SAN DIEGO -- The Padres signed Manny Machado to a record-setting contract last month, and they promoted top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. before Thursday’s season opener. They filled in around the edges, too, mixing talented youngsters and experienced vets in a way that brought hope to a starved baseball city. After eight consecutive losing seasons and 12 without a trip to the playoffs, might 2019 be different?
The offseason certainly was. So was Opening Day.
The Padres beat the Giants, 2-0, before a raucous Petco Park on Thursday, their first Opening Day victory since 2014. Machado went 0-for-3 with a couple of strikeouts, but seemingly everything else went right.
“The scoreboard was different, we can start with that,” said manager Andy Green, who had lost all three of his previous season openers. “These guys have a belief in themselves that we’ve been trying hard to manufacture the past few years.”
“It’s different,” said left fielder Wil Myers, the star of the day on offense. “This is a real team, this is a real lineup. ... It’s going to be an exciting year.”
Myers hit a long home run off Madison Bumgarner in the third inning, and he singled home the game’s other run in the sixth. In between, he made an excellent play on a liner off the wall, fielding and throwing to second to nab a greedy Evan Longoria.
That was more than enough support for 23-year-old left-hander Eric Lauer, the Padres’ youngest Opening Day starter in 47 years. Lauer needed 70 pitches to work six scoreless innings. The bullpen did the rest, giving the Padres their first Opening Day shutout since 2008.
“That was some of the most butterflies I’ve ever had,” Lauer said. “I kept telling myself it was a normal game. After the first pitch, it was the same.”
The youth movement didn’t end with Lauer. Tatis recorded the first two hits of his career, making him the youngest player with a multi-hit game on Opening Day since 19-year-old Robin Yount in 1975. Tatis singled through the left side in the second, then dropped a bunt single up the third-base line in the fifth.
The crowd in San Diego responded in kind. The Padres are 1-0 -- officially over .500 for the first time in Green’s tenure, and for the first time since June 2015. They’d like to stay there.
Not long ago, Myers was the only bright spot in a putrid Padres offense. With the recent arrivals of Machado, Tatis, Ian Kinsler, Eric Hosmer and Franmil Reyes, it’s clear that’s no longer the case. When Myers was introduced Thursday, the crowd clapped politely, but hushed quickly with Machado due to be introduced next.
“We have six guys who can do what I did today,” Myers said. “That’s what’s cool about this lineup. We have guys from top to bottom that can do these things.”
With Tatis and Machado on board, Myers has been overlooked. But he offered a strong reminder of the way he can change a game on Thursday. Myers’ home run traveled a projected 456 feet according to Statcast, and it left his bat at 109 mph.
“That’s as good a swing as any human being can take,” Green said. “Fun to see.”
Lauer became the youngest pitcher with at least six scoreless innings on Opening Day since Clayton Kershaw in 2011. Before Kershaw? Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and Fernando Valenzuela. That’s some nice company to keep.
Lauer allowed four hits, all singles, and he struck out three. He also used his pickoff move -- probably the best in the sport -- to nab Bumgarner off first base. Including his three Spring Training outings, Lauer still hasn’t allowed a run in 2019.
The Padres’ decision to start him on Opening Day raised a few eyebrows. Many expected Joey Lucchesi to get the nod. Some wanted big-time prospect Chris Paddack.
“I felt like I needed to prove something,” Lauer said. “They showed the faith in me to start. ... I wanted to show I earned the spot. I’d like to think I showed them what they wanted to see.”
He did. And then some.
Craig Stammen pitched a perfect eighth and Kirby Yates worked a perfect ninth. The bullpen only ran into trouble in the seventh, and even that was minor.
Buster Posey led off with an infield single, before Brandon Crawford lifted a shallow fly ball to left. Myers was late to call off Tatis, and the ball caromed off the heel of his glove. Machado was there to field the bounce and throw to second base for a forceout.
In Green’s eyes it was emblematic.
“This is definitely the most talent we’ve had since I’ve been here, probably since before that,” Green said. “We’ve got good baseball players all over the field. The one popup that drops, we’ve got Manny Machado’s arm picking the ball up, firing it to second base.”