Little brothers are watching you

San Diego Padres

This Friars roast only roasted the Dodgers out of the postseason and the Padres to a pennant showdown with the likewise underdog Phillies.

“If you don’t win the World Series,” said Freddie Freeman, who won one with the Braves last year before signing with the Dodgers as a free agent following the owners’ lockout, “it’s just disappointment right now.” But you have to get to the Series for a shot at winning it.

The Dodgers won’t get there this time. Hours after the likewise-underdog Phillies shoved the Braves home for the winter to finish National League upset number one, baseball’s winningest regular season team couldn’t get past a National League division series against a band of upstart Padres that finished the furthest back in their division of any of this year’s postseason entrants.

Go ahead and blame manager Dave Roberts, if you must, for failing to do what plain sense instructed but, apparently, his Book instructed not to even think about it just yet. That was his best reliever, Evan Phillips, still sitting in the pen all seventh inning long, instead of being on the mound in the bottom of the seventh when he was needed most.

The Dodgers managed to eke out a 3-0 lead entering the inning, thanks to Freeman’s two-run double in the top of the third and Will Smith’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh. When the Padres answered with a leadoff walk, a base hit, and an RBI single without Tommy Kahnle recording a single out, Roberts needed a stopper with the Dodgers’ season squarely on the line.

And, with the Padres hell bent on not letting the set go to a Game Five in which they’d face a Dodgers’ starter, Julio Urias, who held them to three runs in Game One while the Dodgers bushwhacked their starter Mike Clevinger.

Roberts had that stopper in the pen. When Cardiac Craig Kimbrel spun out in the season’s final third and off the postseason roster entirely, Phillips became the Dodger pen committee’s number one arm. He posted the 1.94 fielding-independent pitching rate (FIP), the 1.13 ERA, the 11 strikeouts-per-nine rate, and the 5.54 strikeout-to-walk ratio to prove it.

He was the invisible man in the fateful bottom of the seventh. Roberts lifted Kahnle for Yency Almonte, whose 1.02 ERA and 0.97 walks/hits per inning pitched rate on the season were belied by a 3.17 FIP. Ha-Seong Kim slipped an RBI double past Max Muncy at third and Juan Soto dumped an RBI single into right immediately following. Game tied. Whoops.

Almonte got rid of Manny Machado on a strikeout and Brandon Drury on a foul out. Roberts lifted him for a barely-warm Alex Vesia, and Jake Cronenworth greeted Vesia with a two-run single on 2-2. When Vesia ended the inning a walk later by striking Jurickson Profar out, the Dodgers were sunk.

“I feel like that’s been my lane the last couple days in the series,” Almonte said postgame. “I made the pitches I wanted to make, but they hit the ball and did what they had to do. They get paid as well. I get paid to make pitches, and they went their way.”

Even if they didn’t know it just yet. Even if they’d go down in order against Padres reliever Robert Suarez in the top of the eighth. Then Phillips got the call, for the bottom of the eighth. He struck the side out in order. Normally that might have sent a cross-country sigh of relief forth.

“Tommy, Yency, and Ves, they’ve all been out there,” Phillips said postgame, “and they’ve all competed their butts off this year and gotten big outs for us at times. The game of baseball doesn’t always go your way. Was I anticipating pitching in some sort of situation like that? Sure. But I still consider the three outs I got as just as important. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”

But these Dodgers hit only .227 in this division series. They experienced insult added to injury when Josh Hader, well-revived in San Diego after faltering in Milwaukee at last, struck the side out in order likewise to nail the Padres’ trip to the National League Championship Series.

“I know the job’s not done,” said the Padres’ Game Four starter, Joe Musgrove. “We’ve got a lot of baseball ahead of us still, but this is something that needs to be celebrated. Those guys handed it to us all year long, and when it came down to it and we needed to win ballgames, we found ways to do it.”

Thus did Tyler Anderson’s five scoreless innings in the biggest start of his life, after he’d signed an $8 million 2022 deal with no rotation guarantee attached, go to waste. Thus did a 111-win season go to waste. Thus did the Dodgers become one of three 100+ winning teams to leave this postseason early. Thus do the Padres give San Diego above-and-beyond excitement and further hope.

“They played better than us,” said future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, whose Game Two misery only began when Machado sent a 2-1, two-out pitch over the left field fence in the top of the first. “It’s hard to admit sometimes, but that’s the truth of it. They just beat us.”

The Dodgers helped beat themselves, too. Kershaw might not have had his best night in Game Two, but the Dodgers’ bats, concurrently, went to the plate with men in scoring position eight times and went hitless. They might really have begun beating themselves when Walker Buehler went down to Tommy John surgery and the Dodgers couldn’t find another established starter to fortify the rotation.

We’ll never know for dead last certain. We do know that a crowd of Padres moves that began with signing Machado to that $300 million plus deal, and climaxed with bringing Soto aboard from the remaking/remodeling Nationals at this year’s trade deadline, turned the Padres from the downstate kid brothers into the ones who showed their big brothers how little size matters if and when push comes to shove.

Roberts has taken his lumps from Dodger fans who seem to question every inning, never mind game, in which they fall short and any given move or non-move can be scrutinised to death. It comes with the job. He can say proudly that he’s managed the Dodgers to six NL West titles (including five straight) in seven seasons. Very few skippers can hang that on their shingles.

Now Roberts presides over a group who won more regular season games than any group in the Dodgers’ long and storied history from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. The problem is that he has only one pandamnic-short-season, surrealistically-scheduled World Series title to show for it.

He also got out-generaled and out-played with particular pronouncement by this band of Padres who survived no few lumps of their own to get here at all. Then he picked the wrong time to forget the import of getting your absolute best relief option out there to keep the upstarts from getting particularly frisky when you have them on the brink of forcing one more game, one more chance to send them home for the winter.

It’s not quite as grave as that 2014 night then-Cardinals manager Mike Matheny left his best bullpen option in the pen waiting while sticking with a still-rusty pitcher and watching the pennant fly onto Levi’s Landing aboard Travis Ishikawa’s three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, of course. But it’s close enough. And the pain of the sting is almost as profound.

Don’t blame Roberts entirely. The man who guaranteed a Dodger World Series in back in May couldn’t have predicted that they wouldn’t be able to hit in this division series almost at all, never mind when it mattered the most, if they weren’t named Freeman and Trea Turner, and Turner did it through a lingering finger issue.

“It’s whoever gets the big hits, and they got the big hits,” said Justin Turner (division series OPS: .466) after the Padres sealed the proverbial deal against himself and his mates. “You can point your fingers to whatever you want, but the bottom line is we didn’t get the job done. We got beat.”

As the Padres now prepare for a pennant showdown with the Phillies, their message for now should be loud enough and clear enough: Little brothers are watching you.

Manny Machado teaches a hard-learned lesson

Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Machado gestures emphatically while putting Tatis in his place in the fifth Saturday night.

More often than I care to admit, I miss the real fun stuff. That’s when I have to play catch-up as best I can with what I have.

On Saturday night, I watched my Mess (er, Mets) lose to the Phillies, 5-3, because the game was available to me on Fox Sports via Hulu.

But out in St. Louis, there were Padres veteran Manny Machado and boy wonder Fernando Tatis, Jr. having it out as the sides began changing in the middle of the fifth in St. Louis.

There, moreover, was Machado actually behaving like a team leader in the bargain. Go ahead and say it, until now you thought putting Machado and “team leader” in the same sentence was the equivalent of mining a diamond with a dental pick. But hear me out.

In both games, both sides spent enough time chirping over, shall we say, floating strike zones—the Mets and the Phillies about plate umpire C.B. Bucknor’s, the Padres and the Cardinals about their plate umpire Phil Cuzzi’s. That isn’t exactly new business when it comes to that pair of arbiters.

But the worst out of either the Mets or the Phillies  about Bucknor in Citi Field was chirping. In Busch Stadium, Tatis didn’t just take it when Cuzzi rang him up on a called, full-count, third strike from Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright leading off the top of the fifth.

The Padres led 2-0 at the time, in a game they absolutely had to win to stay alive in the National League wild-card race. First, Tatis gave an obviously frustrated sigh. Then, he bent his head over his left shoulder and made a few body-language movements plus some utterances . . . but he did it facing away from Cuzzi.

The bad news is that replays showed Cuzzi actually called the pitch right. It hit just under the strike zone ceiling. The worse news for the moment was Padres manager Jayce Tingler hustling out of the dugout to argue the call, trying to protect his player, but getting himself tossed post haste.

As Tingler got the ho-heave, Tatis returned to the dugout and banged the bench a few times in his frustration. Then, apparently, he continued grumbling about that third strike as the inning went forward, with Jake Cronenworth stranded on second following a one-out double. Machado is known to have befriended Tatis personally, but he’d also had more than enough of whatever bellyaching Tatis continued during the inning.

The next thing anyone knew, Machado could be heard hollering clearly enough at Tatis, Go play baseball! You play baseball. You can’t worry about that sh@t! You go play baseball! [Fornicate] that sh@t! Tatis must have tried to interject something about the disputed strike right there, because Machado then hollered, No, it’s not. It’s not about you! It’s not [fornicating] about you! Go [fornicating] play baseball.

Then the Padres’ veteran third baseman and their youthful superstar shortstop went back to the field to continue [fornicating] playing baseball.

The Padres lead held until the bottom of the eighth, when Cardinals third baseman Tommy Edman lofted a one-out sacrifice fly, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt wrung Padres reliever Emilio Pagan for a walk, and left fielder Tyler O’Neill hit a 2-2 cutter into the left field bullpen.

Perhaps ironically, two innings before that blast, O’Neill was no more thrilled with Cuzzi’s strike zone than any Padre on the night. He simply didn’t let mere frustration turn into a fuming that might require a Cardinal veteran or two dressing him down on the spot before the ump might throw him out.

“That was a great job by him not getting too animated there,” said Wainwright, who’d surrendered only a pair of RBI singles to Victor Caratini and Tommy Pham in the top of the fourth. “If we lose him right there, we probably lose the game . . . That was a lot of maturity by him to not get thrown out right there on some tough calls.”

O’Neill’s blast overthrew the lead Padres starter Yu Darvish handed the Padres bullpen after seven shutout innings during which he’d allowed a mere three hits while striking nine Cardinals out. The Padres had no answer in return against Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos in the top of the ninth, with their own veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer striking out swinging on a slightly high fastball to end it.

Machado and Tatis had to be separated by Padres coach Ryan Flaherty before they returned to the field. Post-game, Tingler said only that the dustup wasn’t viewed “negatively” around the team that’s now lost 23 of their last 33 games after entering the season practically crowned the World Series winners-to-be by an awful lot of people now dining on roast crow.

“I’m sure people on the outside think it’s whatever they think, but we’re family,” Tingler told the press. “We’re not going to discuss the details, but we care. There’s passion, there’s frustration. Those are all emotions that are natural and those things happen. But it comes down to a group of men caring.”

The details were captured on more than one video that went slightly viral within moments of the dustup ending, as things turned out. Then the real focus became Machado, who once had a reputation for just the kind of petulance over which he’d now dressed Tatis down so dramatically and, shall we say, colourfully.

Those trying to score the dressing-down as just another example of Machado still being a self-centered pain in the rump roast might be shocked to discover a former Padre, Will Middlebrooks, tweeting very much otherwise in the immediate wake:

I know people will take the angle of “Machado is a bad teammate”…but you couldn’t be more wrong here. This was a leadership move. Let’s not forget FTJ is still 22. A phenomenal player, but still a lot to learn. Tatis can’t get tossed in the 5th inning of a game they need to win.

During an exchange featuring more than a few dissenting tweeters, Middlebrooks added, “History tells me that Machado had the experiences to know better. He’s grown up a lot and learned from his past.

The Padres didn’t make either Machado or Tatis available to the press after the game. But a week earlier, Machado spoke to Athletic writer Britt Ghrioli, during a weekend on which the Padres lost twice to the Dodgers. Machado only began by saying he’d learned some things at last.

There’s a time and place for everything. In Baltimore, I was young. I was just there to play. There were other guys that were leaders—Adam (Jones), J.J. (Hardy), (Matt) Wieters . . . Now, obviously, it’s different. Guys are looking up to me.

I think what’s happening now in this game is we are losing track of the older guys, the respect of the veterans, guys who have been here and done it a long time. You got to earn that respect; you got to earn that role. It’s not just given. A lot of players now are just expected to be the guy [when they reach the majors]. But I’m old-school baseball; I want to teach it how I was taught.

When you are young you make a lot of mistakes. You make mistakes as you grow and hopefully you learn from them, you gain experience. You [fornicate] up again, give your thoughts and learn from it again. That’s what it’s about. I messed up a lot at a young age, like a lot of people, but you take that and you try to learn from it. I’m at the point now where — I’ll be 30 [next year], I want to win. I just want to win.  And I think we can do that here.

“I would say Manny’s done a good job with all his leadership throughout the year,” Tingler said, though he refused again to speak of the deets involving the dugout dustup. “But I would say Manny being able to share his experience and share his past experiences of coming up in the league is a good thing.”

It hasn’t turned Machado into a grump refusing to let the kids play. He still has clear fun playing the game. It’s simply made him one of the adults in the room who knows from bitter experience when the kids can’t afford to get sent to bed without their supper and tries to stop it as best he can with what he has.

While all that happened, I was watching Phillies second baseman Jean Segura hit a pair of solo homers in the first and third off Mets starter Carlos Carrasco. I watched Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo hit a one-out triple off the top of the right field wall and score on an infield ground out in the sixth to cut the deficit in half.

But I also watched Bryce Harper hit a two-run double in the seventh off Mets relief retread Brad Hand to put the game just out of the Mets’ reach. The other guys have now hit .357 off Hand since the Mets lifted him from the waiver wire at the beginning of this month.

And, after Mets reliever Miguel Castro sank into but escaped a bases-loaded jam with no further Phillies scoring in the top of the eighth, I saw Nimmo hit one over the right field fence to lead their half off but no further Met scoring the rest of the way.

It put the Phillies a mere game behind the Braves in the NL East, with the Braves losing to the Giants, 2-0, in San Francisco. It also kept the Mets five and a half out of first in the East but pushed them to seven games back in the wild card race. The Phillies knock on the door of improbability; the Mets—now losers of five straight—are only a step or three from going through the floor.

Catching up to the Padres and their once-unexpected adult in the room in St. Louis proved just as intriguing.

Clean, legal, case closed

Manny Machado, Tommy Edman

Machado (left) checks on Edman after the Sunday drop slide that blew enough social media up Monday.

Manny Machado isn’t now and never has been a controversy-free baseball player. He’s one of those players who can trigger an uproar  without doing or saying a thing. Sometimes all he has to do is smile.

But it isn’t every day that a man to whom controversy seems as natural as playing third base kicks up a little storm for doing the right thing. Especially when it’s something fundamental he was taught very early in his career.

On Sunday, the Padres’s third baseman reached base in the fourth inning, when the Cardinals’ own third baseman Nolan Arenado committed a very rare (for him) throwing error. Then, Machado ran toward second on a Jake Cronenworth ground ball to Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman.

Edman fielded the ball cleanly while still a few steps behind the proper basepath. Then he stepped into Machado’s path with thoughts about starting a double play. He got the force tag on Machado. At that moment, Machado dropped into an almost excuse-me, soft slide that still upended Edman to keep him from throwing the none-too-fast Cronenworth out at first.

You couldn’t blame Edman for looking about as thrilled as a dental patient after he recovered from the upending. But the first thing Machado did immediately after the slide was move to see whether Edman was injured on the play. (He wasn’t.)

Whether Machado went rogue yet again ran over social media and enough of the sports press well into Monday. That was after Cardinals starting pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim told reporters he thought Machado should have been called for interference, which would have made Cronenworth out at first. Kim also seemed surprised Cardinals manager Mike Schildt didn’t argue for a review to get the call.

It wouldn’t have done Schildt any good if he’d tried, and he probably knew it. The written rules give the baserunner the right of way on the proper basepath, and you can watch the play fifty times from fifty angles and see nothing indicating Machado interfered with Edman fielding the ball in the first place.

Machado was well prepared to execute such a play. His long-enough-time Orioles manager Buck Showalter taught him the play. “I’m still trying to figure out what the story is,” Showalter told The Athletic‘s Dennis Lin.

Showalter told Lin the play was routine business in the Yankee system from his years managing in that system and finally the Yankees themselves. If the runner executes the drop-slide, it breaks up double plays no matter how far you get caught before second base and with little damage otherwise. Showalter indicated to Lin that not only were players taught how to do it running the bases but infielders were taught to be prepared for such drop-slides.

“The first thing I did,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler told Lin, “was I gave him a high-five. I thought it was a play, honestly, that won the game.”

The Padres entered the bottom of the fourth in the hole 2-0. Machado’s reach on the Arenado error led the inning off. After the force out during which Machado kept Edman from turning the double play, Kim walked Tommy Pham and surrendered a bases-loading line single up the middle to Austin Nola—before walking two runs home back-to-back enabling the Padres to tie the game.

Genesis Cabrera relieved Kim and surrendered a sacrifice fly (Patrick Kivlehan) and an RBI single (Ivan Castillo) back to back before catching Trent Grisham looking at strike three for the side. The Cardinals got a run back when Paul Goldschmidt scored as Yadier Molina dialed Area Code 4-6-3 in the top of the sixth, but Grisham made the game 5-3 with a two-out RBI double in the bottom of the inning. The Padres bullpen made sure the game finished with that score.

Tingler may well have been right. Machado’s slide as Edman crossed right into his proper basepath just might have won the game for the Padres, or at least set up their best chance to win.

Kim had more or less cruised through the first three innings, shaking off only a two-out base hit in the third while otherwise striking out the side. If he was staggered by the Machado slide enough that he couldn’t believe his manager didn’t demand a review and an interference call, on a play for which no interference and no foul play was involved at all, maybe the Padres pounced from there on a pitcher who just might have taken himself out of of his own concentration zone.

Showalter asked aloud whether Machado gave the Padres the best chance to win, and whether it was a clean play? Then, he answered his own question. “Of course it did,” he told Lin. “Outs are precious, and the game, as much as home runs seem to be there, it’s still about ninety-foot increments—who can keep the other team from getting ninety feet and who can gain ninety feet by something offensively. It should be embraced. It’s a great, thinking man’s baseball play.”

According to Lin, Machado’s former Oriole teammate Adam Jones called the play a legal and intelligent play. Also according to Lin, Jones’s comment got a resounding agreement from an old shortstop-turned-coach-and-manager—a fellow named Larry Bowa, who wasn’t exactly renowned for subtlety or gentility as a player or a leader.

The old Bowa might even have thought Machado’s comparatively dainty slide showed Edman a little too much mercy. Compared to Bowa in his time, the typical hard-nosed player often resembled a marshmallow stick figure.

Machado has faced accusations of dirty play in the past. Even if Tingler himself says it’s become a tired narrative. But Sunday’s play reminded too many fans of the play they think destroyed Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s career back in 2017, the takeout slide at second that injured Pedroia at the back of his left knee. What they don’t remember is that that by itself didn’t put paid to Pedroia’s career.

The tenacious second baseman actually—and perhaps foolishly—managed to gut 105 games out in all 2017 and finished with a .369 on-base percentage plus six defensive runs saved above his league average at second base. But he could play only three games in 2018 and six in 2019, before sitting 2020’s pan-damn-ically mandate irregular season out and retiring three months ago.

“It’s funny,” Pedroia told NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase after his retirement conference. “I remember when I got the first MRI after the play, a doctor said, ‘Hey, man, you could not only ruin the rest of your career but the rest of your life with this injury. You tore all the cartilage off on your medial compartment on your femur and your tibia. Your cleat just got stuck, and it’s a bad deal.’

“And I said, ‘Well, can I play’,” Pedroia continued. “And he said, ‘Yeah, you could try to. It’s going to go. When it goes, you’ll know.’ So I just remember everyone there saying, ‘Hey, we need you.’ So it was a no-brainer. If I had to do it all over again, it wouldn’t even be a question. Of course I would.”

In other words, Pedroia knew the risk of trying to continue playing despite the severity of the injury. We’ll never know for dead last certain whether some sort of knee surgery at the time instead of trying to continue despite that injury might have saved and enabled continuing his career.

About the play itself? In the immediate moment after the actual play, Pedroia himself told anyone who’d listen that he never once believed Machado intended that slide to be either dirty or injurious. Indeed—just as he’d do with Edman on Sunday—the first thing Machado did after coming to his feet was try to aid Pedroia. Machado also sent Pedroia a post-game text apology to Pedroia, who replied that he knew Machado wasn’t trying to injure him.

Without now mentioning Machado by name, Pedroia told Tomase, “Unfortunately, I just got caught in the wrong position and that was it. But I think I’m at peace with everything knowing that I did my best and the training staff and the doctors did everything we possibly could’ve to try to continue to play baseball.”

That effort earned Pedroia serious points in the guts-and-glory department. It also forced him in the end into the partial knee replacement last December that guaranteed he can never run again.

Machado was no more responsible for ending Pedroia’s career than Yankee infielder Gil McDougald was for ending onrushing Indians pitcher Herb Score’s in 1957. Score recovered from McDougald’s liner into his face, returned in due course, looked like his old self opening 1958, then blew his elbow out on a cold, wet night. He sat ten days, then tried foolishly to pitch through it, and by his own admission changed his motion to overcompensate for it “and ended up with some bad habits.”

Score hung on with the Indians until they traded him to the White Sox following the infamous Colavito-for-Kuenn deal in 1960. He didn’t regroup any better with the White Sox or in their minor league system, finally retiring to the Indians broadcast booth in 1964. It didn’t stop Cleveland from believing McDougald drilled a hole into Score’s career any more than the actualities stop Boston and elsewhere from believing Machado plowed a hole into Pedroia’s career.

But that was then, this was Sunday, and Lin would remind you that Nationals shortstop Trea Turner executed an almost exact match slide against the Mets, earlier this season,  though Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor actually stopped short of Turner and didn’t tumble over Turner onto the ground.

Nobody went boo or ballistic over that play, by the way.

“If [Machado] would’ve stopped and they threw to first and threw back to second and tagged him, nobody would’ve said a word,” Showalter told Lin. “If he had let him tag him softly up top, like most people do, nobody would’ve said a word. But because he tried to figure out a way to keep that from happening, I mean, it should be extolled.”

For all we know, too, there may be those willing to rag and bag Machado because the actual slide made him resemble a large sack of dog food falling nonchalantly and accidentally off a low warehouse shelf.

If Machado just stopped short like a good little boy and let that nice Edman consummate the double play he was “entitled” to consummate (some of the social media flappers can make you think that’s what they’re thinking), his critics would probably rag and bag him for not trying to bust up that double play by any means necessary. Hell if you do, hell if you don’t.

Salami on special at the Slam Diego Deli

Rookie Jake Cronenworth joined the Padres’ grand slam parade Saturday.

A spectre may be haunting major league baseball—the spectre of San Diego. The Padres, usually renowned for a checkered history, lots of ugly uniforms, a handsome ballpark where hitters usually go to die, and a seeming genius for watching as many as three top-of-the-line players depart for every one or two they could find. Rudely interrupted by a couple of pennants.

That was then and this is now: The Padres now wear uniforms that are passable, if unlikely to put them on the best-dressed men’s lists. They make the right headlines in the press and hash in the National League West and elsewhere. They also make hash out of the National League leader board, where you’ll find them as of this morning at the top for total bases, stolen bases, walks, slugging, OPS, and home runs.

Previous generations of baseball’s big bopping teams have earned colourful nicknames: The Bronx Bombers, the Pittsburgh Lumber Company, Harvey’s Wallbangers. To those add now Slam Diego. These Poundres don’t just hit home runs, they hit conversation pieces. Especially with the bases loaded. The Slam Diego Deli is the Show’s first to grind salami on special in four consecutive games.

When rookie shortstop Jake Cronenworth saw and raised center fielder Trent Grisham’s three homers in a Saturday burial of the Houston Astros by slamming Astros reliever Humberto Castellanos, it was the fifth San Diego slam in six games while they were at it.

The 13-2 win was also the Padres’s sixth straight win overall and raised their record in interleague play to 6-0 so far. These are not your grandfather’s, your father’s, or even your big brother’s Friar Ducks. Sitting, that is.There’s nothing like a not-so-little beatdown laid upon last year’s American League pennant winner to redeem a five-game losing streak that ended when the Poundres flattened the Texas Rangers 14-4 last Monday.

That just so happened to be the same game in which the Slam Diegans’s gigastar-in-the-making, Fernando Tatis, Jr., provoked this year’s first major debate over the Sacred Unwritten Rules—when he faced Juan Nicasio in the top of the eighth, with the bases loaded, one out, a 3-0 count, and a 10-3 Padres lead in Globe Life Hangar, and hit something too meaty to resist over the right field fence.

Baseball’s boring old farts screamed about Tatis’s lack of manners. Rangers manager Chris Woodward, who harrumphed after the game about how offensive Tatis was for daring to swing 3-0 late in the middle of a blowout, lifted Nicasio for Ian Gibaut, who threw right behind Manny Machado’s rump roast immediately to follow.

The problem was that, this time, most of baseball applauded Tatis and decided the SURs a) were patent nonsense and b) don’t cover when a hitter as good as Tatis is fed something Ray Charles could have hit for distance. Apparently, so did Commissioner Nero, suspending Gibaut three games.

The further problem, once Padres manager Jayce Tingler got over his own dismay at Tatis violating the SURs, is that the whole hoo-ha just put rocket fuel into the Padres at the plate. The following night, they could only muster a 6-4 win over the Rangers but Wil Myers joined the deli crew in the top of the first, with the bases loaded and two out, clearing the left center field fence and staking the Pads to an immediate 4-0 lead.

The night after that, back in Petco Park, the Padres and the Rangers wrestled to a tenth inning ted at two. After the Rangers snuck an unearned run home in the top of the tenth, Machado checked in with the bases loaded on the free cookie at second to start their bottom of the tenth, a dubious-enough sacrifice bunt (sorry, I still say you don’t give outs to the other guys, especially with a man in scoring position gifted you), and back-to-back walks.

Machado re-opened the Slam Diego Deli by hitting a full-count meatball over the left center field fence. The night after that, Eric Hosmer checked in with one out, the Padres in the hole 2-1, and the pads padded on two base hits and a walk. Hosmer nailed Rangers starter Kyle Gibson with a drive down the right field line and into the seats. The Padres needed every morsel of that salami even more this time; they had to build and then hold on for the 8-7 win.

When they beat the Astros 4-3 Friday night, there may have been some wags thinking the Padres were on the threshold of disaster. The deli stayed closed. The Padres didn’t even load the bases once against five Astros pitchers. Don’t tell us the magic was gone before we really had a fair shot at it sinking in at maximum depth.

Thank God for Cronenworth. Be so [fornicating] glad the Poundres have Cronenworth. In the bottom of a second inning that began with a 2-1 lead and already added five runs on a leadoff bomb (Myers), a three-run homer (Grisham), and an RBI single (Ty France), Cronenworth tore into a Castellanos fastball on 3-1 and tore it over the right field fence.

“It’s somebody different every single night stepping up,” Cronenworth said after the Saturday night massacre. “Grish has three home runs tonight, Manny hit a home run tonight, Wil [Myers] hit a home run tonight, [starting pitcher] Zach Davies had an incredible outing. It started with him shutting their offense down and getting us back in the dugout as quick as possible.”

Don’t ask about his turn behind the San Diego Deli counter, though. The bad news is that the kid has the boilerplate mastered: “Put a good swing on a good pitch. Just keep my approach up the middle. Just happened to put a good swing on it.” Thank you, Friar Obvious.

Institutionally, the Padres have a few reasons to thank the Astros. It was the Astros who got them into San Diego in the first place, after that lovely city by the harbour and the Pacific hosted the Pacific Coast League Padres for generations. (Including a local kid named Ted Williams playing his minor league ball there, in the era when the PCL was the a major league in everything but name.)

The National League’s second expansion intended for Montreal and Dallas to have new teams. The Astros’s founding owner, Judge Roy Hofheinz, banged a gavel and said, “Not so fast, buster.” Hofheinz would rather have blown the Astrodome to smithereens than sanctioned a rival team playing a hop, skip, and bronco-busting bull’s jump up the road from (as then-Yankee first baseman Joe Pepitone called it) the world’s biggest hair dryer.

So the National League’s lords relented and, with no little help from Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley—who needed a place to dump his general manager Buzzie Bavasi, when O’Malley son and heir Peter was ready to graduate to the Dodgers’ front office—what was meant for Dallas ended up by the southern California seas.

Once upon a time, another Padres owner, Ray Kroc (McDonald’s mastermind and magnate), took to his own public address system to commiserate with fans over “the stupidest baseball playing I’ve ever seen.” Who the hell needs a Big Mac when you’re running the National League’s least-expected delicatessen lately?