As Fernando Tatis Jr.’s go-ahead grand slam sailed over the left-field fence, triumphantly demarking the return of Slam Diego, Citi Field became incredulous. Regardless of affiliation, the stadium seemed universally succumbed to catharsis.
A wave of jubilation ran through the Padres’ dugout. Chris Paddack let out a primal yell, reared back to high-five Victor Caratini, then yelled again. The smiles and laughs flowed. The home fans were stunned.
Tatis’ typical stutter step around third base had extra flair, extra giddy. Upon crossing home plate, he leaped and banged forearms with Jurickson Profar. Tatis, who propelled the Padres to a 7-3 win on Sunday at Citi Field, donned the Swag Chain, and in short order, he passed it to Manny Machado, who contributed a back-to-back jack.
With one swing, Slam Diego had returned, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“You see smiles throughout the dugout, and I think that that’s pretty important,” Paddack said.
Tatis’ grand slam was not just the highlight of a six-run seventh inning, but the culmination of manager Jayce Tinger’s cerebral chess moves.
Following Eric Hosmer’s leadoff walk, Tingler unveiled his first tactic, subbing out Ha-Seong Kim for Jake Cronenworth. The decision paid off. Cronenworth singled into right field, and the Padres had a rally. Webster Rivas set things in motion with a beautifully placed sacrifice bunt down the third-base line, placed perfectly to eliminate any chance of a forceout at second or third.
Tingler’s second move of the inning didn’t work out as planned -- Trent Grisham struck out pinch-hitting for Jorge Mateo -- but his third and final maneuver culminated in what he called “one of the top at-bats of the year.”
Profar, who pinch-hit for Paddack, fell behind in the count 1-2, and the Padres were one strike away from seeing another rally evaporate. With his back against the wall, Profar grinded. He fouled off pitches to stay alive and spat on offerings out of the zone. The end result was an eight-pitch walk, keeping San Diego’s hopes alive.
“My grand slam happened because of that walk,” Tatis said.
Tommy Pham, whose leadoff home run was San Diego’s only run of the game thus far, drew a bases-loaded walk to plate the tying run and set the stage for the man of the hour.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Mets manager Luis Rojas of Tatis. “He’s got all the tools.”
While the stadium was still reeling from Tatis’ grand slam, Machado kept the good times rolling with a solo shot to left field. The homer was all the more impressive given that Machado had just fouled a pitch off himself, dropping to the dirt upon contact. As Machado’s solo shot sailed over the fence, Tatis emphatically raised his arm, stuck his pointer finger towards the sky and spun it in a circular motion, the universal sign of a round-tripper.
That six-run seventh inning was more than enough run support after Paddack’s gritty performance. Even with minimal run support in the early innings, Paddack kept San Diego in the game, allowing two runs across six innings and striking out a season-high nine batters.
Paddack remained cool and collected as he worked himself out of a couple jams. In the fourth inning, Francisco Lindor smoked a leadoff double with the big bats due up. In the sixth, Lindor and Pete Alonso led off the inning with back-to-back singles. In both frames, Paddack held firm, not yielding a run in either frame.
“[Blake] Snell is a big positive self-talker on the mound, and I am as well,” Paddack said. “I really believe that inner talk to yourself on the mound with no one else out there, it gives you that much confidence.”
Speaking of confidence, Sunday’s win was a big jolt of confidence for San Diego. It wasn’t a must-win game, but with the win, the Padres avoided their longest losing streak of the season. They smiled. They rejoiced. Amidst the tough times, they appear to be having fun.
After the win, Tatis saluted a group of Padres faithful who made the trip to Citi Field, raising both hands in the air as if to offer his appreciation. Given the theatrics he provided, an emphatic reminder of why San Diego is one of baseball’s most electrifying teams, it’s safe to say the feeling was reciprocated.