Despite their bygone losing streak, despite their spate of injuries, the Padres still have Fernando Tatis Jr., and he still seems capable of doing anything on a baseball field.
The 21-year-old phenom added two homers to his gaudy total in the Padres’ 14-4 victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Field on Monday night -- the first an absolute laser to left-center and the second his first career grand slam, sparking quite a bit of controversy after his vicious 3-0 hack. Barely an hour after the Angels’ Mike Trout became the first player to reach 10 homers on the season, Tatis surpassed him with a pair of bombs in consecutive innings.
“I can tell you one thing, I’ve been working for it,” Tatis said. “Being right next to one of the best to ever do it means a lot to me. It’s another reason to keep working even harder.”
Tatis’ first home run was a laser beam of a three-run shot to left-center, a 112.6 mph missile that checked in as the hardest home run of Tatis’ career. But it was his second of the night -- No. 11 on the season -- that got everyone talking.
With the bases loaded and the Padres up 10-3 in the eighth, Rangers righty Juan Nicasio ran the count to 3-0. Tatis was given a take sign by third-base coach Glenn Hoffman. Tatis didn’t notice it.
“I was locked in on the game, just trying to produce for my team,” Tatis said. “That was on me. I didn't look to my third-base coach. I was just trying to take a good pitch and put my barrel on it.”
He put his barrel on it all right -- 407 feet to the opposite field. But in the eyes of Rangers manager Chris Woodward, Tatis shouldn’t have been swinging in the first place.
“There's a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today's game,” Woodward said. “I didn't like it, personally. You're up by seven in the eighth inning; it's typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It's kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so -- just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not right.”
Padres manager Jayce Tingler, who knows Woodward well from their time together in the Texas organization, wasn’t quite so emphatic. But he spoke with Tatis after the home run and called the moment “a learning opportunity” after the game.
“Just to make sure we get the signs 3-0,” Tingler said. “He’s young, a free spirit and focused and all those things. That’s the last thing that we’ll ever take away. But it’s a learning opportunity.”
The next pitch from Rangers reliever Ian Gibaut sailed behind Manny Machado, and the four umpires immediately convened on one side of the mound. But they didn’t eject the right-hander, nor did they offer any warnings.
To Tingler, it was clearly a purpose pitch, even if he didn’t say so explicitly.
“I mean, that’s the only ball that went behind them tonight,” Tingler said.
It’s worth pointing out that San Diego’s seven-run lead in the eighth inning was by no means insurmountable. Entering play Monday, the Padres' bullpen ranked 28th in ERA and already had coughed up several big leads this season. According to FanGraphs, the Padres’ win probability stood at 99.6 percent when Tatis came to the plate in the eighth.
Then again, baseball dogma suggests that a hitter take 3-0 pitch when his team is cruising toward a victory. As Woodward said, those norms are constantly being challenged these days, and no one is challenging them more than Tatis, whose bat flips and baserunning exploits have always raised plenty of eyebrows. But after the game, Tatis indicated that he might not challenge this norm any longer.
“I've been in this game since I was a kid, and I know a lot of unwritten rules,” Tatis said. “But this time, I didn't. I was kind of lost on this one. … Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”
Padres starter Zach Davies, on the other hand, found no fault in Tatis’ exploits, though he noted that opinions diverge within the sport. Davies’ own take was rather succinct:
“Make sure your 3-0 pitch is a little bit better,” said Davies, who was sharp over five-plus innings.
The postgame debate should not detract in any way from Tatis’ undeniable greatness this season. He is the fastest player in franchise history to reach double figures in home runs, doing so in just 24 games. (And that was before the salami.)
“Obviously we’re going to miss them,” Tatis said. “But now we’ve got to find a way.”
Two home runs, seven RBIs and an audacious 3-0 hack from your 21-year-old norm-challenger -- that’s one way.