LOS ANGELES -- Later Thursday night, the Padres will board a plane for San Francisco. Maybe when they land, Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 42nd home run ball will be there to greet them.
At 22 years old, Tatis has already made a career out of hitting moonshots. But even by his standards, this was a special one. In the fifth inning of the Padres’ 8-3 loss to the Dodgers, Tatis got a hanging slider from right-hander Tony Gonsolin and sent it out of Dodger Stadium.
And, yes, we mean out of Dodger Stadium.
The ball caromed off the top of the left-field pavilion and into the stadium's north concourse. It was Tatis' 42nd home run, moving him into sole possession of second place on the Padres' all-time single-season list. He trails only Greg Vaughn, who hit 50 in 1998.
“It was a monster home run,” said Padres infielder Ha-Seong Kim, who also went deep on Thursday night. “This is my 42nd time seeing it. But it still amazes me every time.”
According to Statcast, it was the second longest homer of Tatis' career at 467 feet, trailing only his Coors Field blast on June 16 this season. It was the first home run to leave Dodger Stadium since Giancarlo Stanton hit a 475-foot blast for the Marlins on May 12, 2015. Tatis joins an extremely select list of just five players on record to have done so: himself, Stanton, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza and Willie Stargell (twice).
“Everybody was just kind of in shock,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “You think back at some of the guys that have been here over the years. Not only was that ball impressive, but it was impressive at night, where the ball usually doesn’t travel as well.”
The Padres may have faded from the playoff picture, but Tatis is still very much in contention to make some franchise history. As an National League MVP candidate, Tatis could join Ken Caminiti (1996) as the only Padres to win the award.
Tatis is facing some stiff competition, with the Phillies’ Bryce Harper and the Nationals’ Juan Soto presumably serving as his two primary challengers. For much of the year, Tatis seemed like the obvious favorite, but Harper and Soto have gained on him down the stretch.
Then again, it’s not like Tatis has struggled. No, he hasn’t quite lived up to the ridiculous standards he set for himself in May and June. But Tatis is still hitting .275/.359/.484 in September -- while playing with a balky left shoulder.
“It would mean a lot,” Tatis said last week. “MVP is definitely special, definitely something you want to accomplish. But I feel like if you’re going to win MVP, your team’s got to be in a good spot.”
The Padres, who must win three games in San Francisco this weekend simply to reach .500, are assuredly not in a good spot. But their ailing pitching staff is by no means Tatis’ doing. It’s fair to wonder just how much MVP voters might penalize Tatis’ for his team’s overall shortcomings.
Tatis also seems likely to join Fred McGriff (1992) as the only Padres to win the NL home run crown. Atlanta’s Adam Duvall is currently second with 38. On top of that, seven of Tatis’ home runs this season have come at Dodger Stadium, tying him with Todd Helton’s 2001 campaign for the most by a visitor in a single season.
Thursday’s blast came in a losing effort, however, as the Padres dropped their ninth straight to the Dodgers, marking the first time they’d been swept in three straight series by L.A. since 1974. San Diego pitchers allowed five home runs for the second consecutive night -- the first time in franchise history. The loss ensured a 10th season in 11 years in which the Padres won’t finish above .500. Last year’s abbreviated 60-game season stands as the lone exception.
The final month and a half of this Padres season has been borderline unthinkable. Their 11-32 record since Aug. 11 is the worst in the Majors. But if there’s one reason for optimism moving forward, it’s this one: They have a 22-year-old shortstop who can hit the ball a mile, and they have him locked up for the next 13 seasons.