In defense of Tatis' 3-0 grand slam

Baseball should be fun. Grand slams are fun.

August 18th, 2020

Play hard. Put everything on the line for 27 outs. Sacrifice your body ... unless you're winning by some vague and hazily defined large lead late in the game. At that point, take it easy and just let the game slowly wind its way to its natural conclusion.

That seems to be the general guideline for how baseball is supposed to be played based on some of the reactions from the Padres 14-4 defeat of the Rangers on Monday night.

Yes, that’s right. It’s time for a review of baseball’s unwritten rules -- a guidebook apparently handed down from the gods or Alexander Cartwright (who didn’t actually invent the game), who gave it to John McGraw, who passed it down to us. Now we're stuck having to guess what these blurry and poorly defined rules actually mean.

To get you caught up:

Fernando Tatis Jr. -- human spark plug and one of the most exciting and talented players to ever step on the field -- walked to the plate with the bases loaded against the Rangers on Monday night with the Padres leading, 10-3. He worked a 3-0 count against pitcher Juan Nicasio. At this point, the unwritten rules were supposedly triggered, causing a stoppage of all competitive activities.

Apparently, Tatis missed this information, and he promptly launched Nicasio's 92-mph fastball to the opposite field for a grand slam.

We should be talking about how this was Tatis’ 11th (!) home run of the season, passing Mike Trout for the MLB lead and giving us -- the viewing public desperate for entertainment this year -- a real home run chase.

Or we should be talking about how Tatis is only 21, and he just set a record for homers this early for someone so young:

Or we should be talking about how this was Tatis’ third multi-home run game as a big leaguer in only 107 games played; that Tatis is the type of player you make sure you see every time he comes to the plate because something magical could happen.

Instead, we’re talking about the fact that he shouldn’t have swung, or at least according to the opposing manager.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward wasn’t happy about it.

“There's a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today's game,” Woodward said after the game. “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.”

Ignoring the fact that Tatis grew up around the game (his father is the ONLY person to hit two grand slams in one inning. Should Tatis Sr. not have done that, either?), Woodward is basically saying that the game was over. The Padres should have given up trying to score because the Rangers weren’t going to bother trying to hit. Instead, Texas would come up in the bottom of the inning, bats perched on their shoulders, and watch pitches soar by until the game was over.

If that were the case, then let's go ahead and let teams forfeit. But we all know that’s not true. The Rangers were going to grind out every at-bat and try to come back and win.

Let's not pretend coming back from a seven-run deficit is some impossible feat, either. The Padres did it last season, in fact! They blew a 10-run lead in 2016!

Just last week, the D-backs nearly came back to beat the Rockies by scoring five runs in the top of the ninth to lose, 8-7.

The next day, Arizona scored eight runs in the seventh to go on to win 13-7.

That same day, the Rangers scored seven runs in the final three innings to come back to beat the Mariners. So, yeah, it happens -- and pretty regularly too.

What happens then if Tatis follows the unwritten rules, watches the pitch go by, and the Rangers emerge victorious? Does Woodward apologize for his team daring to score runs?

If that's the rule, then it looks like these are the acceptable times when one can hit a home run:

- If you're losing

- If the score is tied

- When you're winning but just by a little bit (and that amount is nebulous and will be forever shifting)

- If it's your birthday

- In between flossing and brushing

- During the autumnal equinox (but not if it falls on a Tuesday or Thursday)

In fact, since this was Tatis’ second home run, he should actually apologize twice. Once for daring to hit a grand slam, and again for hogging all the dingers and not letting his teammates have any.

As baseball fans, we tune in to watch amazing feats and spectacles from the very best players in the game. What better reason to stay up late on a Monday night than to see if Tatis can do something incredible like, I dunno, hit an opposite-field grand slam? We’re certainly not watching to see him keep the bat on his shoulder and stoically nod to the pitcher as if to say, “Yes, look how much mutual respect we have for each other." If that were the case, then we could turn the game off and flip through the channels until we find a Frank Stallone movie to fall asleep to.

We want to see the players compete, and we want to see them smile and, oh yes, we want to see them dance.

Baseball is hard (except for Keibert Ruiz, apparently) and winning games -- as we’re told any time a closer gives up a late-inning lead -- is the hardest thing in the sport. Baseball is also fun, insanely fun -- it's a game where anything can happen at any minute. And what's more fun than guys giving it their all and having a blast until the last out is recorded?

Tatis and Trout and Matt Chapman and Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts etc. etc. etc. should all keep doing their thing and swinging until the final out is recorded. It's why we watch.