Cedric Hunter displayed a complement of patient batting and aggressive base-running, turning what appeared to be a routine single into a sliding double and grabbing third base on a heads-up jump on a passed ball. In his next at bat, Hunter lined another single and turned that into extra bases by stealing second – though he would have been picked off were it not for an errant throw. In both at-bats, Hunter's ability to wait for his pitch and drive it into the gap made him one of the toughest batters in the Padres lineup today.
Despite additional solid base-running, including a successful double steal that caught China napping, the Padres' bats failed to come through when they needed it most – in the bottom of the 8th inning with bases loaded and no outs. Mike Epping and Craig Cooper struck out before Sam Carter grounded out to strand three Padres in an inning that turned out to be the Padres last chance at the victory.
"(The pitcher) is the one who has the bases loaded and nobody out," manager Doug Dascenzo told his team afterwards. "We are in control. We are in what someone once told me was the ‘King Position.' That lost us the game."
Rayner Contreras might have taught the Chinese the meaning of "Wow" with his efforts today, including a bare-hand scoop and throw to first base to nab a runner on a slow roller. Contreras had multiple singles and a stolen base, a combination which earned him my "I can handle anything" award for the afternoon.
Padres' pitching was respectable but not overwhelming. Greg Burke pitched a one-two-three inning on fastballs and sliders, but his struggles the following inning were a result of bad luck more than bad throws. Burke kept the ball down, but fortuitous grounders and line drives just out of reach of the Padres' infielders left him in a jam. One grounder back to the pitchers' mound was deflected by Burke's glove, turning a routine 6-3 groundout into a base hit. China's "small ball" kept them a step ahead of the Padres, though Burke's changeup and splitter looked awfully impressive in his final two-thirds of an inning of work.
Alfredo Fernandez threw a moderate fastball near 90 and used his deft slider as a strikeout pitch. He is sacrificing velocity for accuracy with auspicious results, including better control and savvy strikeouts on off-speed pitches. I expect his walk totals to go down and his strikeouts to shoot up, an exciting combination for a pitcher like Fernandez who has already earned a name for himself in his five years in the Padres' system.
Rolando Valdez, the outfielder-turned-pitcher, threw an incredible changeup in the mid-70s alternated with a fastball around 90-91. Several of China's batters were well ahead of the change, and their weak swings were evidence of Valdez' adept use of the fastball and changeup to freeze hitters and induce strikeouts.
Ryan Klatt put his split-fingered fastball on display, forcing many ground balls with its down-and-away movement. He might need a little more variety in his pitching repertoire to keep hitters guessing, though. In one of the best fielding plays of the game, Klatt covered home plate after a passed ball by Kody Valverde and saved a run with a skillful tag at the plate and nice hustle from Valverde to corral and throw the ball.
"Nice play Kody," Dascenzo said to him after the game. "That was nice hustle to go back and get that ball and not give up on the play.
In the end, the Padres fell short, despite a monster home run by Sam Carter that was well beyond 400 feet. But the Padres had a legitimate beef: China ran out of pitchers and the Padres never got a chance to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
Padres general manager Kevin Towers joked about the "International Game Rules" – when a visiting team from abroad is ahead after the top of the ninth, the bottom of the ninth isn't played. Towers' quip earned him a few laughs - and probably some confused looks from the Chinese players on the other side of the language barrier. But somewhere, somehow, the Padres' hitting prowess with runners in scoring position was lost in translation, and their inability to knock in runs kept them at the short end of the International stick.