CLEVELAND — Mike Clevinger held it together as long as he could.
But after finally getting back on a major league mound following elbow surgery, a lockout, knee sprain and a rainout that had delayed his return for San Diego, Clevinger couldn’t control his emotions.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to pitch again,” Clevinger said Wednesday, his voice cracking as he choked back tears. “So this is big.”
Clevinger had an impressive first start since having Tommy John surgery in 2020, and Manny Machado hit a two-run homer as the Padres edged the Cleveland Guardians 5-4 in the first game of a doubleheader.
Steven Wilson (3-0) got the win despite walking two in the fifth, and Taylor Rodgers pitched the ninth for his 10th save.
It was a joyous return for Clevinger, who had surgery not long after pitching in Game 1 of the NLDS two years ago – just months after being traded from Cleveland to San Diego. Facing his former team and Plesac, one of his closest friends, the right-hander allowed three runs and four hits.
Clevinger was just an out away from potentially getting a win before being pulled after 95 pitches by manager Bob Melvin.
The win would have been a bonus, but that hardly mattered to Clevinger, who was thankful for the chance to compete again.
“It’s been a super long road and I can’t thank the people behind me enough,” said Clevinger, standing in the hallway outside San Diego’s clubhouse between games.
Clevinger, who spent four-plus seasons with Cleveland before being traded in 2020, was leading 3-1 when he walked Myles Straw with one out in the fifth. He put on Jose Ramirez with two down before being replaced by Wilson, who gave up a walk and Josh Naylor‘s tying two-run single.
Clevinger lobbied Melvin to let him finish the inning.
“I really appreciate Bob giving me a chance to go out and get it,” Clevinger said, “and was lobbying for it hard and I’m glad he let me try to go after Josey that one last time. I knew I was going to not let him beat me.
“I was going to try to make him swing outside the zone, and the hitter he is, I wasn’t going to let him go ahead and tie the game up there, so I did what I had to do to him and it just didn’t go in my favor.”
Clevinger’s return was bumped back a day after Tuesday’s series opener was postponed by rain and a wet forecast.
The weather conditions were hardly San Diego-like when Clevinger, nicknamed “Sunshine,” finally took the mound as low-hanging clouds enwrapped Progressive Field during the early innings.
Machado’s fifth home run put Clevinger and the Padres up 3-0 in third.
An error by Naylor at first allowed Cronenworth to reach with one out before Machado, who batted .386 in April, drove a 1-1 pitch over the wall in center.
BAKER’S DOZENS AND DOZENS
Dusty Baker’s 2,000th career win prompted a wide smile and praise from Guardians manager Terry Francona.
“I’m happy for Dusty,” said Francona, who entered the day with 1,792 wins. “I think it’s really cool when good things happen to good people – and he certainly qualifies on both accounts.”
Baker became the first Black manager to reach the milestone on Tuesday night when Houston Astros beat Seattle 4-0. He’s the 12th manager to reach 2,000, a mark that cements his eventual enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
Padres: 1B Luke Voit (biceps tightness) went 0 for 2 with a walk, run and strikeout in the first game of a rehab assignment at Triple-A El Paso on Tuesday. Voit could be activated from the injured list when San Diego gets home.
Guardians: INF Yu Chang continues to recover in the minors after being placed on the COVID list last month. Chang’s rehab was transferred to Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday.