Showcase the new team? Check.
Send the fans home happy? Check.
Beat LA? Done.
Opening Night has come and gone. But fear not, Opening Day is still to come. Redundant nomenclature aside, tonight was a victory for the Padres, both for the team and the organization.
For the organization, there was a record single-game crowd of 45,467 fans in attendance. There were throngs of happy, well-behaved fans buying up craft beer from Green Flash, Ballast Point, Stone, and other local breweries, coffee from Ryan Bros., gelato from Chocolat, ribs galore from Phil’s BBQ, and other yummy goodies from a whole array of new carts and booths set up to dramatically increase the food and beverage selection and quality. I think the fine inhabitants of Petco Park decided they wanted to step up from having adequate ballpark food to having one of the most diverse selections in the major leagues, at the same time showcasing some of San Diego’s finest food and drink. And I think they succeeded.
Pageantry? I’m sure there was some, but the parking situation was so bad that we missed it all. Getting downtown an hour before game time was not nearly early enough with a record number of attendees fighting for limited parking. Note to self: You need to buy parking passes ahead of time to park in the lots next to the stadium, and your usual spot 6-7 blocks away won’t be there during sellouts.
That brings us to our raison d’etre. The baseball game. Padres v. Dodgers. Andrew Cashner v. Hyun-Jin Ryu. Chase Headley, Everth Cabrera, and Jedd Gyorko v. the $235 million payroll of the Dodger$. Can the Dodgers buy a World Series title this year? That’s the question they’re seemingly trying to answer. But they have a determined, talented Padres team that fully intends to prevent this from happening.
Exhibit 1: Andrew Cashner. The Padres talented staff ace started the game with strikeouts of Carl Crawford and last year’s Dodger demi-god Yasiel Puig. A fly ball later, and Andrew Cashner is teaching young Padres fans to count. 1-2-3.
The Padres threatened early, with Everth Cabrera, with renewed determination to get on base every at-bat this year, working a leadoff walk. Chris Denorfia, my personal favorite Padre, followed with a single, and a bad throw landed Cabby and Deno on second and third with nobody out. But Dodger pitcher Ryu, selected to start Opening Night after Clayton Kershaw was a scratch early this week, showed just how good this Dodgers rotation is, striking out Chase Headley, and after a strategic walk, getting Yonder Alonso to hit into a double play.
Cashner almost matched Ryu’s effectiveness, but gave up a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Carl Crawford. That was the only mark against Cash in the game, and he finished his night after six innings, having allowed 4 hits, 2 walks, 1 earned run, and striking out 5. A fine start, indeed, but he left the game on the wrong end of a 1-0 score.
Ryu retired 18 hitters in a row after the two leadoff hits in the second, and left after 7, giving up only three hits and three walks while striking out 7. He has now given up 5 hits and no runs in 12 innings to start the year.
So, the crowd, which was pretty raucous early in the game, had now settled into that “damn, we’re losing another pitchers’ duel” funk that has been commonplace at Petco Park the last few years. The Padres needed a rally, at least a single baserunner, to get the fans back into the game.
Enter Brian Wilson’s beard, attached to Brian Wilson. His first assignment, brand new Padre Seth Smith. The guys behind me, who had been asserting their superiority as baseball fans by criticizing the behavior of other fans throughout the game, had this conversation when Smith came to the plate:
East Coast Baseball Snob 1: Who’s this guy? Where’d they get him from?
East Coast Baseball Snob 2: Seth Smith. Outfielder. Not much of a hitter, platoon guy. Not the best, probably the best the Padres could afford.
That was the sound of the game-tying home run Seth Smith hit exactly one second after Snob 2 finished talking.
I kinda loved that.
Brand new ballgame. 1-1, and the fans were back into it. Yasmani Grandal’s walk and Everth Cabrera’s bunt that Wilson bobbled put men on first and second, and then I saw something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before: a catcher stealing third base in the eighth inning of a tie game. Chris Denorfia was showing bunt, and Dodger third baseman Juan Uribe charged in to prepare to make a play. But nobody covered third base, and Grandal took advantage of the mental error and stole his first career base. Smart baseball. Everth Cabrera decided to steal second base a pitch later, and took the base without a throw. Now there were men on second and third instead of first and second. Big difference! Chris Denorfia (did I mention he’s my favorite Padre), on a full count pitch, drove a solid single into center field, and not one, but two Padres crossed the plate. 3-1 Friars. “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A!” chanted the crowd.
Oh, the fans. They danced. They traded high fives with their neighbors. They cheered, they shouted, they made merry. It was marvelous.
Last order of business – retire the final three Dodgers hitters. Huston Street, the sometimes-maligned Padres closer, came in and showed why he has been a major league closer for the last nine years. Andre Ethier? Easy grounder to third. Juan Uribe? Whiff. A.J. Ellis? Another easy groundout. Ballgame.
Fireworks, cheers, Padres win. Great showcase game on national TV for the organization. First place for the team. 162-0 still on the table.
Opening Night win. For the Padres and their fans, Monday morning will be just a little brighter.