SAN DIEGO -- Same story. Different ending this time.
Hunter Renfroe couldn’t possibly have delivered a louder statement on Sunday afternoon.
The Padres slugger strode to the plate with the bases loaded in the ninth inning against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, Petco Park already whipped into a frenzy. The Padres, trailing 5-4, were one out from a heartbreaking sweep at the hands of their division rivals -- a series in which they’d lost a late lead three times.
“It was like reruns, all three games,” Renfroe said.
Except Renfroe had the power to flip the script.
Jansen came inside with an 0-1 cutter, and Renfroe turned on it and sent it soaring toward the second level of the Western Metal Supply Co. Building. He raised both hands in the air and dropped his bat before circling the bases. A sold-out crowd went berserk, celebrating the Padres' sudden 8-5 victory.
That’s what history looks like. Renfroe became just the 16th player -- and the first Padre -- to launch a pinch-hit walk-off grand slam with his team trailing. It was the eighth walk-off slam in franchise history, and the fourth come-from-behind blast.
Message sent: These new-look Padres won’t go down so easily.
“We all knew coming into it that they're the team to beat,” said Manny Machado, who saved a run early in the game with a brilliant diving play at shortstop. “Now they know they're not going to come in here and just take three games away from us like that. They're going to have to earn it.”
The Dodgers, of course, have spent much of the past decade beating up on the Padres. They came to town as the six-time defending National League West champs, in first place once again. With San Diego off to its best start in nine years, it was the most highly anticipated series here in recent memory. All three games sold out, setting a Petco Park three-game-series attendance record.
For two nights, the Dodgers spoiled the party. They twice beat Padres closer Kirby Yates in the ninth, after trailing by multiple runs late. Los Angeles fell behind 4-0 on Sunday, too, before Max Muncy’s three-run shot in the fifth and Chris Taylor’s two-run blast three innings later.
“It's a long season,” said Padres skipper Andy Green. “You're going to get smacked around every now and again. But to watch them punch back was a lot of fun.”
San Diego punched back straightaway against Jansen. Eric Hosmer singled to open the frame. Then Manuel Margot dropped a perfect bunt up the third-base line. In that moment, the Padres noticed something in the way the Dodgers defended Margot’s bunt.
So they asked Wil Myers to drop down another down the third-base side. Jansen fell off the mound to the right. Shortstop Corey Seager covered second. Justin Turner covered third. The ball trickled into the vacated space between the three.
“It was one of those perfectly bunted not-great bunts that confused us,” Seager said.
“Something’s gotta happen there,” Myers said. “It was best for me and best for the team to put that down.”
Jansen retired the next two hitters, building the drama. With the pitcher’s spot due up, Renfroe was the obvious choice off the bench.
"Seems like every time you pinch-hit him with the bases loaded, he does something like that," Green said.
He’s not kidding. Renfroe has batted with the bags full three times as a pinch-hitter in the past two seasons. He has a walk-off single, a grand slam and now a walk-off grand slam.
“It's incredible,” Renfroe said. “You can't say how it feels unless you've done it. This is my second walk-off home run, and there's nothing like it in this world. ... There's nothing compared to a walk-off. In this situation, against the Dodgers.”
That last part is key. In theory, the next few seasons’ of Padres-Dodgers games should be a whole lot more competitive than the last few. Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. are on board. The sport’s best farm system will follow.
The Padres held their own against their biggest nemesis this weekend. But if they’d come away empty-handed, it would’ve felt hollow -- even without Tatis and a handful of important relief weapons.
In that sense, perhaps Sunday marked something of a breakthrough.
“Those moments shape your season,” Green said. “At the end of the year, you're going to look up and there's going to be one, two, three wins that ultimately determine where you go. Those swings, when you look back on the season, are the swings you remember.”
Padres fans won’t be forgetting it any time soon.