SAN DIEGO — En route to a historic NLDS upset last October, the Padres got by without Fernando Tatis Jr. They still stunned the baseball world, dethroning the NL champion West Dodgers’ 111 wins in four games, toppling this once lopsided rivalry squarely on its head.
But now that Tatis is back, the dynamic has obviously changed. The Padres don’t stun anyone. They too are one of the sport’s behemoths in 2023, considered the favorites to win the division by many predictions. Friday night they watched the game.
Tatis’ return to the Padres-Dodgers rivalry was, understandably, dramatic. (Heck, that’s his rivalry as much as anyone’s. Were the Padres-Dodgers even a thing before Tatis came in?) game in the third and a laser in the left field seats to put the Padres lead in the fifth.
It’s only the ninth time in Kershaw’s illustrious career that a single hitter has driven him deep twice in the same game. Tatis is the only player to have done it twice. In fact, the last player with a multihomer game against the presumably Dodgers Hall of Fame-bound southpaw was… Tatis himself, nearly 25 months ago.
“He’s one of the greatest of all time,” Tatis said. “When you face a guy like that, you definitely bring your 100% that day.”
In the meantime, of course, Tatis has missed the entire 2022 season, first through injury and then an 80-game PED suspension, which only expired last month. Tatis hadn’t really looked at himself at home plate in his first two weeks back, but the Padres have thrived with him in their roster nonetheless. They entered Friday at 8-4 since Tatis returned, playing their best baseball of the season.
But if Tatis returned to Arizona two weeks ago on Friday night, he was definitely back. His fifth-inning homer left his bat at 110.8 mph and landed in the seats in an instant. Tatis dropped her bat, then jumped several times before turning to the house dugout and giving a scream. It was Tatis in her element.
“That kid, man,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “He is very special.”
Bogaerts made his own introduction to the rivalry on Friday with a pair of steps and an RBI crush. As a team, the Padres would work five walks against Kershaw and 11 overall – a franchise record in a game against the Dodgers.
Add Bogaerts’ offseason arrival to Tatis’s return, and the Padres have every reason to think the rivalry has swung. A year ago, the Dodgers won all six regular-season series. They won the West by 22 games.
But the script changed in October, and the Padres have since added two stars to the roster that beat the Dodgers eight months ago.
“We can be successful against anyone,” Tatis said.
Supported by both Tatis homers, Yu Darvish was excellent Friday night, pitching 6 2/3 innings, while allowing two runs (one earned) and striking out six.
Darvish struggled in the first two innings. Mookie Betts walked and scored in the first, before Darvish escaped further damage. In the second, after Miguel Vargas’ hat-trick, Ha-Seong Kim trapped David Peralta’s understudy and shot to third for a late-set double play.
From there, Darvish was dominant, striking out the next 12 batters he faced while relying heavily on his double-seam.
“Yu didn’t have his best thing by far in the first inning,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “And then all of a sudden, you look up and he’s on the seventh. … It was a complete turnaround.
“They were super loud,” Tatis said. “They brought it today. It was just amazing – amazing atmosphere…and amazing baseball to play like that.
These two teams will meet another 12 times during the regular season. Maybe they will play a few more games in October. If last season is any indication, the Padres should know that the scores aren’t settled in May. The Dodgers, anyway, still hold a one-game lead in the standings.
But the Padres won the first round. In many ways, it was more or less the same, with their fourth straight victory over Los Angeles dating back to the NLDS. Except this time they had a certain swaggering superstar at the top of their lineup.