San Diego Padres pitcher Mike Clevinger emotional after impressive start in return from Tommy John surgery

Mike Clevinger held it together as long as he could.

But after ultimately 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.

Machado connected in the third inning off Zach Plesac (1-3), and Austin Nola delivered a go-ahead RBI double in the sixth as the Padres won for the sixth time in seven games — all on the road.

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Steven Wilson (3-0) got the win despite walking two in the fifth, and Taylor Rogers pitched the ninth for his 10th save.

Padres rookie MacKenzie Gore will start Game 2 versus Cleveland’s Cal Quantrill.

It was a joyous return for Clevinger, who had surgery not long after pitching in Game 1 of the National League Division Series 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 permitted 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 victory would have been a bonus, but that hardly mattered to Clevinger, who was thankful for the opportunity 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 José Ramírez 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 conclude 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.”

The Padres, though, came right back and scored two in the sixth on Nola’s double off Enyel De Los Santos and Jake Cronenworth’s sacrifice fly.

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.

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