Padres hold off Dodgers on slick double play

April 23rd, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Four Padres-Dodgers games this season, four instant classics. As of Thursday night, the season series between these National League West heavyweights is all square.

How close have these games been, exactly? Check out the decisive play from the Padres’ 3-2 victory on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.

Trailing by one, Los Angeles loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning for Sheldon Neuse -- who’d already tied the game at 2 an inning earlier with a home run. He hit a 105 mph rocket that caught Padres second baseman on an in-between hop. It ricocheted off Cronenworth’s glove and took one small bounce behind him.

And then, somehow, someway, Cronenworth started one of the most dazzling 4-6-3 double plays you’ll ever see -- a work of art with a tremendous number of moving pieces, unfolding in just under 4.5 seconds.

“Things are going super fast,” Cronenworth would say afterward. “You just slow it down as best as possible.”

Cronenworth picked the ball with his bare hand. He flipped, from his backside, to shortstop , who snared the ball with his glove while straining to keep his right foot on the bag. He did, barely. Then Tatis threw an 87 mph bullet to first base -- and it couldn’t have been 86. Neuse was out by half an inch, maybe.

Like we said: These games are close.

“I knew I had knocked it down, somewhere within my little space,” Cronenworth said. “I was just trying to find it as quick as possible. I knew Tati was behind me. Just get it to him as quick as possible.”

The Padres got a big-time effort from 21-year-old rookie Ryan Weathers, who worked 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit. The Dodgers rallied to tie the game in the seventh on back-to-back home runs from AJ Pollock and Neuse before the Padres took the lead again in the eighth on Tatis’ run-scoring double play.

The back-and-forth was typical of this particular rivalry. Every game has featured plenty of it, and Thursday was no different. The Padres punched in the top of the eighth. Surely, they expected a counterpunch in the bottom half, and the Dodgers came out swinging.

Justin Turner opened the frame with a single, then -- in a game decided by inches -- the Dodgers got a break of their own. Will Smith lofted a fly ball down the line, and Padres left fielder Jurickson Profar made a diving attempt. The ball kicked away, and the play was initially ruled foul. But replays showed that the ball struck the chalk line before bouncing into the stands, putting runners on second and third with no one out.

Manager Jayce Tingler summoned left-hander Tim Hill and brought his infield in. Max Muncy hit a sharp grounder -- right at Cronenworth. Turner stayed put at third base. Then, Tingler opted to intentionally walk Pollock, setting up a potential double-play ball, and sure enough …

“Bases loaded, and then that happens,” Tingler said. “It was just an exciting play. And it’s exciting for our guys. It feels like this year we’ve been on the other side of that.”

No kidding. Five days ago, it was Dodgers center fielder Mookie Betts who robbed Tommy Pham with a brilliant diving catch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the tying runs in scoring position.

The Padres were left to tip their caps to Betts on Saturday night. The Dodgers did the same on Thursday.

“It took a great play by Cronenworth to recover on that ball and make a nice feed,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I just don’t know many shortstops that can make that turn with the arm strength. It was a heck of a play.”

Said Tingler: “The dugout, it was just electric. … That play defensively felt like a playoff home run in a critical moment with your life on the line. That’s what it felt like.”

To recap: These two teams have now played four times this season, and they’ve played four absolute thrillers. Last Friday, a 12-inning slugfest. On Saturday, Mookie’s game-saving magic. On Sunday, a late Padres rally. And now this.

“You’ve got two good teams laying everything out, battling,” Tingler said. “I would say this: If you are a fan of the game, or you have kids interested in watching the game, these have to be some of the most entertaining baseball games being played.

“And tonight was as good a game as you’ll see.”

That’s his opinion. But the Padres and Dodgers are scheduled to play 15 more times this season, and who knows what they’ll have in store?