Craig Kimbrel falters again in Dodgers' loss to Padres, jeopardizing his playoff role

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel takes a moment before facing a San Diego Padres batter during the 10th inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Dodgers pitcher Craig Kimbrel takes a moment before facing a San Diego Padres batter during the 10th inning on Tuesday in San Diego. Kimbrel walked in the winning run. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Even after being demoted from the closer role last week, Craig Kimbrel blew another game for the Dodgers on Tuesday night.

The embattled right-hander was far from the only culprit in the Dodgers’ 4-3 defeat to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, in which shaky defense contributed to the Padres' first three runs and the Dodgers lineup went one for 17 with runners in scoring position.

But it was Kimbrel’s blunders that proved fatal in the 10th: a pair of two-out walks, including a bases-loaded free pass to Jorge Alfaro that gave the Padres their third walk-off win over the Dodgers this year and fourth in which they scored the go-ahead run in the ninth inning or later.

“I just missed some fastballs and threw some uncompetitive pitches,” Kimbrel said. “Walked guys in.”

To even get to the 10th inning, the Dodgers, who at 106-48 need one win to set a club record, and Padres, who are 86-68 and trying to clinch a playoff spot, traded a series of miscues and mistakes.

The hosts opened the scoring in a two-run first inning extended when third baseman Justin Turner fell down fielding a potential inning-ending double play — the only runs the Padres scored against left-hander Tyler Anderson in a strong six-inning start.

The Dodgers tied the score 2-2 in the sixth after the Padres failed to convert a potential inning-ending double play, turning the sequence too slowly to get Max Muncy out at first base.

The Padres went back in front in the eighth after Chris Taylor dropped a running catch in left to begin the inning and Turner — who came up limping after sliding into second on Muncy’s grounder in the sixth — committed another error with two outs and the bases loaded.

Then, with the Dodgers down to their final out in the ninth, Trea Turner (who had three hits, including a leadoff double in the ninth) scored on a passed ball by Alfaro.

“It was a little sloppy,” Turner said. “But it happens sometimes.”

Something that has happened far too many times: Kimbrel giving away a game late, with the former eight-time All-Star now sporting a 6-7 record and 4.02 ERA.

Dodgers pitcher Tyler Anderson throws to a San Diego Padres batter.
Dodgers pitcher Tyler Anderson throws to a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning on Tuesday in San Diego. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

His 10th-inning collapse was almost averted after he struck out Manny Machado with runners on the corners for the second out in the inning — which in the moment felt like one of his best sequences of the season.

“Just a real good battle right there,” Roberts said. “Craig made pitches when he needed to.”

Moments later, however, the wobbly Kimbrel reappeared.

After getting Brandon Drury in a 1-and-2 hole, Kimbrel missed with two fastballs and a curveball all wide on his glove side.

Up next came Alfaro, a burly right-handed hitter with only 10 walks this season and none over 63 plate appearances since mid-July.

"I mean, it's not a secret,” Alfaro told reporters postgame. “I don't walk that much.”

Still, Kimbrel couldn’t find the zone. Four times, Kimbrel tried to land a fastball over the outer edge of the zone. Four times, he missed wide again, the last coming in a 3-and-2 count that Alfaro took before trotting up the baseline.

“I just looked at the dugout,” Alfaro said. “I'm like, Oh, s--t, I walked!"

Kimbrel’s reaction couldn’t have been any different.

He shouted in anger. Looked down as he vacated the mound. Then tried to grasp on to whatever confidence he had left postgame.

“I think so,” he said when asked if he could still contribute to the Dodgers in the playoffs. “I think I’ve got some good pitching to do in the next couple days to prove that. I think, actually, I know I can. I don’t think I can. I know I can. Just gotta do it.”

Roberts’ take?

“Like I said, every day is a test,” the manager responded when posed a similar question. “He has to go out there. I’ll keep getting him out there when it makes sense and we’ll make decisions as we get down the line.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.