Short of the track, short of the Giants

Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Tatis destroyed a hanging slider for homer number 40 in the seventh Wednesday night, but he couldn’t quite walk it off in the ninth, though not for lack of effort . . .

Fernando Tatis, Jr. started the Padres’ Wednesday night comeback attempt when he hit one out with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Why shouldn’t he have wanted to finish it by way of a game-winning blast with two on in the bottom of the ninth?

The National League’s leading home run hitter this year so far gave the Giants’ righthanded submariner Tyler Rogers’s climbing slider a high ride to Petco Park’s deep left. Even Giants broadcasters Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow thought it was likely to go and the Padres were likely to win.

Except that it didn’t, and they didn’t. That’s been the Padres’ story in the season’s second half. Minutes late and dollars short.

The drive hung up just enough to fall short enough and into the waiting glove of Kris Bryant, playing left near the track for the Giants, snapping the ball shut to end an 8-6 Giants win that looked like a blowout in the making after six and a half innings.

“I wish I could celebrate in a different story,” Tatis said post-game, “but it’s been a long year, a lot of ups and downs, especially coming back from those injuries. At the end of the day, I’m pretty happy with the results and how I bounced back and this is history. It’s something to celebrate.”

He’d had to recover from a couple of shoulder injuries to become only the tenth man in Show history to hit forty homers or more in a season before his 22nd birthday. He might celebrate history, but he probably would have celebrated a Padres win more.

Every Giant fan in the house—there were plenty making the trek to San Diego, especially the group of orange-clad elders known as the Game Geezers—should thank Rogers for delivering the narrow escape. They should thank rookie Giants reliever Camilo Doval even more profoundly for the one he delivered in the bottom of the fifth.

One of the Giants’ soon-to-be-fabled retreads, lefthanded starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, ran into big trouble after delivering four innings of one-run ball that weren’t exactly on the virtuoso side but weren’t exactly on the weak side, either. But he walked Victor Caratini on a full count, surrendered a base hit to pinch-hitter Jake Marisnick, and walked Tatis on four straight.

Then Giants catcher Buster Posey made a might-have-been grave mistake. He got his glove out far enough to catch a piece of Jake Cronenworth’s bat as Cronenworth slashed a foul down the left field line. The interference call brought Caratini home, kept the bases loaded, and told manager Gabe Kapler Kazmir had had it for the night.

He brought Doval into the impossible nightmare. Ducks on the pond, nobody out, and Manny Machado checking in at the plate. This can be something comparable to trying to bring a Boeing 747 home without a scratch, bump, or crash after three of the four engines blow.

Doval attacked Machado as though he was just playing catch with Posey. Three hard, quivering sliders that didn’t get anywhere near the middle of the plate. Three hard, hell-bent swings on each of which Machado looked as though he wanted to send his mates on the bases around the horn twice on one drive. Then, Doval wrestled Tommy Pham into dialing Area Code 6-4-3 for the side.

Even the Padres’ faithful had to appreciate that kind of narrow-escape, safe landing, which Kapler called “one of the gutsier performances of the year from anybody in our pen.”

The irony of Caratini scoring on catcher’s interference wasn’t necessarily lost on anyone. It was Caratini’s glove touching Tommy La Stella’s bat, as LaStella fouled one high down the left field line opening the game, that put La Stella aboard and began Padres starter Vince Velasquez’s three-run nightmare, giving the Giants the extremely early lead in the first place.

Velasquez wasn’t exactly sharp in the first place. Not after starting Brandon Belt 0-2 and finishing by walking him, then throwing a 1-1 jammer that Posey somehow fisted into a balloon shot into short right center to load the pads.

He might have wrestled Lamonte Wade, Jr. into an eight-pitch strikeout, but Bryant nailed him for a bases-clearing double off the right center field wall, before Brandon Crawford pushed Bryant to third with a fly out to the back of center and Evan Longoria struck out swinging for the side.

La Stella’s no stranger to catcher’s interference. It happened to him twice in one game, as a Cub, on 7 June 2018, making him only the seventh player to benefit thus. Then-Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp’s mitt touched his bat twice—in the first, when he grounded one back to pitcher Nick Pivetta; and, in the eighth, against reliever Adam Morgan, when Knapp’s mitt hit the bat as La Stella fouled one off. But neither one figured in that game’s scoring, the Cubs beating the Phillies by a run.

The game ended up thickening the Giants’ National League West lead to two games with the Dodgers getting slapped silly, 10-5, by the Rockies in Coors Field. The Rockies’ season burial isn’t wholly official yet; the Padres still have a very outside, very slim wild card hope.

Kazmir, last seen among the silver medalists on the U.S. Olympic baseball team earlier this summer, pitched like an elder looking for one more season in the sun and finding various ways to justify it. He pitched into and out of trouble in the bottom of the second, turning a one-out single (Eric Hosmer), a two-out ground-rule double (Trent Grisham), and then offered evidence for the defense in favour of making the designated hitter universal.

Caratini came to the plate with Padres relief pitcher Ryan Weathers due to bat next. DH partisans often cite the frequent National League pitchers’ cop-out, described best by Thomas Boswell when recalling the “thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the [American League], you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Kazmir threw Caratini two so-obviously weak changeups, then handed Caratini first on the house. Then he got Weathers to ground one to Crawford at short for the inning-ending force out. Exactly why the Giants thought that dangerous .215-hitting Caratini was liable to tie the game with one swing—he’s hit as many home runs over five years as Tatis hit by 15 June this year—escapes.

And exactly why the Padres didn’t think to pinch hit for Weathers escapes as well, particularly with known Giant-puncturer Adam Frazier (he’s hit .365 against them this year) on the bench for the evening. Casey Stengel once believed that when you have an opening, you shove with your shoulder. Padres manager Jayce Tingler forgot he had a shoulder (and enough decent bullpen still) with which to shove.

Until Kazmir ran into that fifth inning trouble, he kept the Padres mostly off balance from there, while Weathers and his successor Ross Detwiler kept the Giants mostly quiet until yielding to converted-from-shortstop Javy Guerra for the top of the sixth.

Oops. Posey lined the first pitch down the right field line, falling in fair to lead off with a double. Wade swatted a full-count sinker up the middle for first and third. Bryant grounded out to Hosmer playing first, but Crawford slapped an opposite-field single to left to send Posey home.

One Longoria strikeout and pitching change to Nabil Crismatt later, Mike Yastrzemski singled Wade home with a base hit right back up the pipe, before pinch hitter Wilmer Flores flied out to right to keep things 5-1, Giants.

Crismatt ended up really taking one for the team in the seventh. He handed La Stella a four-pitch leadoff walk, and Belt promptly hit the first pitch he saw for a line single into right. Then Posey lined a 1-2 changeup the other way down the right field line again, sending La Stella home. Wade doubled Belt and Posey home before going down trying to steal. Bryant grounded out to first, but Crawford shot a single past third before Longoria struck out for the third time on the night.

That made it 8-1, Giants. Then, with one out against Giants reliever Jarlin Garcia, Tatis fought back from 0-2, caught hold of a hanging slider on 2-2, and drove it into the left field seats. Cronenworth promptly doubled to the back of right field and Machado sent a hard liner over the hole at short to send Cronenworth home.

Exit Garcia, enter Domonic Leone, and Pham’s first-pitch liner the other way to right loaded the pads for the Padres again. But all they had to show for that was Hosmer poking a single up the middle to send Machado home, before Wil Myers struck out and Grisham slapped his way into an inning-ending force out at second.

Going 3-for-12 with men in scoring position wasn’t exactly the way to overthrow the Giants. Things weren’t helped any for the Padres when Crawford made an acrobatic spin and grab of a Myers grounder that had one-out base hit stamped on it, Crawford throwing Myers out off balance but right on the button for the second out of the fourth.

Against the submarining Rogers in the ninth, Pham worked a leadoff walk and Hosmer hit a ground-rule double to send him to third. Finally the Padres sent Frazier to the plate to pinch hit, and he pushed Pham home while grounding out to second, before Grisham singled Hosmer home with the sixth Padre run.

After Caratini flied out to left, up came Tatis. He wanted to hit that three-run homer so badly the entire ballpark could taste it. Especially after he opened with a foul out of play to the right side. Then Rogers’s slider climbed up to the middle of the zone somewhat away from Tatis. Tatis swung as if his and the Padres’ lives depended on it.

It wasn’t enough.

Things haven’t been enough for the reeling Padres since the middle of August. And just as they were about to lose their fifth straight and eleventh in fourteen games, general manager A.J. Preller continued an apparent organisational shakeup—shuffling assorted farm system roles two days after firing seven-year farm director Sam Geaney.

The Padres have gone from Preller’s inability to fortify a decimated starting rotation (they failed spectacularly at the trade deadline after the world only thought they’d bag Max Scherzer) to Tingler’s apparent inability to keep his clubhouse consistently steady. They’re already thinking wait till next year in San Diego. Next year, and maybe a new manager.

For the Giants the season’s going to end up with them finishing what they started, taking hold of their division and holding on no matter the overqualified Dodgers snapping at their heels. Those two antagonists could end up squaring off in a postseason set that’s liable to do what earthquakes can’t—blow the Richter scale to bits.

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