On the final out of the weekend, a three-game series of spills and thrills and rallies, Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer tilted his head skyward and squinted through the late-afternoon glare. The crowd at Petco Park — at least the members clad in brown and yellow — rose to a crescendo as the baseball descended. Hosmer gloved the pop-up and embraced third baseman Manny Machado. The Dodgers trotted back into their clubhouse; they lost the game but won the series. The schedule called for a rematch this week.
That can’t come soon enough. The first collision between the Dodgers and the Padres justified the hype.
“I think the whole baseball world was locked into this series,” Hosmer said.
The opener on Friday was a sloppy classic that lasted 12 innings and nearly five hours (and was actually tolerable to watch). Saturday provided a taut duel between Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish. Hosmer supplied RBI knocks in the seventh and eighth innings on Sunday as the Padres staved off a sweep. These three games only whetted the appetite for the next 16 outings between these two.
Here are 11 observations after 11 hours and 21 minutes of tremendous theater in the Gaslamp District:
1. What makes a rivalry?
For a man on the verge of generational wealth via free agency, Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is not an excitable fellow. On Friday afternoon, as the two clubs prepared for their first clash, Seager was asked a variety of questions about the prospect of facing San Diego.
“It’s just another division series,” he said.
“Every series is important,” he said.
“We’re trying to go out there and win a series every time we have one,” he said. “So …”
Seager spent seven minutes pouring cold water on the matchup. Then the two baseball teams spent the weekend fanning the flames. The benches cleared on Friday. Kershaw got caught on camera hurling expletives on Saturday. Mookie Betts pounded his chest after a game-saving catch. Trevor Bauer did the same after striking out Fernando Tatis Jr. Dave Roberts said he felt like the atmosphere resembled October.
From a rhetorical standpoint, it makes sense for both sides to downplay the rivalry. Good baseball teams understand the perils of fixating on one opponent during the 162-game season. The Padres already view the Dodgers on a pedestal; there is no need to raise the stature of their antagonists. “If we want to get to where we want to be, we’ve got to go through those guys,” Hosmer said. The Dodgers lack interest in crowning a challenger who has yet to dethrone them. “We don’t really care about rivalries or who we’re playing,” Kershaw said. “We just try to win series here. That’s all that matters.”
Yet their actions will overpower their words. The Dodgers are the best team in baseball. And the Padres might be the only team capable of hanging with them. When they get together, special things happen.
2. Can pitchers make Tatis let go?
Before Friday, Tatis’s last swing was at a curveball from Giants pitcher Anthony DeSclafani on April 5. The pitch nipped the outer edge of the plate, middle away. His right hand came off the bat handle as he flailed at the bender. His left arm absorbed the energy created by his followthrough. He crumpled to the ground. An examination revealed a partially dislocated shoulder.
Tatis returned Friday after a stint on the injured list. He wore a harness to support his shoulder, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Fox’s broadcast on Saturday. He said he would try to make two-handed swings, as the team has suggested in the past. He insisted he did not believe he would require season-altering surgery to repair the joint.
“I think it’s not going to be a thing that is bothering me for the rest of the year,” Tatis said on Saturday afternoon.
It was worth monitoring if Dodgers pitchers would locate in the same area that caused Tatis trouble against DeSclafani. On Friday and Sunday, they worked away, away and away against Tatis. Of the 27 pitches Tatis saw on Friday, 11 were located either middle-away or down and away. On Sunday, 15 of 22 pitches zipped into those quadrants. In between, with the left-hander Kershaw starting, Tatis only got two pitches below the belt and away. Kershaw attacked Tatis on the inner half. (If Tatis has a hole, some scouts believe, it is located up and in.)
Tatis blasted a home run off Walker Buehler on Friday, but otherwise went hitless for the weekend. He is batting .129 thus far.
3. Trent Grisham Appreciation Society
There was understandable hoopla about Tatis’s return. A week earlier, with far less fanfare, San Diego welcomed back a player who is nearly as vital to their championship aspirations. Trent Grisham, the Padres’ splendid center fielder and leadoff hitter, missed the first seven games of the season with a hamstring strain. He appears to be leveling up from his excellent 2020 campaign: Grisham has hit .323/.447/.645 in his first eight games.
Grisham, 24, was a first-round pick by the Brewers in 2015. Scouts applaud him for possessing five league-average tools, which sounds far less impressive than it actually is. Grisham is a solid defender, with good speed and a sharp eye at the plate. He hit 10 homers in 2020. He plays with energy and an edge.
The acquisition of Grisham looks thus far like one of general manager A.J. Preller’s finest moves. The Padres traded pitcher Eric Lauer and infielder Luis Urias to Milwaukee before 2020 for Zack Davies and Grisham. Preller bundled Davies with four prospects when the Cubs dumped Darvish’s salary this past winter. And Grisham could be a future All-Star — if he can stay healthy. He was scratched from the finale because of an issue with his quad.