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SAN DIEGO – They were widely expected to be one of baseball’s most exciting teams. And for much of the first half of the 2021 season, the Padres have lived up to that billing while challenging for (and briefly occupying) the top spot in the NL West.

Led by National League All-Star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., the Friars are 53-40 and sit in third place in their division, behind the Giants and Dodgers, respectively. The NL West is shaping up to be a three-team horserace to the finish, a year after the Dodgers won the division and later their first World Series since 1988 while San Diego punched a playoff ticket for the first time since 2006.

Five Padres — Tatis, second baseman Jake Cronenworth, starter Yu Darvish, closer Mark Melancon and late addition Manny Machado — are headed to Denver for the MLB All-Star Game which airs July 13 on FOX 5. With his NL-leading 28 home runs, Tatis also was speculated as a likely participant in the Home Run Derby at hitters-friendly Coors Field, but ultimately opted out citing health concerns.

In another milestone, the 22-year-old Tatis was the first Padre voted into the game’s starting lineup since Tony Gwynn in 1999.

Following the All-Star break, the Padres open up a 10-game road trip starting with a series against the Washington Nationals. The team returns home July 27 against the Oakland A’s.

Nine games remain this year against the Dodgers with the next series starting Aug. 24 at Petco Park. The Friars have 10 games remaining against the Giants, including a four-game series starting Sept. 14 in San Francisco. They’ll also close out the regular season against the Giants on Oct. 3.

However the year shakes out, the first half gave Padres fans plenty of moments they won’t soon forget.

Here are some of the most memorable moments from the first half of 2021:

April 1: Fans return to Petco Park for first time since 2019

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 01: A general view of the stadium as teams were announced prior to a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres on Opening Day at PETCO Park on April 01, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

More than 550 days since fans last crossed through the turnstiles at Petco Park, they finally returned for a long-awaited Opening Day.

Plenty of things changed since the last time the team played in front of home fans on Sept. 29, 2019. For one, the playoff team of a season ago played only in front of cardboard cutouts of fans amid the pandemic. Because of pandemic restrictions then in place, the team welcomed back a reduced capacity crowd in socially distant “seating pods” for the start of the regular season.

But it did little to quell the warm reception echoing through the ballpark for the Padres and new starter Yu Darvish in a matchup against the Diamondbacks.

San Diego jumped out to a 6-1 lead with early homers by Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer, but the Diamondbacks clawed back with some heavy hitting of their own by way of four homers in the top of the fifth. The power surge chased Darvish (and reliever Tim Hill) from the game, giving Arizona a one-run lead.

A two-out, RBI single by Hosmer in the sixth inning knotted the game back up and they later regained the lead the following inning with a sacrifice fly by Jurickson Profar.

In the ninth, Melancon mowed down the Diamondbacks in order to seal the game, earning his first save of the year. He now leads all of baseball with 26(?) saves.

April 9: Joe Musgrove no-hitter

ARLINGTON, TEXAS – APRIL 09: Joe Musgrove #44 of the San Diego Padres celebrates with Victor Caratini #17 after pitching a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on April 09, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. This was the Padres first no-hitter in franchise history. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It didn’t take long for Joe Musgrove to endear himself to his hometown team.

In his second start for the Padres after coming over in a three-team deal in the offseason, the El Cajon native tossed the first no-hitter in the 52-year history of the franchise in a 3-0 win over the Texas Rangers. He threw 112 pitches and struck out 10 in the game, the first of seven no-hitters thrown in the big leagues this season.

The following day, Musgrove’s milestone was splashed on the front page of the San Diego Union-Tribune, his family’s Alpine coffee shop saw plenty of drop-ins from fans and he later was cemented in local folklore with a mural painted at his alma mater, Grossmont High School. He’s also collaborated with San Diego’s Resident Brewing to develop the No-No Joe IPA, which further commemorates the achievement.

Before Musgrove, the closest the team ever came to a no-hitter was when right-hander Steve Arlin was one out away in the summer of 1972. They were the last remaining MLB team without a no-hitter.

April 25: Padres win 11-inning thriller at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 25: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 and Trent Grisham #2 of the San Diego Padres celebrate an 8-7 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in eleventh innings at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

They’ve been resilient since the first month of the year.

Facing a late six-run deficit and trailing in the ninth inning, an RBI single by Machado scored Tatis and knotted the game at 7-7. Tatis would score again in the top of the 11th inning on a sacrifice fly from Eric Hosmer. Then in the bottom half of the frame, the Dodgers put two runners on base, but Mark Melancon ultimately slammed the door shut for his eighth save of the year.

The win gave the Friars four wins in its five most recent tries against the Dodgers in a interdivisional rivalry sure to provide plenty of explosive moments this season and in the years to come.

May 18: Padres walk-off on a wild pitch

SAN DIEGO, CA – MAY 18: Jorge Mateo #3 (C) of the San Diego Padres is congratulated by Manny Machado #13 (L) and Trent Grisham #2 after scoring on a wild pitch in the 10th inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park on May 18, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

In a walk-off winner, the Padres found a way to beat the Rockies never before accomplished at Petco Park.

Taking a 1-1 game into the 10th and with Jorge Mateo standing on third base, Rockies reliever Daniel Bard fired an errant pitch for Trent Grisham that sailed over his catcher’s head. It allowed Mateo to take off from third, sliding head-first into the plate to score the game’s winning run.

Of note: Blake Snell also had one of his season’s better starts in the game, pitching six innings, scattering five hits, allowing one run and striking out 11.

May 22: First appearance of the SD Swagg Chain

Who could forget the infamous Swagg Chain?

The six-pound silver chain made its debut after the Padres became the first team in baseball to reach 30 wins. It was masterminded by third baseman Manny Machado with help from luxury jewelry store Rafaello & Co. out of New York

The rules for the chain are simple: It is worn by members of the team after home runs — often as they’re entering the dugout following a trot around the bases — as well as by the player of the game after notable wins. It didn’t take long for it to be a clubhouse favorite.

“If I hit a homer and gotta rock it, it is what it is,” Myers said. “Heck, I mean a lot of details put into it, a lot of time and effort, and I really appreciate that.”

June 17: Padres second Opening Day with full capacity, walk-off win

SAN DIEGO, CA – JUNE 17: U.S. Navy sailors unveil an American flag before a baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on June 17, 2021 in San Diego, California. The Padres are celebrating the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in California after events were allowed to be at 100 percent capacity. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

If one Opening Day is good, two is even better, particularly with a capacity crowd returning to the ballpark.

With California retiring its color-coded reopening system amid declining vaccination and infection case rates, the Padres returned home from a six-game road trip to a packed – and incredibly grateful – Petco Park crowd. And it ended up being worth the wait, too.

With the team trailing 4-2 in the ninth, Eric Hosmer belted a 2-0 breaking pitch over the right field fence to knot the game up. The next batter, Cronenworth, singled to center before catcher Victor Caratini stepped to the dish. He found a breaking pitch of his own, took a hard swing and promptly deposited it into the left field seats to send the fans home happy.

Luckily, the San Diego faithful would not have to wait long for the season’s next big moment.

June 20: Padres beat Reds for first four-game series sweep since 2011

SAN DIEGO, CA – JUNE 20: San Diego Padres players celebrate after beating the Cincinnati Reds 3-2 in a baseball game at Petco Park on June 20, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Three days after returning home to a capacity crowd, the Padres beat the Reds 3-2 in a Sunday afternoon game to complete the team’s first four-game series sweep since 2011.

Coming off a 1-5 road trip, the series was the start of an eight-game winning streak for the Padres.

“It’s something we can build on,” manager Jayce Tingler said after the game. “For us to get back on track a little bit, it was very encouraging.”

June 21: Yu Darvish milestone strikeout

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Yu Darvish (11) pumps his fist after getting the final out during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, June 21, 2021, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

It was a big moment, but never one too big for Darvish.

The right-hander acquired in the offseason from the Cubs shut down the Dodgers for much of the night, striking out 11. His last strikeout of the game placed him at 1,500 for his career, making him the fastest player in history to reach that mark.

Darvish is 7-3 on the year with a 3.09 ERA in 18 games.

His record would be challenged later in the first half by Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who reached 1,500 strikeouts July 7 to become the second-fastest player to record that number.

June 24: Padres complete sweep of Dodgers, first since 2013

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 23: Mark Melancon #33 of the San Diego Padres reacts after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3 in a game at PETCO Park on June 23, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Another game from the same winning streak, the Padres once again got the best of the Dodgers.

Three sellout crowds at Petco Park were on hand to watch the Friars sweep Los Angeles, the first time that has had happened since 2013. In the June 23 game, Melancon came to the mound with the 5-3 lead in the ninth and left with a triumphant fist pump to mark the occasion.

After the game, Musgrove told that outside of the World Series he won in Houston, “that’s the most energy I’ve ever played in.”

June 25: Tatis has first three-homer game of career

SAN DIEGO, CA – JUNE 25: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Petco Park on June 25, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

He wouldn’t be in baseball’s famed Home Run Derby. That didn’t mean Tatis wasn’t here to put on a show.

Taking on the Diamondbacks after sweeping the Dodgers, Tatis hit three home runs in the first four innings – in the first, second and fourth inning, respectively – for a night few fans will ever forget. He would have two other chances to hit home run No. 4, but ultimately finished with a highly memorable 4-for-5 game as San Diego bested the Diamondbacks, 11-5.

He and Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. spent much of the first half jockeying for the big league lead in home runs. The three-homer night put Tatis in a tie for first and he would hit three more before the All-Star break.

July 8: The Camarena Game

San Diego Padres’ Daniel Camarena watches his grand slam off Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer during the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday, July 8, 2021, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Derrick Tuskan)

Last, but certainly not least was the kid from Cathedral Catholic High School.

Reliever Daniel Camarena stepped to the dish in the fourth inning against former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and blasted a grand slam – a Slam Diego, if you will – deep over the right field fence. The homer, also Camarena’s first career big league hit, ignited the Friars for a comeback.

They later won, 9-8, on an RBI single by Grisham in the ninth inning.

“That was awesome,” Camarena said after the game. “One of the coolest games I’ve been a part of, for sure.”