Jurickson Profar, Padres assert their relevance in series win over Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES — Mic’d up for national television, Jurickson Profar struck a conciliatory tone. It was the bottom of the second inning at Dodger Stadium, and as he patrolled left field between pitches, the San Diego Padres veteran fielded a question from the broadcast booth about a pitch that had set him off the night before.

“I misunderstand it a little bit,” Profar said on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.” “I don’t think (Los Angeles Dodgers starter Gavin Stone) was doing that on purpose. He had a perfect game going.”

There was no mention on the telecast of what catcher Will Smith had said after Saturday’s Dodgers win. Smith, who jawed with Profar before both benches cleared, expressed confusion on a postgame radio show about Profar’s reaction to a cutter that ran inside on the Padres player. He then called Profar “kind of irrelevant.”

This was the backdrop Sunday evening as the two teams met in a series decider. And this was the decisive moment: With the game tied in the top of the seventh, Profar struck a long drive off the top of the center-field wall for a bases-clearing double. A trio of teammates crossed home plate directly in front of Smith, and the Padres hung on for a 6-3 victory that secured their first consecutive series wins of the season and their first consecutive series wins at Dodger Stadium in over a decade.

As the Padres packed for a flight to Milwaukee, Profar fielded another topical question: Did he feel relevant?

He laughed.

“No, man, I’m not gonna comment on that,” Profar said. “I’m just gonna play like I did.”

Through 18 games, the Padres are a .500 team with more momentum than their record might suggest. Their latest triumph marked their fourth comeback win. Three of those wins have taken place in the last week. The biggest early difference from a regrettable 2023 season has manifested itself in the form of a more timely, more opportunistic offense. The Padres on Sunday matched a franchise record by drawing 14 walks and failed to capitalize on most of them. Yet Profar came through when it mattered most.

Afterward, his fellow team members were willing to go where he would not.

“I’m pretty sure you’re gonna have to check the dictionary,” third baseman Manny Machado said, “because he’s been leading this team big time. And the numbers speak for themselves. Every time he comes out here and he steps on that field, he makes a big impact on the game.”

“They don’t know much about him as a human being,” right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. said. “It’s part of the game. It’s part of the emotions. I know that was just a comment based on what happened in (Saturday’s) game. But then after the next day, we were gonna flip the page and that was just gonna give us more motivation.”

“He’s a glue guy for us,” manager Mike Shildt said. “This guy’s got 10 years in the big leagues. There’s some relevancy there, and he did a nice job tonight with the three-run double. But beyond that, Pro’s a pro and he’s a very big part of the San Diego Padres. He’s very relevant to me; I believe in him completely. He’s very relevant to his teammates.”

Profar, 31, has been the sport’s consensus No. 1 prospect, and he has been an also-ran. Just last season, after signing a one-year contract with Colorado late in spring training, he was the majors’ least valuable player according to the pervasive metric known as wins above replacement. A last-place Rockies club released him in late August. Four days later, Profar accepted a minor-league deal to rejoin the team that had extracted the best baseball of his career.

He subsequently hit .295 in 14 September games for the Padres. San Diego went 9-5 in those games but, following a tumultuous summer, expectedly fell short of a postseason berth. In February, Profar returned on a one-year, $1 million deal. The perpetually upbeat veteran was advertised by some as, primarily, a bringer of good vibes. The Padres front office had frank conversations with Profar about the seeming likelihood that he would end up as more of a role player than an everyday starter. Profar understood.

Yet, on Sunday, Profar made his 18th start in 18 games. The Padres, operating with a tight budget, have yet to make a significant move to reinforce a suspect offense, but they continued to engineer competitive at-bats. Machado homered, Tatis scalded a single and rookie phenom Jackson Merrill supplied his third multi-hit performance in a week. But it is Profar who leads the team with a .960 OPS.

It likely will not last. Profar has a career .710 OPS, and his current underlying numbers suggest there are fallow stretches ahead. The Padres, however, know what to expect from him every day. And some things are impossible to measure.

“Energy,” Merrill said. “A lot of laughs. A lot of smiles. And a really good person to be around.

“I think it rubs off on multiple people in the clubhouse. I think it rubs off on everybody.”

Profar, as Saturday reinforced, is also an ornery competitor. The Padres, coincidence or not, have been a feisty team for much of this season, especially in recent games in which they have trailed. Last year’s collective failure, people inside the clubhouse say, has been a constant source of motivation. Unlike in 2023, a pared-down offense can argue it has been more than the sum of its parts.

“Just the entire group being able to show everyone that we are vulnerable and being able to work on every single one of those areas and facing it and knowing that we need to work on it, I feel like it has marked the difference in this team,” Tatis said.

Sunday, the Padres won with a multi-pronged effort. Yu Darvish absorbed a Dodgers rally in the fourth before retiring the side in the fifth. Four San Diego relievers combined for four scoreless innings. The pitching supported a spotty offensive effort; San Diego finished 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 men.

“We left too many runners on, and we’re gonna continue to get better at that,” Machado said. “I think that’s what this group is about. Every day, we learn something new, and tomorrow we’ll figure out a way to get some of those runs in. I mean, with a team like (the Dodgers), you can’t miss on those opportunities. Today, we got away with one, but we’re gonna have to cash in on some of those to not even give them a chance.”

Still, the plethora of opportunities spoke to what so far has been a functioning process. The Padres are 9-9, tied for second place in a division the Dodgers remain overwhelmingly favored to win. They also have gone 3-2 against Los Angeles and pulled off their first series wins in consecutive order. As the Padres prepared to visit the first-place Brewers, Darvish compared Profar to Barry Bonds. Machado dubbed Sunday’s hero “Mr. Irrelevant.”

They were joking, of course. And while he was reluctant to discuss any extracurriculars, Profar did not dismiss the relevance of Sunday’s result.

“We have a great team, and they have a really, really good team over there,” he said. “For us to come in here and take two out of three, it’s a message, you know?”

(Photo of Jurickson Profar gesturing to the Padres dugout after his three-run double in the seventh inning Sunday: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

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