Fernando Tatis Jr. again made headlines with two home runs on Monday night, but it was the second homer -- a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch in the midst of a 14-4 blowout -- that really had people talking.
With the Padres leading 10-3 in the eighth inning against the Rangers, Tatis smoked a 3-0 fastball from reliever Juan Nicasio to right field for his MLB-leading 11th homer and first career grand slam. Right-hander Ian Gibaut replaced Nicasio after the homer, and his first pitch to Manny Machado sailed behind the third baseman’s back. The four umpires immediately convened on one side of the mound, but they didn’t eject the right-hander, nor did they offer any warnings.
In his postgame comments, Padres manager Jayce Tingler hinted that he thought it was a purpose pitch, even if he didn’t say so explicitly.
“I mean, that’s the only ball that went behind them tonight,” Tingler said.
Texas manager Chris Woodward expressed some frustration at Tatis' decision to swing in his postgame remarks.
“There's a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today's game,” Woodward said. “I didn't like it, personally. You're up by seven [runs] in the eighth inning; it's typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It's kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so -- just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not right.”
Tingler, who knows Woodward well from their time together in the Texas organization, wasn’t quite so emphatic. But he spoke with Tatis after the home run and after the game called the moment “a learning opportunity.”
“Just to make sure we get the signs 3-0,” Tingler said. “He’s young, a free spirit and focused and all those things. That’s the last thing that we’ll ever take away. But it’s a learning opportunity.”
The Padres had given Tatis the sign to take a pitch on 3-0, but with the bases loaded and one out, Tatis didn’t notice it, saying he was “locked in on the game, just trying to produce.” Given his stature at the plate, Tatis is almost always given the green light to swing on 3-0, and he assumed that to be the case in the eighth inning Monday night. But the Padres had decided to take the green light off with a seven-run lead.
It should be noted that San Diego’s seven-run lead in the eighth inning was by no means insurmountable. Entering play Monday, the Padres' bullpen ranked 28th in ERA and already had coughed up several big leads this season. Not to mention that closer Kirby Yates might be out for the year with an elbow injury.
However, baseball dogma suggests that a hitter take a 3-0 pitch when his team is cruising toward a victory. As Woodward said, those norms are constantly being challenged these days, and no one is challenging them more than Tatis, whose bat flips and baserunning exploits have always raised plenty of eyebrows. But after the game, Tatis indicated that he might not challenge this norm any longer.
“I've been in this game since I was a kid, and I know a lot of unwritten rules,” Tatis said. “But this time, I didn't. I was kind of lost on this one. … Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”
Padres starter Zach Davies, who got the win with three runs allowed over five innings, was quick to defend his teammate, noting that he’s given up plenty of 3-0 homers through the years, and there’s one tried and true solution.
“Make sure your 3-0 pitch is a little bit better,” quipped Davies.