SAN DIEGO – As he rounded third base and flung off his batting helmet in anticipation of a wild celebration after his first career walk-off home run, Jake Cronenworth of the San Diego Padres had two thoughts racing through his mind.
“I've always had the same feeling, just hopefully they don’t get my batting gloves wet and please don’t throw something at my face, but they shot baby powder in my mouth," Cronenworth said.
Cronenworth took a direct hit of baby powder from fellow All-Star Fernando Tatis Jr. after his solo home run with one out in the ninth inning lifted the Padres to a 4-3 win against the Houston Astros.
The wild finish, coupled with a power burst by Manny Machado, Wil Myers and Tatis in a 10-2 win Saturday, might help turn things around for the Padres, who have scuffled through the last few weeks.
The Padres took two of three from the Astros and popped back ahead of Cincinnati in the race for the second wild-card spot.
Cronenworth said they might be getting their swagger back.
“We’re a super fun team up and down the lineup and I think when we’re playing our best, everybody’s having a great time, everybody’s dancing in dugout, pulling for each other," Cronenworth said. "Kind of that swag thing, having fun. I think when we’re doing that on a day to day basis, everybody’s confident and it’s pretty tough to beat this team when we’re doing that.”
Cronenworth, who has struggled at the plate recently, sent a drive to right-center off reliever Ryne Stanek for his 20th homer of the season. It was the second game-winning hit of his two-year career.
One batter earlier, Stanek (1-4) caught Machado's popup behind the mound and then tumbled over backward, popping up with the ball in his glove.
That play brought smiles from Stanek and his teammates. He didn't look that way moments later when Cronenworth connected, immediately punching his glove with his right hand.
San Diego hadn't scored since the first, when it took a 3-1 lead against Luis Garcia, one of the top rookies in the AL.
Stanek was throwing close to 100 when Cronenworth fouled off two four-seamers before homering on a 2-2 splitter clocked at 90 mph.
“You always want to get the big hit when you come up in that spot,” said Cronenworth, who has taken over at shortstop after Tatis was moved to the outfield to try to reduce the wear and tear on his troublesome left shoulder. “Your heart might be racing a little bit more, whatever it is, just got to take a couple deep breaths, relax and honestly just have a quality at-bat in that situation.
“Whether you hit the ball hard, you walk, you have a long at-bat, 10 or 12 pitches, or you hit a homer, in that spot you're just trying to do anything you can do to get on base and get that next guy up there because you never know what happens with anybody on base,” he said.
The Astros tied it in the seventh when Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa homered on consecutive pitches off Chris Paddack. Gurriel homered to left on a 2-0 pitch, his 14th and Correa hit Paddack's next delivery over the fence in center, his 22nd.
Padres closer Mark Melancon (4-2) came into a 3-3 game in the ninth and issued consecutive walks to Kyle Tucker and Gurriel before getting Correa to hit into a double play. After walking Jake Meyers, Melancon struck out pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz.
Paddack was strong for six-plus, allowing three runs and six hits, with no strikeouts or walks.
Paddack dodged some potential big trouble in the first. Jose Altuve hit a leadoff double and Michael Brantley reached on a throwing error by Cronenworth at shortstop. Tatis tried to make a sliding catch on Alex Bregman's flyball to right field, but it fell in for a single that brought in Altuve.
Tucker, who homered in each of the first two games of the series, flied out and Paddack got Gurriel to hit into a double play.
The Padres then jumped on Garcia for three runs in the first inning. Three of the first four batters reached to load the bases before Myers hit a sacrifice fly and Eric Hosmer followed with a two-run double to left.
Garcia allowed three runs and six hits in six-plus innings, struck out five and walked one.
Machado, a third baseman, had a putout in deep right field and an assist from his normal position in the fourth inning. Machado, who often plays in shallow right when the Padres shift against left-handed batters, tracked down Tucker's fly ball in deep right for the first out of the inning and then, back at the hot corner, gloved Correa's grounder and threw to first for the third out.
A day after fouling a ball off his left knee, Yordan Alvarez wasn't in the Astros lineup but he did pinch-hit, striking out in the seventh. He was in so much pain Saturday night that he had to be helped off the field. The team said X-rays were negative and Alvarez has a bruised knee.
Astros: RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (10-4, 3.20) is scheduled to start Monday night in the opener of a three-game home series against Seattle. The Mariners will counter with LHP Yusei Kikuchi (7-7, 4.12.
Padres: Haven't announced a starter for Tuesday night's opener of a two-game home series against the Angels.
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