Fernando’s pride away

Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Tatis drydocked for actual/alleged PEDs the rest of this year and part of next. Did he really get it unknowingly?

Whether you saw it happen live or you had only to read about it, you couldn’t get it out of your head. Manny Machado—who’d been suspect of immaturity often enough in his Baltimore years—being the adult in the Padres’ room when Fernando Tatis, Jr. still couldn’t or wouldn’t shake off a pitch he thought was a ball but plate umpire Phil Cuzzi called a strike last September . . . correctly.

It wasn’t enough for Tatis that he gestured with pronouncement, though he faced away from Cuzzi, while his then-manager Jayce Tingler hustled out of the dugout to protect him and take up the argument and get himself tossed from the game. Tatis kept it up in the dugout, banging a bench a few times, grumbling all inning long while Jake Cronenworth’s one-out double ended up fruitless.

Finally Machado had enough. The wealthy veteran third baseman could be heard loud enough bawling the kid outGo play baseball! You play baseball. You can’t worry about that sh@t! You go play baseball! [Fornicate] that sh@t! At that point, Tatis must have tried pleading about the disputed pitch. Machado didn’t bite. No, it’s not. It’s not about you! It’s not [fornicating] about you! Go [fornicating] play baseball.

The Padres ended up losing to the Cardinals, some of whom were almost as frustrated with Cuzzi’s shifting strike zone as Tatis. But the Cardinals didn’t let it cave them in, either. In the eighth, Tyler O’Neill smashed a 2-2 cutter from Padres reliever Emilio Pagan into the left field bullpen. Two innings earlier, O’Neill was frustrated visibly over a Cuzzi pitch call or two. He just didn’t melt down over them.

He also earned Adam Wainwright’s admiration while he was at it. “That was a great job by him not getting too animated there,” the veteran Cardinal righthander said postgame. “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.”

Maturity. The word’s being thrown around a lot in San Diego now, since Tatis—who’s missed all season so far rehabbing a shoulder injury—was handed a mandatory eighty-game suspension after a routine required drug test turned up positive for clostebol.

After the Padres hogged the trade deadline headlines by landing outfielder Juan Soto from the Nationals and relief ace Josh Hader from the Brewers, but still looking like paper tigers after getting manhandled by their up-freeway National League West rivals in Los Angeles, this was the last thing they needed when they thought they were on the threshold of Tatis’s return.

The shortstop who can and so often did electrify crowds with his bat and his derring-do on the left side of the infield said he discovered the hard way that a medication he took to fight a case of ringworm had clostebol in it.

“I should have used the resources available to me in order to ensure that no banned substances were in what I took. I failed to do so,” he said in a formal statement Friday, after pondering but choosing not to appeal his suspension. “I am completely devastated. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than on a field competing with my teammates.”

Once you shook off the shock of Tatis being drydocked for the rest of this season, the postseason if the Padres get there, and part of next season, your first question—other than, perhaps, what on earth this kid was thinking or not thinking—had to be just what the hell clostebol is.

A former professional bodybuilder named Greg Doucette was more than happy to discuss that, as he has on YouTube: Clostebol is a synthetic, anabolic/andreogenic steroid “that essentially mimics testosterone.” Several countries use it medically to treat ringworm, a common fungus in professional athletes, but neither the United States nor Canada are known to prescribe ringworm relief with medications including the substance.

By itself, says the San Diego Union-Tribune, clostebol is “[a]lso known as 4-cholortestosterone [and] is a synthetic derivative of the muscle-building steroid the body naturally produces in larger amounts in men than women.” Blended with another substance, as the former East Germany did under state sponsorship to create then-undetectable Oral Turinabol, it becomes potent enough to turn athletes into record breakers.

“The doping advantage of injectable clostebol,” says U-T writer Mark Zeigler, “is that, while less potent, it mimics the muscle-building properties of testosterone without the estrogen buildup that counteracts them.” You’d have to make a very assumptive stretch to determine that Tatis knew any of that about what was in his ringworm medicine.

Doucette accepts that somebody did indeed prescribe something with clostebol in it when Tatis complained about ringworm. Bear in mind that, during last off-season’s owners’ lockout, Tatis and the Padres lacked much direct communication between the club’s staff and Tatis’s home in the Dominican Republic. Was he prescribed the now-suspect medication there, in a country that may allow clostebol’s prescription to treat ringworm?

“Either somebody needs to get fired,” Doucette says emphatically, “or Fernando Tatis needs to be the picture boy for Major League Baseball . . . How do you know, when getting medications, whether or not [they include] a banned substance or not? You don’t. So what do you do? Ask an expert.”

Tatis didn’t ask. Prideful youth that he still is, it didn’t cross his mind to ask. Maybe this will prove the blow that trims his pride down to the level where it’s a virtue more than a vice.

Essentially, Doucette says, Tatis trusted his doctor and didn’t think to question what he was prescribed. He’d be far from the only human being who goes in with the assumption that his doctor knows it all and wouldn’t hand him something believed to be harmful medically or otherwise.

Baseball may have its list of banned substances, and enough of those substances may not do what they’re thought (feared) to do for a player, but even veterans aren’t likely to visit their doctors carrying that list to ask whether their forthcoming prescriptions include any of those.

Sports medicine has long been a dubious proposition in the first place. Even today, with so much more known about sports injuries now than in the so-called Good Old Days, too much sports medicine remains meatball medicine to get them back on the field as soon as possible regardless. (Preferably, yesterday often enough.) And athletes are not always trusting of team doctors, with reason enough.

Likewise, for all we know now that we didn’t decades ago, Joe and Jane Fan continue believing injuries equal character flaws and fragility. Who really knows what a cocktail of dubious meatball medicine plus a public that thinks getting hurt exposes a player as weak does to an athlete’s thinking when he has a real injury or another medical issue, never mind one while rehabbing from another?

Padres general manager A.J. Preller, whose wheeling and dealing to bring Soto and Hader aboard made him the star of the trade deadline, sounded as though he didn’t necessarily want to know. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet about it,” he told reporters after the Padres squashed the Nationals Friday.

I think the biggest thing just from our standpoint, just from (MLB’s) standpoint, there’s a drug policy in place. He failed the drug screen, and ultimately he’s suspended, he can’t play, and that’s the biggest thing. It’s the player’s responsibility to make sure that he’s within compliance of that. He wasn’t, and ultimately we’re supportive of that.

Tatis can be called for not quite being mature enough to ask questions of his doctor before accepting any kind of prescription? It’s not exactly unfair to call Preller and other Padres staff for just such a dismissal, without being mature enough to keep real communication lines clear with their player, asking questions of their own when a medical issue arises even during rehabilitation for a different issue.

Practical baseball terms tell us Tatis was on the threshold of finishing his shoulder rehab (this wasn’t the first time he dealt with shoulder issues in his career) and providing the postseason-aspirant Padres a truly incendiary plate threat joining Soto, Machado, and Brandon Drury in the lineup. The kind of deep threat that often makes the difference between a mere postseason aspirant and a prospective World Series champion.

Now the threat is to Tatis’s eventual baseball legacy and to the Padres’s World Series aspirations. (They’ve been there twice without winning since they were born the year man first walked on the moon.) The previous weekend, they were swept in style by those ogres from Dodger Stadium, losing three straight and being outscored 20-4 including surrendering eight Dodger runs each in the first two games.

“He hasn’t been part of the team all year,” said Machado after the 10-5 win over the hapless Nats Friday. “We’ve gotten to this point so far without him. We were waiting to get him back and hopefully be a spark plug for the team.”

“You hope he grows up and learns from this and learns that it’s about more than just him right now,” said pitcher Mike Clevinger, echoing last year’s Machado-Tatis confrontation over the third-strike call. “It would be nice to have somebody else, but we don’t need anybody else. We’ve got everyone we need right here.”

Without Tatis, and until they can really hang with the big boys, the Padres sitting seventeen games out of first in the NL West may not have everyone they need right there now. What they have can get them to the postseason. It can’t necessarily get them to a World Series the likely path to which runs through Los Angeles.

“Friday’s stunning revelation,” writes The Athletic‘s Dennis Lin, “did not paint anyone in a positive light.”

Tatis had been busted for, at best, gross negligence or, at worst, cheating and dishonesty. If the Padres fail to make the postseason, he will end up missing more than half of his first 578 opportunities to play a major-league regular-season game. The team, meanwhile, has suffered a thorough embarrassment just eighteen months after characterizing Tatis’ [fourteen-year, $340 million contract] extension as a slam dunk. Preller has long prided himself on knowing the makeup of players, but his most prized asset has joined James Shields, Will Myers, and [now-departed] Eric Hosmer on a list of questionable contracts.

Tatis is now the biggest name in baseball to have drawn a suspension for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances since Álex Rodríguez’s war against baseball over the Biogenesis scandal turned into a 211-game suspension. (It proved ultimately to be a 162-game suspension, since A-Rod appealed the original starting in August 2013.)

Whether he walked into it eyes wide shut or just made a reputation for self-centricity a little less small remains to be seen, in full and in final.

Beltway bombshells—Soto, Mancini go west

Juan Soto

Juan Soto stole the show in Game One of the 2019 World Series and helped his Nats reach the Promised Land. That was then, this is now, and the still-top-flight Soto is a young man going west to San Diego . . .

The Big One dropped, in both directions on opposite coasts. The Nationals, who’ve gone from surrealistic World Series champion and National League East powerhouse to hell in a little over two and a half years, traded what should have stayed a franchise foundation to the Padres, the National League West contenders who often enough mistake splash for sustenance.

Juan Soto goes West the day after it turned out he’d end his Nats tenure with a bang, throwing Tomas Nido out at the plate to keep the Mets to a mere three-run top of the second, and crunching his former teammate Max Scherzer’s 1-1 fastball for a leadoff home run in the bottom of the fourth en route a 7-3 loss to the Mets. It won’t make it easier for Nats fans to swallow this.

Soto became expendable when he turned down a $440 million extension that looked stupid-fat on paper while packaged to deny him the thing he wanted most. He wanted ten years and got them. He wanted the total dollars and got them. He didn’t get the highest annual average value the way the packaged was packed.

Maybe Soto was foolish taking the all-or-nothing stance. But maybe the Nats were just as foolish, with or without a pending potential ownership change, to decline making even that small enough adjustment. Standing just as all-or-nothing, with Soto not due to hit free agency for the first time until 2025, the Nats decided even the next Ted Williams was expendable.

Stop laughing at the Ted Williams comparisons. Only five hitters through age 23 have higher OPSes than Soto does: Williams, fellow Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Stan Musial, and Hall of Famers to be Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. The order from the top is Williams, Cobb, Trout, Musial, and Pujols. His June slump leaves his season so far not quite as good as his priors, but rehorsing himself last month restored Soto on the way back where he belongs.

But if he had a fat enough hand in the Nats’ 2019 in-season resurrection from the outhouse to the Promised Land, will it be fat enough to push the Padres to the Promised Land at last? Baseball’s worst kept secret is that Padres general manager A.J. Preller has a genius for trades equal to Soto’s big swings and nothing much to show for them.

Oh, he’s managed to land some of the bigger fish on the trade market in exchange for high-rated prospects who haven’t yet returned to take a big bite out of his hind quarters for the most part—if you don’t count Trea Turner. (Nat turned Dodger.) But there’s always a real first time. Isn’t there?

He’s run the Padres eight seasons, delivered such blockbuster trade acquisitions, at the in-season deadline or the offseason, as Mike Clevinger, Jake Cronenworth, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, and Fernando Tatis, Jr., the Padres haven’t yet gone to any full-season postseason. (They reached the National League division series during pan-damn-ic short 2020.)

And he may be lucky that his incumbent first baseman Eric Hosmer declining to waive his no-trade clause to move to Washington didn’t kill the Soto deal. Hosmer has declined so precipitously since becoming a Padre as a free agent that, if Preller wants to get the rest of his due salary off the San Diego books, he’ll have to move yet another good prospect to do it if he finds a team willing to take Hosmer on.

Then, again, as USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale notes, Soto locked in through 2025 has another upside: in the unlikely event the Padres still can’t cross the threshold, Preller can still find a way to flip him on behalf of bringing other delicious-looking prospects back for a team and organisational renewal.

If there’s good news for the Nats, it’s getting five prospects in return for Soto and Josh Bell, with all five rated somewhat higher than the haul they took back from the Dodgers in exchange for Max the Knife and Trea Twinkletoes. But if there’s worse news for the Nats, it’s the number one problem with prospects: No matter how highly rated, they’re just prospects who might or might not cut it fully as Show players.

If they do cut it, it’ll take the sting out of losing a bona fide franchise player only if their cutting it turns into another world championship or two. If they don’t, this one’s liable to sting for Nats fans as long and as deep as such historically notorious purgings as Brock for Broglio, Ryan for Fregosi, Seaver for a quartet that sounds more like a law firm—Flynn, Henderson, Norman, and Zachry—than team reinforcements.

This wasn’t even the top deal of the day when it comes to breaking fan hearts. It’s not that Nat fans weren’t wringing hands and drying tears once they first knew Soto became expendable, but Oriole fans in the throes of seeing an unlikely revival enough to put the team right into the wild card hunt from almost out of nowhere hurt even more losing Trey Mancini.

Hours before Soto moved west, Mancini’s ticket to the Astros was punched in a three-way deal sending promising but inconsistent outfielder Jose Siri from the Astros to the Rays, pitcher Chayce McDermott from the Astros to the Orioles, and pitchers Jayden Murray and Seth Johnson from the Rays to the Orioles.

Trey Mancini

Trey Mancini tipping his cap to Oriole fans after what proved his final home game in Baltimore—he goes somewhat west now, to the Astros.

For Mancini it’s a terribly mixed blessing. One moment he goes from a home ballpark whose left field fence was moved back far enough to cut his power production at home to a ballpark with a short enough porch that he’d have hit over twice the ten bombs he has on the season so far. But he also says goodbye to a mutual love affair between himself and a city starving for the days when the Orioles were consistently great, year-after-year.

His agreeable personality and his courageous fight to beat colon cancer two years ago endeared him even further to Oriole fans than his live bat. As Baseball Prospectus observes, “Mancini . . . was the heart and soul of a franchise long depleted of either.”

The depletion may include Orioles general manager Mike Elias, who offered one of the most cacophonous explanations ever heard after a team struggling to return to greatness unloads a highly popular and franchise-valuable player:

The winning last couple of months that we have, the momentum we have, has made this a much more difficult decision and a much more complicated trade deadline than it would have been or that any of the past ones have been.But ultimately, I have to tether my decisions to the outlook and the probabilities of this year. We have a shot at a wild card right now but it is not a probability that we’re going to win a wild card.

Translation: In one deal and one bowl of word salad whose flavour no dressing on earth could improve, Elias as much as told Oriole fans he’s pushing the proverbial plunger on both this season whole and his team’s gallant, almost-from-nowhere re-entry into the postseason picture, however much distance the Orioles might still have to travel to get there.

Maybe Elias is still building for the nearest future after all. But maybe something could have been done without making the Orioles’ heart and soul the proverbial sacrificial lamb. Could, and should. “He’s the nicest human I’ve ever met,” says Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, a sentiment that seems to be common in the Oriole clubhouse and Baltimore itself.

Until today, people were even willing to bet on the Orioles having a phenomenal enough shot of reaching in. Now they’re uttering a couple of four letter words, one of which is the vulgar synonym for fornicate and the other a word meaning either a large receptacle for holding gas, an armoured attack vehicle, or taking a dive. Three guesses which meaning Orioles (and Nats) fans think applies.

“Teams liked to claim that captains were no longer necessary because one player shouldn’t be elevated above his teammates,” BP says, “but also, that same force made one player essentially untradable. If someone is designated the heart of a team, you can’t cut him out. Their value might go to waste.”

The region of the nation’s capital has taken enough blows that have knocked the wind out of its belly in the last few years. The Nationals and the Orioles, both of whom enjoy substantial capital followings, have told them, basically, “What’s two more sucker punches among friends?”

Accountability isn’t dead, entirely

Emilio Pagan

Emilio Pagan, relief pitcher, avatar of self-accountability.

When players hold themselves accountable, not ducking the harder questions, it’s admirable and—to enough people—rare enough. When a player willing to hold himself accountable seeks to do so without being asked first, that’s not just somewhat out of the standard box, it ought to give him some kind of share of some kind of prize.

Case in point: Emilio Pagán, Padres relief pitcher. In a game meaning nothing to the Padres anymore but everything to the Dodgers Wednesday night, the Dodgers bludgeoned Pagán and fellow bullpen bull Nabil Crismatt for five home runs—Pagan for three, Crismatt for two.

All when the Padres entered the bottom of the eighth holding a nice 9-6 lead including battering Max Scherzer, of all people, for six runs in six innings. The inning ended with the Dodgers leading 11-9, holding on to win by that score Wednesday night, and the Padres wondering further just when things like a disconnect between the clubhouse and the front office would be redressed.

Pagán got torn back-to-back by Max Muncy and A.J. Pollock, then by Cody Bellinger one out later, to tie the game. Crismatt got pounded for the one that mattered, Corey Seager’s two-out, two-run shell into the right field bleachers to yank the Dodgers ahead. Some thought that eighth-inning meltdown was too emblematic of the Padres’ seasonal dissipation.

They were supposed to win the West this year, right? They were anointed World Series champions in waiting this year, by enough commentators, right? They had the hottest young star in baseball this side of Shohei Ohtani, a solid pitching staff, and were just itching to lay the division to waste, if not the league, right? That’s what you all heard too much of coming out of spring training, right?

Didn’t happen. And while plenty of teams had to find ways around the ferocious enough injury bugs this year, the Padres couldn’t and didn’t, if not wouldn’t.

They became testy in the clubhouse as the season went forward. Enough players reportedly became more disillusioned with oft-overwhelmed manager Jayce Tingler. Enough became just as dismayed by seemingly half-connected general manager A.J. Preller, whose reputed genius at scouting and building was undermined this year by failures at true fortification at the trade deadline and a sense that he’s out of touch with his clubhouse, willfully or otherwise.

So when Pagán buttonholed San Diego Union-Tribune writer Kevin Acee, Acee was only too willing to listen and write. The righthander who surrendered the home run that just about killed what remained of the Padres’ season in St. Louis—Tyler O’Neill’s two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth on 18 September—had more to say.

He’s said in the recent past how nice it is to be part of a team as talented as the Padres actually are. But now, by holding himself up to task, he implied without saying that such talented teams should be just as accountable above and beyond the real issues beyond their control.

“We scored nine runs in a game that Max Scherzer starts,” Pagán told Acee. “You’ve got to win that game. I mean, plain and simple. I love this game too much to not look at the numbers and not look at the results like I’ve got to take some of this. I can’t just be upset, I’ve got to look at it and grow from it and come into next series, next season a better pitcher.”

Acee indicated the two spoke after Pagán reviewed video of his outing, asked coaches whether he was tipping pitches, pondered trying to develop a third pitch during the offseason, and lamented that he felt his pitches were both getting better in the season’s second half but he was “getting my teeth kicked in. So it hasn’t been a lot of fun.

“I’m going to look at everything because, as laughable as this comment is, I’m just too good for this,” Pagán continued. “I know type of talent that I can be on the mound. Unfortunately for the San Diego Padres organization I haven’t been what I can. And that’ll change. If I’m kept around, I will get better. I don’t know if I’ve been this angry in a long time at my individual performance on a baseball field, so I’ll get better. I care about this game too much to not get better.”

A 2.31 ERA for the 2019 Rays suggests Pagán can still fix whatever went wrong for him this season. An attitude such as he showed in seeking Acee out before the scribe could seek and question him first suggests wisdom beyond his 30 years.

“In these times of pandemic-induced postgame zooms,” Acee wrote, “the media often does not get to immediately speak to players involved in key plays. But Pagán, being both a veteran who has been around when clubhouses have been open and an honorable man, was willing to face questions before I could even ask if he would.”

Preller seems to leave somewhat different and contradictory impressions, according to Athletic writers Ken Rosenthal, Dennis Lin, and Eno Sarris:

The combination of an untested manager, veteran coaches with strong personalities and prominent players with strong personalities has sometimes proven volatile. A pair of confrontations in the dugout two weeks ago . . . attracted national attention, but according to sources, there have been an unusual number of heated moments this season, including when the Padres were well above .500. Some of the same sources have questioned whether front-office executives have enough empathy for those navigating complex situations inside the clubhouse.

“I don’t think (Preller) feels that at all,” said one former coach.

If there’s a further shakeup in the Padres’ offseason to come, it seems as though few would be surprised. If a new, more experienced and attuned manager is on the priority list, it may be easier said than done bringing aboard someone else Preller may or may not think he can command at will.

Whomever it proves to be, he’ll have at least one veteran relief pitcher on board with the concept and the continuing practise of accountability.

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.

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.