SAN DIEGO -- The Padres spent the offseason wondering what might happen if Christian Villanueva were given a regular opportunity in the big leagues. They probably couldn't have envisioned this.Villanueva went deep three times Tuesday night, sending the Padres to their first win of the season, an 8-4 victory over
SAN DIEGO -- The Padres spent the offseason wondering what might happen if Christian Villanueva were given a regular opportunity in the big leagues. They probably couldn't have envisioned this.
Villanueva went deep three times Tuesday night, sending the Padres to their first win of the season, an 8-4 victory over the Rockies. The 26-year-old third baseman has long been lauded for his power potential, but he was an unlikely candidate for this particular trip to the record books.
Villanueva joined Bobby Estalella and Jarrett Parker as the only players in history with three-homer games in their first 14 career games. A September callup late last season, Villanueva has now gone deep seven times in his first 40 plate appearances. Only Colorado's Trevor Story hit more home runs in his first 14 contests.
"I have a lot of dreams, I have a lot of goals, and I think, little by little, I'm starting to reach them," Villanueva said.
An eight-year Minor Leaguer, Villanueva's path to the big leagues was blocked by Kristopher Bryant in the Cubs' system. The Padres believed in his raw power and inked him to a Minor League deal in December 2016. It's paying dividends.
Villanueva's first blast was a towering drive into the third deck of the Western Metal Building in left field. His second and third were both missiles into the upper deck in left field. The three dingers featured exit velocities of 105, 106 and 107 mph -- his fourth, second and first hardest-hit balls as a big leaguer.
Villanueva's third home run prompted a rare curtain call from the Petco Park faithful, the first since the 2015 season.
"Another dream come true, especially on a night like tonight, getting the first win," Villanueva said. "I was just happy I was able to play my part."
Villanueva became the seventh Padres player to homer three times in a game and just the second at Petco Park, joining Hunter Renfroe who accomplished the feat last season on Sept. 20. Renfroe was also the only rookie in franchise history to do so.
The power surge made a winner out of right-hander Tyson Ross. In his return to the Petco Park mound, Ross was shaky early but settled in to allow three runs over six frames. It was Ross' first start for San Diego since Opening Day 2016. He sustained a shoulder injury shortly after that outing and missed the remainder of the season.
Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland was relatively sharp -- aside from his two at-bats against Villanueva. He allowed four runs over 5 1/3, two of which scored after he was removed in the sixth with Villanueva due up.
"The kid's got power," Rockies skipper Bud Black said of Villanueva. "Tonight he was locked in."
In his only homer-less plate appearance, Villanueva was plunked by Colorado reliever Scott Oberg. The Padres capitalized, scoring three runs in that frame to take the lead for good.
Villanueva -- who was locked into a three-way battle for playing time at third base with Chase Headley and Cory Spangenberg -- will be given the chance to build off his historic performance, said manager Andy Green.
"He's a guy that's earning everything he's getting right now," Green said. "He fought his way to the big leagues, got caught behind a third baseman in Chicago. ... But you see the power. It's real."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
No way, says Jose: The Rockies scored twice in the third on Nolan Arenado's RBI double, and they tacked on another in the fourth on a single by Chris Iannetta. In both cases, they could've -- and maybe should've -- had more. On Arenado's double, Jose Pirela chased the ball down in the left-field corner, made a nice throw to Freddy Galvis who delivered a perfect relay to prevent a third run. Then in the fourth, Pirela fielded Iannetta's single and delivered a strike to third base to cut down Trevor Story. Pirela became the first Padres outfielder with two assists in a game since Melvin Upton Jr. in 2015.
Freddy for the lead: Villanueva's hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning loaded the bases for Galvis with one out and the Padres trailing by one. Galvis worked a seven-pitch at-bat and roped a two-run single through the right side, giving San Diego a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"Villa had the big ones you're going to remember," Green said. "But that was the most crucial hit."
"He went to Triple-A and ended up putting together a really nice  season there. He came up in September, and it was like, 'Wow, that's real pop.'" -- Green, on Villanueva
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Villanueva is the eighth player in history to record three at-bats in a game and homer in all of them. He's the first since Lucas Duda in July 2015 against the Padres. The only other rookie on the list is Cincinnati's Art Shamsky in 1966.
Clayton Richard was excellent in the Padres' season opener, tossing seven innings of one-run ball against the Brewers. He faces a familiar nemesis on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. PT -- one he struggled to solve last season. In four starts against the Rockies, Richard posted a 6.75 ERA while allowing 38 hits in 22 2/3 innings.
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AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.