SAN DIEGO — Sometime after Jorge Alfaro learned that he wasn’t in the Padres’ starting lineup on Sunday, he gave his mom a phone call. It was Mother’s Day, after all. Alfaro had already smelled her flowers.
Alfaro’s mother, Consuelo Buelvas, watches every game from their native Sincelejo in Colombia. She had a message for her son on Sunday morning:
“If you’re not in the lineup, just be ready, you’re going to hit a home run today,” Alfaro recalled, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Mom, that’s hard to do.’”
Never doubt a mother’s wisdom.
Trailing by two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, manager Bob Melvin called upon Alfaro as a pinch-hitter. The Padres had put two men aboard, and Melvin would later say he was “looking for some power.”
It took one pitch for Alfaro to deliver the power Melvin had been searching for. The former Marlin crushed a walk-off three-run blast to send the Padres to a 3-2 victory over his former team at Petco Park. It marked San Diego’s first walk-off pinch-hit homer since Hunter Renfroe did so in May 2019 against the Dodgers.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Alfaro said. “She called it earlier, right before the game started. … After I hit the ball, I was running the bases, and it was like I was dreaming. It feels like a dream. How did she know?”
Alfaro’s blast sure felt like it came out of nowhere. The Padres’ offense had been held scoreless in 20 consecutive innings heading into the bottom of the ninth on Sunday. But right-hander Joe Musgrove kept San Diego in the game with seven innings of two-run ball, and righty reliever Robert Suarez tossed up a couple zeros in relief, as well.
That set the stage for a dramatic bottom half of the ninth inning against Marlins right-hander Cole Sulser.
Jurickson Profar swatted a one-out single to start the rally, but he appeared to have killed it when he ran into an out on a bizarre play at third base when Trent Grisham had reached on an error. CJ Abrams followed with a two-out single to keep the rally alive. That brought up José Azocar’s place in the starting lineup.
“Azocar’s been doing great for us,” Melvin said. “But we’re looking for some power in that particular spot. One pitch with a guy like Jorgie can win a game.”
While the Padres offense struggled this weekend — plating just five runs across four games before Alfaro’s heroics — dismay grew about their lack of offensive additions during the offseason. They failed to meaningfully upgrade their outfield, and right now they’re paying for it dearly.
But behind the plate, the acquisition of Alfaro feels like a coup. In the waning hours before the lockout, the Padres landed him from the Marlins in exchange for modest cash considerations. New catching coach Francisco Cervelli, who played with Alfaro in Miami, pushed hard for the deal.
But there were no guarantees. Alfaro made the team with an excellent Spring Training, and he has been one of the most serviceable hitters on a struggling offense, with a .701 OPS in 15 games.
“He’s embraced it from Day 1, had a great spring, had to make the team,” Melvin said. “Nothing was for sure for him. He did that. He’s put in a lot of hard work. He got off to a good start with the bat, but lately not as much. But with his power, you’re always one swing away from getting something like that.”
Alfaro spent three seasons in Miami, where he never quite lived up to expectations. In a roster crunch in late November, the Marlins were on the brink of designating Alfaro for assignment when the Padres came calling with a deal.
There are, quite clearly, no hard feelings for the happy-go-lucky Alfaro. He spent the weekend yukking it up with his former teammates during batting practice and said a few of them got together off the field.
Asked for his retrospective feelings on the trade, Alfaro said simply: “I’m happy here. That’s all I can tell you. I’m happy here. They treat me good, teammates are awesome, clubhouse is awesome, the vibe in here is real good. I love it. I love San Diego. I love the team.”
The team loves him right back. When Alfaro returned to the clubhouse, he was adorned by the long-absent Swag Chain. Their preferred home-run celebration accessory in 2021, the Padres have yet to break out the Swag Chain publicly in ’22.
“It was pretty heavy,” Alfaro said with a laugh.
After the way their season ended last year, a handful of players have obviously decided they’d prefer not to make such a big show of the Swag Chain in 2022. But for those who have been wondering — and it’s a question that’s been asked often over the past couple months — yes, the Swag Chain remains in the Padres clubhouse. It’s apparently being saved for special occasions.
A Mother’s Day called shot for a walk-off home run? That certainly qualifies.