Smith, Denorfia rally Padres past Dodgers in opener
Three-run eighth keyed by pinch-hit homer, two-run single in victory
SAN DIEGO -- At some point this season, the Padres will hope that Yasmani Grandal can help them win a game with his bat, as the switch-hitter offers pop from both sides of the plate.
Or maybe the Padres' catcher will win a game with his strong right arm and ability to cut down a would-be basestealer with an on-the-mark throw to second base in a critical situation. In the meantime, San Diego will have to be content with letting Grandal contribute to victories with his … feet?
Grandal's first professional steal, utilizing a right knee that was surgically repaired not even eight months ago, was just one prominent storyline from the Padres' stunning 3-1 Opening Night comeback victory over the Dodgers on Sunday in front of the biggest crowd in Petco Park history (45,567).
"Being aggressive far outweighs the negative," said San Diego manager Bud Black of Grandal's eighth-inning steal, though he could have been describing a notable turn earlier in the inning, when another player off the bench made a mark.
After Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu tied the Padres in knots for seven scoreless innings, newcomer Seth Smith, whom the team traded for to improve its woeful production against right-handed pitchers in 2013, started the inning by jumping on a 2-0 cutter from reliever Brian Wilson, tying the game with a long pinch-hit home run to right field.
"It's about as much as you can hope for," Smith said of his first at-bat for San Diego.
Later in the inning, Wilson walked Grandal, who, like Smith, entered the game as a pinch-hitter. Grandal then advanced to second base when Wilson was charged with an error trying to handle Everth Cabrera's sacrifice bunt.
"It's a hard one to swallow. I wasn't able to get ahead of the hitters and make the proper pitches," said Wilson. "I'm not particularly used to having one of those nights. I just wasn't able to get ahead, and they took advantage."
The error brought up Chris Denorfia, who had every intention of dropping another bunt down to move the runners along with no outs.
Only Denorfia missed a slider from Wilson. But Grandal -- who went into Sunday without a professional steal in 268 games, 88 in the big leagues -- noticed that Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe crashed hard toward the plate when Denorfia squared to bunt and wasn't retreating as quickly as he should.
So Grandal took off for third base.
"I had a couple of things they weren't expecting," Grandal said, smiling. "One, I'm coming off of ACL surgery. Two, I'm a catcher. And three, I'm pretty slow."
Grandal's steal gave Denorfia more pitches to see, and after Cabrera later advanced to second base on defensive indifference, the outfielder lined a ball up the middle to score two for a 3-1 lead.
"We were probably a little fortunate that Deeno missed it," Black said of the bunt attempt.
In addition to Grandal's unlikely steal, Denorfia's big hit and Smith's home run in his debut, the Padres got a big effort from pitcher Andrew Cashner, who was making his first Opening Day start.
Cashner allowed one run on four hits in six innings, with two walks and five strikeouts. That two-seam fastball that he got big results from in Spring Training was good at times, as he got seven ground-ball outs.
"I thought I executed well early in the game," Cashner said. "It [two-seamer] wasn't as good as it has been. I thought I've had better command of it in previous times. But it was still pretty good."
It had to be to match Ryu, who wasn't even scheduled to pitch. But when Clayton Kershaw landed on the disabled list recently with a back injury, the Dodgers turned to the Korean left-hander.
Before he settled down, Ryu needed 22 pitches to get three outs in the first inning. In fact, San Diego put runners on second and third with one out before Ryu struck out Chase Headley trying to check his swing. After Jedd Gyorko walked, Yonder Alonso grounded into an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.
The second inning saw the Padres get consecutive singles by Tommy Medica and Will Venable. After Rene Rivera flied out to right field, Cashner moved the runners along with a bunt. But Cabrera struck out to end the frame.
"The first inning was a variable, but after that, he sort of locked it in," Black said of Ryu. "I think you're going to have to be aggressive with a guy like that. He had four pitches working from the fourth inning on, and we had a tough time with him."
But once Ryu was gone, the momentum changed quickly. How quick? About as quickly as it takes your catcher, who is coming off anterior cruciate ligament surgery, to advance from second to third base in a tie game, a risky proposition in that situation.
"A lot of good stuff from a lot of our guys," Black said afterward.