Down to their final out on Friday night, the Padres turned their lineup over to Fernando Tatis Jr. This back-and-forth Coors Field opener wouldn’t be decided until San Diego’s 21-year-old phenom had his say.
Tatis launched a game-tying solo shot, executing a sublime bat drop as he watched the ball soar into the first row in left field. Three batters later, Tommy Pham followed with a go-ahead three-run blast. Then, to cap a wild ninth inning, closer Kirby Yates allowed two runs, before Drew Pomeranz locked down an 8-7 Padres victory.
It was a frantic finish to a game that, in truth, was mostly uneventful for eight innings, especially considering the venue.
“You knew something was up late,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler.
Indeed, the ninth-inning unfolded over 46 agonizing minutes, carrying all the drama of a three-act play:
Act I: El Niño equalizes
Tatis tied the game with an RBI single in the seventh. Then the Rockies took a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the frame when Trevor Story took Matt Strahm deep. That’s where things stood when Tatis strode to the plate in the top of the ninth with two outs and the bases empty.
“When they hit us, we’re going to hit them back,” Tatis said on the postgame Zoom session with the media.
He delivered quite the counterpunch. Tatis worked himself a favorable 2-1 count, then unloaded on a Wade Davis fastball at the top of the zone.
Tatis finished his follow-through, then dropped his bat, knowingly. But as he headed for first base, the slightest tinge of doubt entered his mind, and he turned on the jets for a moment.
“I knew when I hit it,” Tatis said. “Then I doubted a little bit, because it was too much of a line drive. Thank God it went out.”
Few would’ve blamed the Padres if they had gone down meekly in the ninth. They arrived in Denver in the wee hours of Friday morning after a late-night extra-innings victory in San Francisco the night before.
“What could we really do?” Tatis said. “It was a long night for the team. We still come to the ballpark, find a way to steal it, find a way to win the game.”
Act II: ‘A little bit more respect’
A tie game in the ninth at Coors Field? That’s usually just the beginning.
"Whenever a team walks someone in front of you like that, it's a sign of disrespect to you as a hitter,” Pham said. “As a professional, you just want to be respected. After tonight, maybe I got a little bit more respect."
If so, he earned it. Pham worked a full count against Davis, whose 29th pitch was a thigh-high cutter. Davis dropped his head as soon as Pham made contact on a 105 mph rocket that traveled an estimated 440 feet, according to Statcast. It was the Padres’ longest home run this season.
Pham finished the night 2-for-5 with four RBIs, easily his best game so far as a Padre. But Pham has been pivotal in the Padres’ 6-2 start, even if a few would-be hits haven’t fallen. He has walked five times. Meanwhile, Grisham now has six after his battle at-bat against Davis.
“It’s been fun watching guys jell together, pull for one another, have very unselfish at-bats and do things for the team,” Tingler said. “It’s really a joy to watch.”
Act III: A bullpen on the brink
The Padres brought a struggling bullpen to Colorado this weekend. Coors Field isn’t exactly a cure-all.
Sure enough, Yates’ ugly start to the season continued. He allowed two runs on three hits and a pair of walks, exiting with the bases loaded and the Padres hanging on to their 8-7 lead. It marked the second consecutive outing in which Yates had been lifted mid-inning. During his All-MLB campaign of 2019, that happened to him only once.
“He’s been arguably one of the best closers the last couple years,” said Tingler, who reiterated that he’d go right back to Yates in the next save situation. “We’ve got a ton of confidence in him. … That’s just going to be another huge weapon when he’s got his game clicking.”
Yates, of course, isn’t the only Padres reliever who has struggled uncharacteristically. Strahm has surrendered go-ahead homers in consecutive outings.
But while most of the San Diego ’pen has struggled, Pomeranz has been excellent. The Padres signed the veteran lefty to a surprise four-year deal during the offseason. Thus far, he’s pitching like he’s worth every penny.
“He’s been critical, especially while some of the group is trying to find their stride right now,” Tingler said.
Pomeranz was called upon to face the lefty Sam Hilliard. But the Rockies countered with righty pinch-hitter Chris Owings, who worked a 2-2 count and fouled off three straight pitches before popping harmlessly to center field.
“Oh man, it was an awesome moment,” said Tatis, who also let out a loud exhale, which perfectly captured the ninth inning at Coors Field on Friday night.