“Every regular season game counts the same.” – Some boomer from Omaha
The San Diego Padres versus the Los Angeles Dodgers is the next great rivalry in all of sport. Move over Yankees Sox, Duke Carolina and even Auburn Alabama, there is a new sheriff in town that is here to stay.
In the last two weeks, baseball fans have been gifted with a two part, seven game, mega series between two of the most exciting teams in all of Major League Baseball. And to frank with you, I am writing this on a Monday morning in dire need of a drink. Could you imagine how exhausted the teams themselves must feel?
Our tale begins on April 16th. It’s a warm night in San Diego and the Dodgers are coming to town for the first, of 19 regular season matchups between the two heated foes. The last time these two clubs met was during last years NLDS, a matchup in which the Dodgers swept in 3, in route to their World Series Championship. Toeing the rubber for the Dodgers is Walker Buehler, a 26 year old flame thrower from Vanderbilt who is looking to avenge a somewhat of a mediocore 2020 campaign. For the Friars, southpaw Ryan Weathers is making his first career start and will be welcomed to major league life by the best offense in baseball. Another notable storyline coming into this one is that Fernando Tatis Jr, who has quickly become one of the faces of baseball, will be returning to the Padres lineup after missing a week and a half of baseball with a shoulder injury.
As the game begins, a clear energy can be felt from Petco Park, even from couch 3,000 miles away. Chants of “Beat LA,” spray across the stands and for the first time in over a year, I get a real sense that baseball is back to it’s purest form. During the bottom of the 5th inning, with the score tied 1-1, Tatis, is only his second at bat back, rips a 94.5 MPH fastball to dead center, for his second homer of the season. The crowd erupt. Shit, I erupt. I stand up on my couch and chant “BEAT LA!” This is baseball baby.
We fast forward to the bottom of the 9th. Thanks to a go ahead, RBI Single by Dodgers Slugger Justin Turner in the top half of the inning, the Dodgers have found themselves leading by a score of 6-5. Kenley Jansen, who is one of the most dominant finishers in the game, is on the mound, and for all intents and purposes, this one is all but over. After getting Tatis to pop out and striking out Friar middle infielder, Jake Cronenworth to start the inning, Jansen walked Manny Machado, which slightly cracked the door for the Pads. Machado, who was visibly shaken up with a back injury, took on the role of warrior status, advancing two bases by virtue of a steal and passed ball. Two down….tying run now 90 feet away. Eric Hosmer, who was now the Friars last hope, dug into the dish and ripped a 94.9 MPH sinker through the 4-3 hole and into right field. Tie game…BEAT LA…BEAT LA.
After stellar extra inning bullpen performances by both sides, Dodgers SS Corey Seager decided that it was time to go home, blasting a two run, 12th inning home run into the San Diego sky. The Dodgers would go on to win 11-6 in what was an epic opening act.
Game 2 was all about the art of the pitcher. Now, for some, a good old fashion pitchers duel can come off as boring, as the long ball seems to moves the needle, but for me, a man of sophistication and grace, there is nothing I love more than watching two dudes duke it out on the hill and mow fellas down like it is their day job. And on this Saturday night in particular, lets just say I was in paradise. For the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw, one of the franchises most prized possession, was set to make his 4th start of the season. And for the Friars, they turned to Yu Darvish, who was arguably the biggest pitching acquisition of the offseason. Does it get any better than that.
The first few innings of the ballgame went as advertised. Darvish had his slider working and Kershaw has his patented 12-6 curve humming. The first real action of the contest came in the bottom of the fourth when LLWS legend, Jurickson Profar was awarded first base by rule of catchers interference. However, when watching the replay, it seemed as if Profar intentionally poked his bat out behind the batters box, making contact with the glove of Austin Barnes. Clayton Kershaw took exception to this gesture, and began to yell across the diamond at Profar, saying “That’s a bullshit move!” If you were not previously a buyer of the intensity of this rivalry, you sure as hell are now.
Kershaw’s Final Line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO
Darvishes Final Line: 7.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 SOs
We pick things up in the bottom of the 9th. Thanks to a Clayton Kershaw, bases loaded walk in the 5th and a Justin Turner home run in the 9th, the Dodgers have found themselves ahead 2-0. The Padres to this point, have only found a way to muster up two hits and look about as lifeless as a dead deer on the side of a highway. Blake Treinen is in to start the bottom of the 9th and begins the inning by striking out Manny Machado on a filthy slider. Will Myers, who was 0-2 on the night, laces a seeing eye single to left field and the Frias have life. Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts calls in Victor Gonzales in relief of Treinen which to me, felt like a closer by committee situation (This never works btw.) The next man up to the dish is Jurickson Profar, who i’m sure is being viscously stared down at in the dugout by Clayton Kershaw. He draws a walk, and all of a sudden, the Padres have runners on first and second, with just one man down. Jake Cronenworth, who made a few costly outs last night, gets overanxious and on the first pitch of the AB, grounds out softly to the first basemen for the second out of the inning. Runners are now at second and third, and Tommy Pham steps into the box looking to play hero. Pham, who is considered by most to be one of the more discipline hitters in the National League, swings at the first pitch as if he was trying to send folks home happy. Foul ball. The second pitch comes in, which looks like an elevated fastball off the hand. Pham swings, makes contact and begins to treck to first. The ball looks like it is heading towards the gap, but Mookie Betts, who is shading toward center field, closes in to make one of the most spectacular, game saving, game clinching, diving catches I have ever seen. There is a reason why Mookie Betts has 5 gold gloves to to his name. Big time players make big times plays and that was certainly evident here. Dodgers win game two, 2-0.
The final game of the series featured another brilliant pitching matchup, this time between a pair of blockbuster, offseason acquisitions. For the Dodgers, it was time for the defending champs to bring out their 300 million dollar man in the likes of none other than Trevor Bauer. Bauer, who may be the most notorious man in Major League Baseball, is coming off a Cy Young year, and is pitching at an extremely high level. For the Padres, Blake Snell, who was one of the more surprising moves of the offseason, is looking to write ship on this new chapter of his life. If you know anything about either of these pitchers, it is that they are unapologetically themselves, and are not one to back down from a challenge. This was going to be fun.
We pick up the action in the bottom of the 8th. Snell and Bauer both lived up to the hype, combining for 14 strikeouts, and we find ourselves deadlocked at two in the latter stages of the contest. Leading off for the Padres is none other then Jurickson Profar, who has seen a seasons worth of action in just three days. Profar hits a routine grounder to Corey Seager, who makes an uncharacteristic throwing error to start the bottom half of the frame. Next up for the Friars, Jake Cronenworth, who pops out to Seager for the first out of the inning. After the Dodgers make a pitching change, brining in Dennis Santana, Fernando Tatis Jr. walks and Manny Machado hits a lazy fly ball to the left fielder, Luke Raley. Two down, two own, in a two-two ballgame. Could this series create any more suspense?
With the game on the line, Eric Hosmer, who is currently sitting on a 8 year, $144 million dollar contract, ripped up the ball through CF, scoring Profar and giving the Padres one of their first leads of the series. This was then followed by a Tommy Pham, two run double which incited the great Don Orsillo to yell, “THAT IS PHAMTASTIC!” The Padres would call upon their closer, Mark “The shark” Melancon to close the door and would avoid the sweep, winning this one by a score of 5-2. Feel like you need to catch your breath? Well I’ll give you all three days to sleep on it and see you on Thursday night.
We have now arrived to Dodger Stadium and both teams are looking to get their gears back on track. After their thrilling first stanza, it appeared as if both teams experienced some sort of post series hangover. On Monday, the Padres welcomed in the Milwaukee Brewers to Petco Park, where they were properly swept out in three games. For the Dodgers, it was off the Seattle, where they would split a pair with the Mariners, but only score 4 runs in 18 innings. Could you blame these teams for taking their foot off the gas? Of course not, thats how high leverage baseball works.
During the first game of the LA edition of this series, we were witness to a rematch of Thursdays pitching affair. Buehler vs Weathers. And I don’t know if it was because the air was dry, or because of the LA humidity, but the fastballs from these pitches in the early stages of this contest had a little extra umf on them.
The first action of this contest came in the top of the fourth inning, when Manny Machado drove in Fernando Tatis Jr. with an RBI single. The Padres would then add on to their lead in 6th, when Trent Grisham crushed the first pitch he saw into the right field bleachers for a solo shot. 2-0 Frias.
In the bottom of the 7th, when it seemed as if the boys in blue were going to lay a goose egg on the scoreboard, the Dodgers showed exactly why they are the most talented and the most deep lineup in all of baseball. To lead off the inning, AJ Pollock, who by most peoples estimation is one of the more underrated hitters in the game, crushed a home run to the deepest part of the ballpark. Sheldon Neuse, yes Sheldon Neuse would then follow this AB up with a homer of his own and in the blink of an eye, the Dodgers had tied the game thanks to two absolute tanks from the bottom of the lineup. Simply amazing, aint it?
The Padres would manage to grind out a run in the 8th and Mark the Shark would strike out the side in the 9th, and the Padres would take game one in LA. The biggest storyline here? Besides the two home runs, the Padres bullpen pitched 3.1 IP of scoreless, 3 hit relief. The power of a solid bullpen man…
This. journal entry is gonna be simple. I call it, The Fernando Tatis game. See, back on April 23rd, 1999, when Fernando Tatis Jr. was just three months old, his dad, who was a third basemen for the Cardinals at the time, had a game for the ages. He hit two grand slams in the same INNING, becoming the first player in major league history to ever do so. Oh yea and by the way, he did it at Dodger Stadium, the same place his son would be playing at 22 years later to the day. But wait, it only gets better.
During the top of the 3rd inning of a 1-1 ballgame, Tatis Jr. digs into the plate for his second AB of the night. He gets a first pitch fastball from Clayton Kershaw and does not miss, blasting into the center field batters eye. Fast forward two innings later, to Tatis Jr. next at bat, and the kid does it again, this time hitting a deep fly ball to left field. The Padres would go on to win the game 6-1 but it really didn’t matter. The story line here was that a father and son had homered 4 times on the same day in the same stadium, 22 years apart. If that is not something written straight out of a freaking movie than I don’t know what is. How can. you not be romantic about baseball after witnessing something like that?
Snell vs Bauer Part 2. Let’s run it. Bauer steps on the mound for his second home start of the season and the fans are going bananas. I will give Trevor credit by the fact that he does more for the sport in term of marketing and growing the game, then perhaps anybody else associated with baseball combined.
The first batter that Bauer faces is last nights hero, or villain depending on which side you were rooting for, Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis is welcomed to the box with a plethora of boos from the Dodger faithful and responds by grinning from ear to ear. An old little league coach once told me that if you ever are good enough to get bood, it means that you are more likely than not, the best player on the field. Truer words have never been spoken. Tatis takes the first pitch of the game for a strike, a cutter that had some gnarly bite to it. On the second pitch, Tatis simply said “It’s Nando time,” and obliterated another home run to left center field. As Tatis began to round first base, he looked back at the dugout and covered his eye, a mocking gesture of sorts towards one of Bauer’s spring training antics. “NANDOOOOOOO,” I screamed from my couch. Fernando Tatis Jr. has the world in his hands and is continuing to develop as a full fledged superstar right in front of our very eyes. As Drake would say, waaay up, I feel blessed.
We fast forward to the top of the 6th, with the score now tied at two runs a piece. How did we get here you may ask? Well the Dodgers do what they do best, which is scratch and claw with every at bat. In the bottom of the 3rd, Justin Turner, who is arguably having the greatest start of his ML career, drove in Mookie Betts with an RBI single and in bottom of the 4th, Sheldon Neuse came up with a clutch RBI knock, bringing in the hustling AJ Pollock.
Now that we are caught up to speed, lets take a look back to the man of the weekend, who is set to dig in for his third plate appearance of the night. Bauer who had incredible control of his slider tonight, makes a really solid pitch on the outer half of the plate, but as the saying goes, when your hot, you are HOT. Tatis finds a way to put his barrel on the ball and carry it out and over the center field fence. It is his second multi home run game in consecutive days and the LA Fire Department may have to start making their way over the stadium. We are all witnessing greatness folks. There is no other way to put it.
The biggest part of the game comes in the bottom of the 6th inning. The Padres had just regained the lead, and are 12 outs away from taking the first three games of this four game set. After getting Muncy to ground out to start the frame, Jayce Tingler comes out to the mound to relieve Blake Snell of his duties. Snell goes 5 and a third, striking out 7, but also allowing 7 hits and 2 runs. Coming into pitch for the Friars is hard throwing righty, Pierce Johnson. However, he quickly gets pulled after allowing three straight singles and walking in a run. Next man up, southpaw Tim Hill who will face Corey Seager. A lefty on lefty matchup you could only dream about. Seager, after fouling off two really tough sliders, showed why he is one of the best hitters in baseball, ripping a two run single into right field. 5-3 Dodgers.
The Padres would manage to scratch across a run in the 7th, but that was all she wrote. Dodgers take game 3 of the series, 5-4.
SIDE NOTE: The post game “beef” between Bauer and Tatis is too good not to share.
We now move to our final, and probably most competitive game in our seven part series. And I want even sugar coat it with you guys. As a baseball fan, this game had absolutely everything you would want. For starters, we saw ANOTHER Tatis bomb in the top of the 4th inning, his 5th in three days. With that HR, Tatis becomes the first opposing SS to ever hit a home run at Dodger Stadium in three consecutive games. Pretty damn cool if you ask me. But where I really want to pick up is the top of the 7th inning, with the Padres trailing by a faint score of 7-1.
In the top of the 7th inning, with the score reading 7-1 in favor of the Dodgers, it seemed as if the game was all but a formality. The Dodgers, thanks in part to a three run bomb by Chris Taylor, had just scored 5 runs in their half of the 6th, and were riding the backs of a tremendous start by Dustin May. Every game that these two teams had played thus far had been close, but it looked as if that streak was going to almost certainly, be coming to a close.
However, one trait that all championship caliber teams have is the inability to lay down. For whatever reason, when the Padres play this Dodgers team, they refuse to go down without a fight, even if it is just game 24 out of 162. So, in the top of the 7th, catcher Victor Caratini laced a two run RBI single to start the rally. 7-3…Top of the 8th rolls around, and Eric Hosmer delivers with a ribbie to go along with an RBI groundout by Jorge Mateo. 7-5…. THEN, in the top of the 9th, Trent Grisham and Manny Machado lace RBI singles of their own and all of a sudden the game is all square at 7 runs a piece. How in the hell can you not be romantic about baseball.
After masterful bullpen performances in the 10th by both squads, Eric Hosmer came in to deliver the final knock out blow. He hits a sac fly, scoring Tatis Jr., and that was all that was needed, as the Padres come into LA, winning three out of four in convincing fashion. Beat LA…..Beat LA.
These two teams will not meet again until the middle stages of June. And to be honest, both teams should be thankful of that, because I can not even begin to fathom the amount of energy and stress that must of went into those 7 games. Each game felt like a playoff matchup..better yet, each game felt like a WS affair. A heavy weight fight between two champions. If these teams were able to play 162 I would be all for it. And sure, each of these games only account for one win or one loss in the record column, but me and you both know that these type of games, mean just that much more, and you could feel that with every single pitch. Is it June yet?