Revamped Padres flex in first game with Soto, Bell and Drury

Crowd shows love to new stars in electric atmosphere at Petco Park

August 4th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- They packed the place well before first pitch Wednesday night, lines stretching down Trevor Hoffman Way onto Tony Gwynn Drive, droves of brown-clad fans waiting for the gates to open.

They came to see Juan Soto. They came to see the other newcomers, too -- Josh Bell and Brandon Drury, and, if things went right, maybe Josh Hader.

But mainly, they came to see the totality of these new-look 2022 Padres -- who boldly assert that, over the past three days, they have constructed a World Series-caliber roster right before our very eyes.

And from the first pitch, those revamped 2022 Padres did not disappoint.

They thumped the Rockies 9-1 before a frenzied Petco Park crowd of 44,652, the largest of the season. Soto finished 1-for-3 with a pair of walks, his penchant for reaching base on display instantly. But amid all the fanfare for Soto, it was Drury whose Padres career started in historic fashion.

Soto and Bell each walked in their first Padres plate appearance, with Soto scoring on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. That set the stage for Drury to launch a grand slam on the first pitch he saw. Drury became the first player in franchise history to hit a grand slam in his first plate appearance with San Diego. The Padres led 5-0 in the first inning, and the rest of the night was a party in the East Village.

“Shoot, that was electric,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “And our fans were in it from before the first pitch. These guys felt that.”

Soto’s first Padres hit came in the bottom of the eighth inning, a lined single to right field off Rockies right-hander Carlos Estévez. He is, quite clearly, already a rock star in San Diego.

About 15 minutes prior to first pitch, Soto emerged from the dugout for his usual pregame stretching routine. Petco Park erupted. A few moments later, his name was announced in the starting lineup. More crazed applause.

“It brings a lot of emotions for me,” Soto said. “It feels amazing, all the crowd and everything. It was an amazing moment for me, how they cheered for me.”

Those cheers reached a crescendo after leadoff man Jurickson Profar popped out in the bottom of the first. Soto strode to the plate in brown pinstripes for the very first time, and the crowd rose in unison. Rockies right-hander Chad Kuhl threw four pitches, each out of the strike zone. Soto crouched, and he shuffled, but he didn’t offer at any of them.

If you’re new to the Soto experience, this -- not the moonshot home runs -- is peak Juan Soto. He takes immense pride in his ability to reach base. That trait should prove especially valuable in an offense like this one, where pitching around Soto might mean dealing with Manny Machado or Fernando Tatis Jr.

“With how good a lineup we have, even when I walk, we can do damage,” Soto said. “I’m glad that I’m here. I’m ready to keep doing it.”

Hours before first pitch, Soto and Bell were introduced in a press conference at the Petco Park auditorium. Asked about the potency of the Padres’ offense, Soto coyly wished, “Good luck to the other pitchers.”

Based on the early evidence, they’re going to need it. Soto’s walk sparked a relentless first-inning rally. Machado, who finished a triple shy of the cycle, followed with a double. Bell walked and Cronenworth was hit by a pitch. That set the stage for Drury, with the Padres leading, 1-0.

“First at-bat, bases loaded, I was just running on pure adrenaline,” Drury said. “I’m really excited to be here. That was pretty special for me.”

Blake Snell pitched six innings of one-run ball, continuing the rotation’s run of dominance, which has gone largely overshadowed by the team’s off-field maneuverings. Machado and Cronenworth tacked on home runs in the sixth. San Diego rolled from there, and with an eight-run lead, Hader, the shiny new closer, stayed on the shelf.

The Padres think nights like this might soon become the norm. They’re 15 games over .500, in the thick of the NL playoff picture. In fact, with Wednesday’s victory, the Padres are now closer to the Braves in the top Wild Card spot (three games back) than they are to missing the playoffs (four games up on St. Louis).

The top Wild Card sure feels like a goal worth chasing. If the Padres could earn that spot, they’d play their three-game first-round series at Petco Park. After a night like this one, it’s hard to overstate what that might mean.