LOS ANGELES — It seemed as if Sunday’s finale, the seventh game in 10 days between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers, would finally produce the first dud of this exhilarating matchup. The Dodgers led by six runs, and the Padres were down to their last nine outs, entering the final three innings of a grueling stretch that consisted of 17 games in 17 days.
But of course, the Padres chipped away at the deficit.
Of course, they made it interesting in the ninth.
And of course, they sent it into extra innings.
The Padres ultimately won, riding a game-tying single from Manny Machado and a game-winning sacrifice fly from Eric Hosmer. San Diego wound up taking four of the seven games from the Dodgers and outscored them by the slimmest of margins, 32-30. All told, the teams played 68 innings and were separated by two runs or fewer in 61 of them. There were 10 ties, five lead changes, two near brawls and one Twitter fight.
“Man, I’m drained,” Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. told the ESPN broadcast moments after recording the final out. “All I wanna do is go home and go to sleep.”
Sunday’s outing actually provided the perfect bookend. The opener — back on April 16, which now feels like three months ago — lasted 12 innings and 297 minutes. The finale lasted 11 innings and 299 minutes. The opener saw Dodgers pitcher David Price hit a sacrifice fly off Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth, which was caught by Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove. The finale saw two starting pitchers, Ryan Weathers of the Padres and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, come to bat with the winning run 90 feet away in the 10th inning.
One inning later, Mark Melancon took the mound as the 41st and final player to appear in Sunday’s game.
The Dodgers are the reigning World Series champs, winners of eight consecutive division titles. They entered this four-game series with the best record in the majors and ended it with the best record in the majors. They don’t have anything to prove at this point. The Padres still do. And they did.
“I think we certainly made a statement,” Hosmer said. “The whole baseball world was watching these games, locked into our series, and I think they know that we can compete with these guys.”
The Padres and Dodgers will play at least 12 more times this season, but the next meeting won’t come until June 21. Until then, here are seven takeaways from their seven tantalizing April games:
An epic comeback
It was only fitting that this improbable series would feature an improbable ending. When Chris Taylor belted a three-run homer in the sixth inning on Sunday, pushing the lead to 7-1, a Dodgers victory seemed like a foregone conclusion. The Padres were 1-112 all time in games in which they trailed the Dodgers by six or more runs. Over the past 50 seasons, teams trailing by six in the seventh inning or later had a .007 winning percentage. This year alone, teams were 0-49 in that situation.
The Dodgers had won 228 consecutive games in which they held a six-run lead.
The Padres, major league leaders in come-from-behind victories during the shortened 2020 season, fittingly were the ones to end that streak. They picked up two in the seventh, another two in the eighth and yet another two in the ninth, before finishing off the Dodgers two innings later.
“We just had a belief that they can’t close us out, they can’t close us out,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was clearly peeved at his bullpen’s performance, even though three of his high-leverage relievers were out of action.
He was asked if he learned anything new about the Padres over the course of these seven games.
“Not a whole lot,” Roberts said. “We knew they could pitch; we knew they’re athletic. They play good defense. They made some big plays defensively, they got some big hits when they needed to, so, yeah, it’s kind of what we knew. It’s just more about us and how we play baseball. When we play clean baseball, we pitch well, then we win.”
Tatis is back (on one side, at least)
On Friday, Tatis homered twice off Kershaw, on the 22nd anniversary of his father belting two grand slams in one inning at Dodger Stadium. On Saturday, Tatis homered twice again — this time off Trevor Bauer — to become the first player ever with back-to-back two-homer games against Cy Young Award winners. On Sunday, he homered yet again. With that, he became the first shortstop to homer in three straight games at Dodger Stadium and the first player with five home runs and two stolen bases in a road series, no matter the venue.
Fernando Tatis Jr. takes Dustin May deep to center field for a 408-foot homer.
“I truly believe he’s the best talent in baseball,” Hosmer said. “He’s the face of baseball, and he showed why. Especially seeing him how he started, him having no panic in his game whatsoever. As a young player, when you start out a little slow and not the way you want to start out, it’s so easy to panic, to try to do more. Coming into a huge series like this, when the whole world’s watching us against the Dodgers, and again today, being on ESPN, Sunday Night Baseball — he just continued to impress me on the mental side of the game.”
Tatis also booted a grounder in the second inning, giving him a major league-leading nine errors through his first 15 games. But maybe the defense will tighten up as the offensive part of Tatis’ game reemerges. Tatis began the four-game series with a .600 OPS and ended it with a .970 OPS. On his fourth home run of the series, he extended his hands and hit a pitch that tailed way out of the strike zone out to left-center. On his fifth, he saw a fastball deep and hit it the other way. Those are good signs for his tender left shoulder.
Covered eyes, YouTube responses and Photoshop babies
In a stretch of 17 hours, we had …
• Fernando Tatis Jr. trolling Trevor Bauer by covering one of his eyes and doing the Conor McGregor strut while celebrating home runs.
• Bauer speaking out in support of Tatis’ celebrations, saying he’s “all for it” and calling pitchers “soft” for retaliating to similar showmanship by throwing at hitters.
• Bauer calling out Tatis on Twitter for seemingly peeking at Dodgers catcher Will Smith right before his second home run.
• Tatis dunking on Bauer in response.
Tranquilo hijo . pic.twitter.com/lRe2hBLmR8
— Fernando Tatis Jr. (@tatis_jr) April 25, 2021
Later, Bauer made a YouTube video in which he playfully broke down Tatis’ celebrations but also addressed him subtly looking back while at the plate to either peek at Smith’s sign or see where he was setting up (or both) before his sixth-inning home run — on a cutter that tailed significantly away from the strike zone.
Below was part of Bauer’s response from that video.
If you’re gonna do that, and celebrate it, I mean you gotta — ah, that’s tough. That’s tough. Either be good enough to not have to look at the signs, and then you can celebrate. Or if you do have to look at the signs, I don’t know about the celebration, man. It’s a tough one. Now this brings up the question of unwritten rules. Am I mad about the celebrations and the bat flips and all that stuff? No. However, if you start looking at signs, if you start pulling this, like, bush league stuff, that’s when people get pissed off. I mean a lot of people get pissed off about the celebrations and whatever. They’re just soft. But that’s the type of stuff that would get you hit in other games. Now, I’m mild-mannered about it, and I’m gonna send a message more this way and say, ‘Hey, that’s not OK. If you keep doing it, something will have to happen.’
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts struck a similar tone in his pregame media session on Sunday afternoon. He claimed he hadn’t seen the video of Tatis peeking at Smith before his home run, saying: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Fernando, the way he plays the game. But if that is the case, which I don’t know, that’ll be noted.”
He was asked if by “noted” he meant his catcher making adjustments to account for Tatis peeking.
“No,” Roberts responded, “that’s not what I’m talking about.”
After trailing 7-1 in the seventh inning, Manny Machado drives in Fernando Tatis Jr. as the Padres come storming back to tie the Dodgers in the ninth inning.
A solution for Manny?
Manny Machado had reached base 14 times in 21 career plate appearances against Bauer when the season began. He had accumulated 10 hits in 17 at-bats, four of which sailed over a fence, then added a couple of singles when they met again on April 18. Against Bauer’s four-seam fastball, Machado was slugging 1.727. Absurd.
On Saturday, Bauer countered by attacking Machado exclusively with sliders. Seriously. In three at-bats, Machado saw 13 consecutive sliders — the pitch Bauer is generally most comfortable throwing to right-handed hitters, one that produced an atrocious-looking swing by Machado in their prior matchup.
The result with sliders this time: strikeout, groundout, strikeout, the last of which triggered a smile from Machado as he made his way back to his dugout.
Maybe Bauer finally found something for Machado.
It was a scene that transported you back to Game 6 of last year’s World Series — Blake Snell cruising through five innings, coming out for the sixth, leaving surprisingly early with a lead, then watching his bullpen give it all up. It happened again on Saturday, in the only game that the Dodgers won in this series. Snell joined the Padres hoping he would be given the chance to prove he could consistently pitch deep into games, something the Tampa Bay Rays hardly ever allowed. But he’s still searching for his first six-inning start since July 21, 2019.
The Padres have pulled Snell before the 90-pitch mark in four of his five starts, which actually isn’t all that surprising. Every team is practicing extreme caution with their starting pitchers given the significant innings jump required when transitioning from a 60- to a 162-game season. Eventually, though, the Padres will need Snell to pitch deep into games. Their bullpen has already absorbed a major league-leading 103⅔ innings this season (eight of them on Sunday alone). That is not sustainable for a team with aspirations of playing deep into October.
A new Kenley, much like the old one
“California Love,” a signature element of Dodger Stadium’s soundtrack for most of the last decade, is no longer Kenley Jansen‘s entrance song. He ditched it for “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” another popular 2Pac song.
“Just a new beginning, man,” Jansen said earlier this season. “It’s time.”
This new Jansen looks a lot like the old one, a stunning-yet-welcomed development that could elevate the Dodgers to yet another level. The spin rate on Jansen’s cutter is the highest it has been since Statcast began tracking in 2015; the exit velocity against it is easily the lowest in that stretch. On Tuesday, Jansen threw a pitch 97 mph — the first time he has reached that mark since June 2018. On Saturday, Roberts called on Jansen to record the final four outs of a one-run game and he answered by retiring four of the five batters he faced.
Jansen is throwing his cutter an average of 92 mph, the ideal velocity for that pitch. The execution is all about timing.
“It’s the feel I’ve been searching for years,” Jansen said. “It’s hard for me to explain.”
To be determined
For as closely matched as the Padres and Dodgers were, it was also clear that neither team was necessarily the best version of itself. Cody Bellinger, recovering from a hairline fracture in his leg, didn’t play at all. Instead, guys like Luke Raley, Matt Beaty and D.J. Peters combined to take 31 plate appearances against the Padres. When the Padres came back to tie it in the ninth on Sunday, Jimmy Nelson was on the mound and Garrett Cleavinger began to warm up shortly after he got in trouble, entering in the 11th. Neither would have been pitching in such high leverage spots if this were October and not April.
The Padres weren’t necessarily whole, either. Dinelson Lamet wasn’t available in either series. He’s one of 11 San Diego pitchers currently on the injured list. And so, when Tingler was asked if he believes his team is better than the Dodgers, he answered this way: “I’m more focused on what we’re gonna be, and the things we can clean up and come together, and I feel very, very confident that we’ve got more to go. And I’m sure on the other side as well. They’re gonna have guys come back. They’re gonna improve, and we’re gonna improve.”