SAN DIEGO -- New year, same relentless Padres offense.
It sure goes better with the soundtrack of fans at Petco Park, doesn’t it?
In 2020, the Padres built one of the best offenses in franchise history, but -- playing amidst the backdrop of a pandemic -- no one was there to see it. The ‘21 edition looks like it might be every bit as good -- perhaps even better. It’s certainly off to quite a start.
The Padres slugged their way to a wild 8-7 Opening Day victory over the D-backs on Thursday, their third straight win in an opener -- and their second straight over Arizona. Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers hit back-to-back homers in the third inning, and Jake Cronenworth reached base four times, including a seventh-inning triple that led to the winning run.
“We think we can be the best offense in the league,” said Hosmer, who finished 3-for-4. “We really do.”
The Padres built an early five-run cushion, only to squander it in an instant. But they responded by tying the game on Hosmer’s two-out single in the sixth and took the lead on Jurickson Profar’s sacrifice fly in the seventh. It was the kind of resilience that came to define the 2020 Padres -- with one notable addition.
“We kept talking about it last year, man,” Hosmer said. “‘If there were fans … the atmosphere would be electric.’ We finally got to live that moment today.”
Last October, after the Padres rallied to win their first postseason series in 14 years, car horns blared and fans clanged on pots and pans from their balconies beyond the outfield. The celebrations couldn’t be traditional, so the city made do.
Then came an offseason in which the Padres overhauled their pitching staff and re-signed their franchise player to a record-setting contract. The buzz ahead of the 2021 season was palpable -- perhaps the most anticipated in franchise history. On Thursday, 8,773 fans returned to Petco Park, and they made themselves heard, even at 20% capacity.
“Felt pretty electric to us,” manager Jayce Tingler said. “You can definitely feel the energy. It was fun.”
For a brief moment, the Padres seemed to be heading toward an Opening Day jaunt. Victor Caratini drove in two runs with a single in the second. Myers and Hosmer hit their back-to-back homers against Madison Bumgarner in the third. Fernando Tatis Jr. evaded a tag with a Matrix-esque slide and then scored on Hosmer's double in the fourth. That made it 6-1.
“I got out there, and, I guess, ultimately changed my mind,” Tingler said. “I’ve got a lot of trust in Yu. … Sometimes you get caught up in the moment.”
Asdrúbal Cabrera’s ensuing two-run homer chased Darvish after 4 2/3 innings in his Padres debut. Tim Locastro and Stephen Vogt followed later in the frame with back-to-back shots against Hill -- the first time in Major League history a team had launched four homers in the same inning on Opening Day.
Suffice it to say, however, this isn’t the same Padres team that fans last saw in September 2019 -- a team mired in a dreadful second-half rut, headed for a last-place finish.
No, this Padres team is different.
Rookie Tucupita Marcano worked a feisty leadoff walk in his first career plate appearance in the sixth inning. He came around to score on Hosmer’s single. Then, to start the seventh, Cronenworth mashed a liner off the very top of the right-field wall, missing a homer by inches. He settled for an easy triple, and the Padres had the lead shortly thereafter -- with a perfunctory piece of situational hitting from Profar.
“We can do it in many ways,” Hosmer added. “We can slug. We can create stuff on the bases. And when we need runs late in the game, we can find ways to manufacture ‘em. The potential for this offense? The sky’s the limit.”
The seats at Petco Park were vacant all last year -- and they were vacant again in the ninth inning Thursday. Practically no one sat for the duration of the final frame. Mark Melancon -- perhaps the answer to the Padres’ question at closer -- worked a clean inning, getting Cabrera to bounce harmlessly to second to end it. When Cronenworth’s throw nestled in Hosmer’s glove to finish proceedings, the ballpark reached a crescendo.
The Padres won plenty of games here last season -- but none of them with that guttural, final-out roar.