Padres Reignite Dodgers Rivalry With Series Win as Tatis Rebounds

When we last left Fernando Tatis Jr., after the first game of this four game series at Dodger Stadium, the 22-year-old San Diego Padres shortstop was in a horrendous 4-for-23 slump.

But for the remainder of the weekend, he had his way with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and so did the Padres, who won three of those four games.

The series and Sunday night’s 8-7 victory in 11 innings was a statement of sorts, considering where this team is trying to go and that it’s the defending World Series champions they must vault over to get there. The Padres did so Sunday despite falling behind 7-1 after six innings.

“What meant the most was watching a group of men not give in, not give up, work together, and chip away,” Padres second year manager Jayce Tingler said after the game. “It felt like we had to throw a lot of body blows with both teams going back and forth. Just the attitude, the drive and fight were the most special to me.”

The Dodgers are 97-53 against the Padres since 2013, and that doesn’t include L.A.’s three-game sweep last fall in a National League Division Series. The Dodgers went on from there to beat Tampa Bay in six games and win the World Series for the first time since 1988.

The Padres have never reached that pinnacle, having lost the 1984 and 1998 World Series to the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees, respectively, losing eight of the nine games in the process.

They’ve spent a club record $187.8 million on player payroll this year, signing Tatis to a 14-year, $340 million contract and Manny Machado for 10 years at $300 million. The Dodgers, currently leading the National League West with a 15-7 record, is where the 13-11 Padres want to be.

And when the dust settled from the spirted seven games played between them over the past two weekends, the Padres had won four of them. Little things: The Padres stole 12 bases in the just-concluded series, the Dodgers four.

Gone are the days in San Diego when no matter how poorly a Padres season went, all was well if they could take down the Dodgers a couple of times.

Now if they expect to win the West they must learn how to beat L.A., which has won the division eight years running and is the odds-on favorite to do it again this season.

“I’ve heard a lot about the rivalry,” said Tatis, who hasn’t been alive for most of it. “We’re part of it, and we’re playing very good baseball. It’s just great being part of that history now.”

Tatis left an indelible imprint on that history this weekend. From the fits and starts of working through the aftermath of a torn labrum and dislocation of his left shoulder, Tatis adjusted to a more compact swing, resulting in five solo homers in 11 at bats in the final three games.

Overall in those games he was 7-for-14 and had a chance for a complete storybook ending when he batted in the top of the 10th with the lead run on third base. He struck out.

Instead, by the rules adopted for extra innings, during the pandemic, Tatis was the runner placed on second in the top of the 11th, and he ultimately scored the winning run.

Tatis hit two homers off Clayton Kershaw in a 6-1 win Friday, and two more off Trevor Bauer as the Dodgers came from behind to win, 5-4 Saturday.

There was a lot of gamesmanship on and off the field between Bauer and Tatis during and after that game, but it’s safe to say Tatis turned into a force.

Bauer had closed an eye while pitching during spring training when facing the Padres, saying that if they couldn’t hit him with one eye closed what would they be able to do when he had both eyes open?

Tatis evidently had both eyes open Saturday when he homered off of Bauer to open the game and again in the sixth inning. But as Tatis rounded first base he put a hand over one of his eyes as he passed Bauer. All in good fun.

“It was probably payback time,” Tatis said.

There will be a lot more of it this year between the two teams, which still have 12 games left against each other, nine of them in September when playoff berths and the division title could be on the line.

Baseball fans have had a real taste already of what has become the hottest rivalry in baseball. September is too far ahead for any manager to worry about now. There are still too many games left to play, and anything can happen.

“I don’t know if I’ve been able to take it all in from the outside, how intense these games are,” Tingler said. “It truly feels in a way like a playoff atmosphere to have fans back involved. I look at the way our guys play, the details are what I really appreciate….

“You get two clubs that are super talented and they’re playing a great brand of baseball,” he said. “Overall, I think it’s great for the sport.”

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