SAN DIEGO -- The craziest part of Fernando Tatis Jr.'s straight steal of home on Wednesday night? Just how smooth and easy he made it all look.
With the Padres in search of a seventh-inning insurance run, Tatis took matters into his own hands. He jogged a few steps down the third-base line, then a few more, before breaking into a full-on sprint for home plate, completing a straight steal of home in the Padres' 5-2 win over the Orioles at Petco Park.
“I just went for it,” Tatis said afterward.
And he was so easily safe, he didn’t even draw a throw from Orioles left-hander Cionel Pérez.
The play was quintessentially Tatis -- just the right blend of instincts and athleticism on the basepaths.
“I kid with him that he’s a witch, and he rides his broom around the bases,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “That’s pretty much exactly what happened there. It’s like: When he takes off, everybody just gets nervous.”
The Padres, of course, have spent the past few months searching for the type of spark that could propel them back into the National League playoff picture. They’ve still got plenty of work left to do. But this sure felt like the type of spark they’ve been looking for.
Particularly because it helped put the finishing touches on a much-needed series victory over the Orioles, who own the best record in the American League. The Padres have made up two full games of ground in the Wild Card race in the past two days, and are now 4 1/2 games out of a playoff position.
“That’s a good team to get two wins from,” said left-hander Blake Snell, who tossed six innings of two-run ball. “So, just keep it rolling, keep moving forward. We’re playing good ball.”
Tatis’ steal marked the ninth straight steal of home in franchise history and the first since Travis Jankowski pulled it off in August 2016. Tatis could only recall one other steal of home in his professional career -- playing for High-A Fort Wayne in Bowling Green.
The stakes were notably higher this time. The Padres and Orioles had slugged it out for six innings, separated by one run before Trent Grisham’s solo shot gave San Diego a two-run lead in the seventh.
Tatis wanted more. He singled with two outs, then broke for second, and when Pérez’s pickoff throw got away, he advanced to third. Juan Soto proceeded to take strike one, and Tatis noticed that the lefty Pérez -- who was facing first base -- didn’t seem to be paying him any mind. So Tatis took a few steps at a light jog, testing the waters.
“I was trying not to call attention from the beginning with a small lead,” Tatis said. “Their third baseman was a little bit far. So as soon as I saw [Pérez] got engaged and started setting, I just took my first four steps. I was looking at him all the way. I saw he was still looking down.
“And when he saw me, I was already past home.”
That’s not really much of an exaggeration.
“I saw him creeping, creeping, and then he just took off,” said Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle. “I think, by that time, Cionel was already coming set, and just the timing was perfect.”
“He's a very aggressive baserunner and very instinctual,” said Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde. “You have to be a little bit more aware. We have to have a little bit better awareness on the field in that situation. But he's a plus runner -- a great runner that has instincts.”
Soto leapt out of the box, allowing Tatis to slide safely into the plate. Tatis promptly sprung to his feet and clapped his hands as Petco Park erupted.
“I'm thinking: ‘All right, I've got to hit the ball, I've got to bring him home, I've got to bring this RBI in,’” Soto said. “And then from nowhere, I just see him running. I'm like: ‘Whoa!’ It’s just really impressive.”
Based on the evidence of the past week, Tatis looks to be all the way back. After a recent slump, he’s 12-for-25 in the last six games, and he touted some adjustments to make his swing more compact.
“I’ve shortened up a little bit,” Tatis said. “I’m trying to put better at-bats out there. Sometimes, this game makes you forget how good of a hitter I am, being able to hit the ball to all parts of the field. I just got back to that.”
And once he’s on base …
“He’s that good, he’s that talented,” Snell said. “Anything is possible.”