infielder/outfielder Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres could be in the same position next year.
With the only caveat being they anticipate gathering the media after the World Series, and just maybe, a World Series title.
“I think a lot of the guys here are prepared to take that next step,” Melvin said. “Look at the players that we have coming back and we are going to be as good as anybody.”
That’s high praise and it was once sprinkled with regularity on Tatis. But if there was a smidgen of news from Tuesday’s wake, it was where Tatis will play.
Tatis, who is rebounding from shoulder and wrist surgery as he serves his 80-game suspension for ingesting performance-enhancing drugs, is no longer a lock to play shortstop. Not after Ha-Seong Kim was steady in the middle of the infield. The Padres are in no hurry to move Kim, where reliability eclipses being on ESPN’s top 10 plays.
Preller was vague on where Tatis, who’s eligible to play again on April 20, will play next season.
“I just want to see him on the field for 145 games next season,” Preller said. “He can play all over the field.”
Throughout San Diego County, the locals enjoyed a season that won’t soon fade from their memories. It had drama, lows, highs and a late-season run that shook Petco Park to its bedrock.
Sure, it ended with a gut punch and Melvin said the players felt the same thing. Although their abdominal pain came with a nod toward 2023.
“They are going to be really hungry to go further,” he said.
With Preller working the roster’s edges. Unlike previous offseasons, Preller’s moves will be minimal.
“We feel like we have a really good foundation in place,” Preller said. “We just need a couple other pieces to take the final step.”