SAN DIEGO -- The Padres brought Eric Hosmer to San Diego 2 1/2 years ago envisioning moments like these: Opening Night, division rival, Hosmer clearing the bases before a frenzied Petco Park.
The only ingredient missing, of course, was the frenzied Petco Park, but such is the nature of baseball in 2020. The San Diego dugout -- freshly and finally decked out in brown -- supplied plenty of noise instead, as Hosmer hit not one but two three-run doubles Friday in the Padres’ 7-2 Opening Night victory over the D-backs.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel different without fans,” Hosmer said. “But at the same time, we realize all of our fans are watching, they’re all supporting us back home. And whenever you look in the dugout and see your teammates fired up for you, it’s hard not to get fired up.”
Hosmer’s six RBIs set a franchise record for Opening Day, and he became the first Major League player since Placido Polanco in 2010 to drive in six runs in his team’s first game. On top of six scoreless frames from Chris Paddack, Hosmer’s 3-for-4 night gave manager Jayce Tingler his first victory as Padres manager.
Hosmer put the Padres on the board with a booming bases-clearing double in the bottom of the sixth inning against Madison Bumgarner. Then with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh, he sent an opposite-field liner to left -- also clearing the bases.
Just how rare is a feat like that? Consider this:
• As a team, the Padres had never cleared the bases with a double twice in the same game. Hosmer did it by himself.
• In the entire 2019 season, the Padres cleared the bases with a double only once. Hosmer did it twice in two innings.
Perhaps even more noteworthy than the rarity of Hosmer’s feat was the way he accomplished it. Since Hosmer signed his then-franchise-record contract, he has had difficulty lifting the baseball. On Friday night, Hosmer hit four balls in play -- all hard and all in the air.
To be more specific, Statcast measured Hosmer’s exit velocity on all four higher than 95 mph, and his launch angle was higher than 22 degrees on all four. Generally speaking, those numbers lead to success, and they certainly did on Friday night.
“All I know is: I can’t tell you how hard this guy’s been working, whether it’s on the field or in the cage,” Tingler said. “He’s a hungry guy right now.”
As if Hosmer’s performance weren’t already impressive enough, his first three plate appearances came against Bumgarner -- a nightmare on all left-handed hitters and Hosmer in particular. Hosmer had never recorded a regular-season hit against Bumgarner, and he mustered just a single across Bumgarner’s three outings in the 2014 World Series. Overall, he was 1-for-24 vs. Bumgarner entering Friday.
“I know I had a tough time with all lefties last year, and especially Madison over the course of my career,” Hosmer said. “But I’m just really happy about the win, really happy I got to cash in on some of those opportunities.”
Plenty has been made about Hosmer’s performance since he arrived in San Diego in February 2018. But the reality of that contract was always this: The Padres knew they were likely to struggle as a team during the first couple seasons of that deal.
Of course, they didn’t expect Hosmer would join them. But if he authors a turnaround in 2020, just as the team opens its supposed window for contention, those early struggles will be quickly forgotten.
Hosmer is off to a nice start.
Paddack debuts in style
Chris Paddack won his “cowboy showdown.”
That’s what Paddack dubbed his duel against Bumgarner earlier this week, and in the same video conference, Paddack spoke of how he spent most of his life dreaming of an Opening Day start.
Those dreams hardly resembled Friday’s reality. The stadium wasn’t supposed to be empty. His family was supposed to be sitting in row A, rather than throwing a watch party in his native Texas.
But Paddack drew this up, at least: six innings, no runs. Paddack mixed his fastball and changeup with precision Friday night, and he even dotted a few curveballs, throwing 63 of his 81 pitches for strikes. He struck out four and allowed four hits.
“Whether it was 55,000 fans or no fans, I was fired up,” Paddack said. “... It was a little different not seeing some cowboy boots or cowboy hats in the crowd tonight. But we're adapting to the change.”
In the win column
No question, Tingler’s first victory as skipper would have been special no matter how it happened. But bonus points to Tingler for pulling all the right strings on Friday night.
In a surprise move, Tingler batted second baseman Jurickson Profar in the cleanup spot, and it paid off in a big way. Profar worked a pair of walks, including a 10-pitch battle with Bumgarner before Hosmer cleared the bases for the first time.
“The win is nice,” Tingler said. “But, really, it’s refreshing to see the guys carry their game over from what they’ve been working on.”
Tingler did his best to evade praise afterward. But Hosmer noted that after the final out, the team had “a nice little moment with Ting to celebrate his first win.”
“It’s really special,” Hosmer said. “You want to get him off on the right foot. Ting’s been there with us the whole way, grinding in these months when we weren’t sure if the season was going to happen. … Ting was putting in full days. It’s a credit to him, and it’s a credit to the staff.”