SAN DIEGO -- In unison, a sold-out crowd at Petco Park roared its disapproval.
Giants right-hander Shaun Anderson had come high and tight with a fastball toward the brim of Fernando Tatis Jr.'s helmet. The Padres phenom sprung backward to avoid the pitch. His helmet and bat went flying as he hit the deck.
Forty-one seconds later, Tatis offered his rebuttal.
The 20-year-old rookie -- who has played like anything but that this season -- brushed himself off with his left arm. He grabbed his helmet in one hand and his bat in the other. He flipped his blond dreads, so they could fit under his helmet, and he took a deep breath before stepping back into the box.
Then he wallopped a hanging slider 414 feet to straightaway center field.
“He's got no fear and a lot of confidence,” said Padres manager Andy Green.
“If you're playing in this game,” Tatis added, “you're not supposed to have fear.”
In the Padres' 5-1 victory over the Giants on Saturday night, Tatis authored another one of those jaw-dropping moments that have come to define his remarkable rookie season. If you've watched the Padres often enough this year, you know them by now.
There’s no telling when they might happen. It could be a 94 mph laser-beam throw from shortstop on an otherwise routine ground ball. It might be a Matrix-esque slide to avoid a tag during a run-of-the-mill rundown.
All five of Tatis’ tools are borderline elite. On Saturday, after he’d singled in his first two at-bats, he showed off his power.
“Don't brush him back, I guess,” said right-hander Cal Quantrill, who pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball and was on first base at the time. “He got angry."
Tatis, however, insists that he wasn’t.
“I know he didn't do it on purpose,” he said. “I don't want to create conflict or anything. I just know he's trying to do his job. He's trying to get me out. I'm trying to get a base hit.”
Perhaps that’s the most impressive part. At 20, Tatis had the presence of mind to realize Anderson was likely to throw something low and away with his 1-2 pitch after changing Tatis’ eye level.
“We went up and in,” Anderson said. “Tried to throw the next one down and away and caught too much of the plate.”
Tatis was all over it. He crushed it with a 106 mph exit velocity into the beach area, coolly rounding the bases as Petco Park whipped into a frenzy. The Padres had a 3-0 lead.
“I don't think anything fires me up more than watching a hitter get knocked down, then staying on an offspeed pitch away,” Green said. “It's understanding how you're going to get pitched, too. They went in there once. What are they doing next? ... He's just a smart, young hitter that's really good and fun to watch.”
It was Tatis’ 17th home run of the season. He’s hitting .330, and when he reaches the threshold to qualify next month, he might find himself in the thick of the race for the batting title. Right now, Tatis seems to be closing the gap on Mets first baseman Pete Alonso in the National League Rookie of the Year race. Heck, he might have already caught Alonso.
The Padres have struggled lately. They entered play Saturday night having lost eight straight at home and 10 of 13 since the All-Star break. Amid all the struggles, it’s been easy to forget that the future is still bright in San Diego.
And Tatis is at the center of it.
The Padres haven’t made things easy on Quantrill. They’ve asked him to start. They’ve asked him to pitch in short and long relief. They’ve asked him follow an opener.
No matter the role, Quantrill has thrived.
“I don't think he shies away from any situation whatsoever,” said pitching coach Darren Balsley. “Routine's good. It's nice to know when you're going to pitch, what days you're going to pitch, what innings you're going to pitch. But, you can spring something on him ... and he'll be the same guy.”
Quantrill allowed three hits Saturday, lowering his ERA to 3.57. He used a sharp four-pitch mix, inducing whiffs with all four.
“These swing guys are incredibly valuable,” Green said. “He’s been at the top of the list of guys who have done it really well for us.”
Luis Urías mashed a bunch of taters at Triple-A during the first half of the season. The Padres certainly didn’t mind seeing that from their No. 2 prospect. But they didn’t put much stock in those numbers, either. Urias’ strength has always been his ability to reach base. That’s the player they’ve wanted to see.
On Saturday, they got the Urias they always envisioned. Without recording a hit, the rookie second baseman reached base four times -- via three walks and a hit by pitch. He’s just 1-for-20 since his return, but he’s walked seven times.
“His batting average is going to come up a couple hundred points, nobody doubts it,” Green said. “... He did some really nice things tonight.”