They teased, they faded: Some moments to remember (and forget) from the Padres’ second half

Padres

SAN DIEGO, CA – SEPTEMBER 26: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres reacts to a called third strike in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Petco Park on September 26, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO – What began with a roar ends with hardly a whimper.

The Padres season is over. And like so many that came before it, the Friars finish outside of this year’s playoff picture while the Dodgers and Giants play on as heavy favorites in the National League.

It’s a fate that probably seemed unthinkable even a few weeks ago — and certainly not back in May when the team surged into first place. But it’s now the team’s reality, the same one they’ve faced in 10 of the past 11 seasons finishing with a losing record. That result gradually has come into focus as injuries mounted, struggles intensified and as their NL West foes marched onward to win 100+ games apiece.

There’s plenty of blame to go around and as with any year, the offseason is certain to bring changes to San Diego. Among the questions facing the team at present:

  • Will manager Jayce Tingler return in 2022? (Update: Nope.) If not, which candidates out there could right the ship?
  • What about free agents Tommy Pham, Jurickson Profar, Mark Melancon and potentially others currently under contract?
  • And which of the names on the free-agent market and down on the farm can fortify a team in win-now mode?

A lot of things remain to be seen.

For now at least, let us recall a few of the most memorable moments of a second half the team, its fans and the city, by and large, would be fine to completely forget.

(If you missed the best of the first half, that link is here.)

Here’s a look back at some of the second half’s most memorable moments

July 16: Jake Cronenworth hits for 3rd cycle in team history

The third cycle in San Diego Padres history belongs to Jake Cronenworth.

Cronenworth, 27, accomplished the feat by the sixth inning of a 24-8 rout of the Washington Nationals on the road. He recorded a two-run double in the second inning, an RBI triple in the third and a solo shot in the fifth before securing the cycle with an infield single.

It marked another highlight in Cronenworth’s young baseball career that’s already seen him named to a National League All-Star team and finish second a year ago for NL Rookie of the Year.

The other two cycles in team history belong to Matt Kemp, the first to accomplish the feat in 2015, and Cronenworth’s teammate Wil Myers was the second in 2017.

July 17: Padres jump in to help amid shooting outside Nationals Park

Spectators stand in the visiting team dugout during a stoppage in play due to an incident near the ballpark in the sixth inning of a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the San Diego Padres, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Two days after Cronenworth’s cycle, gunfire outside of Nationals Park interrupted play and sent fans scrambling for safety in the dugout.

Three people were injured in the shooting, including a woman attending the game who was struck while standing outside of the ballpark, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. The result suspended play in the sixth inning and caused a panic for some fans inside the stadium.

However, the Padres were lauded by fans for their role in helping them take cover after the shots rang out.

Alaina Rodriguez and Zerik Hann told FOX 5 that Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Wil Myers were among the players ushering fans into the dugout.

“I don’t know how to thank the Padres in any way,” Rodriguez said. “Tatis, Manny and Myers — I don’t know how to thank them. They opened the gates and let us on the field to make sure that fans were safe. I don’t know anybody that would ever do that.”

Play resumed the following day and San Diego won the game 10-4.

July 26: Adam Frazier trade

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 27: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres celebrates his two-run home run with Adam Frazier #12 in the third inning against the Oakland Athletics at Petco Park on July 27, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

San Diego sent five players this year’s MLB All-Star Game and wasted no time in trading for a sixth.

Prior to the trade deadline, the Padres acquired Pittsburgh Pirates’ second baseman and outfielder Adam Frazier in an exchange for three prospects. Frazier, 29, was leading the league in hits at the time of the deal and was billed by General Manager A.J. Preller as “a big contributor” for the team’s future.

Since coming to San Diego, Frazier tailed off from the .324 average he compiled in Pittsburgh, hitting .267 with one home run and 11 RBIs in 56 games.

He still finishes the year near the top of the National League in hits and batting average.

If the Padres are likely to return to contention in 2022, Frazier will remain a significant part of that in a star-studded infield featuring Tatis, Machado and Cronenworth.

July 30: Scherzer in, then out at the trade deadline

LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 04: Starting pitcher Max Scherzer #31 makes his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium on August 4, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Ken Rosenthal giveth and Ken Rosenthal taketh away.

With his July 29 tweet, The Athletic’s baseball insider set San Diego Twitter on fire with the news the Padres were “close” to acquiring Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer. Even at age 37, Scherzer is an electric, battle-tested starter that would have bolstered the Friars’ rotation to set them up to play meaningful baseball games into September and October.

As we now know, it didn’t play out that way. Instead, the dreaded Dodgers swooped in.

Los Angeles secured Scherzer’s services ⁠— and those of All-Star infielder Trea Turner ⁠— in a swap for four prospects. Scherzer was exactly as advertised, too. He went 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 11 starts for the Dodgers, even picking up the 3,000th strikeout of his Hall of Fame career against the Padres.

Not ones to dwell, San Diego nabbed Scherzer’s former teammate in reliever Daniel Hudson before finding a former Cy Young winner of their own in Jake Arietta. But neither made a substantial impact and Arietta quickly found himself designated for assignment after going 0-3 with a whopping 10.95 ERA in four starts.

Aug. 15: Tatis returns from injury but in outfield

PHOENIX, ARIZONA – AUGUST 15: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres stands attended for the national anthem before the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 15, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

For much of the year, fans marveled over the wonder that is 22-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.

But injuries to the young star’s shoulder kept him out of the lineup at times in 2021, including after he was helped off the field July 30 against the Rockies. In that instance, Tatis suffered a partially dislocated left shoulder and it cost him about two weeks in the middle of a pennant race.

When he did return, he found himself with a new position: right field. And it hardly slowed him at the plate as he slugged a pair of home runs against the Diamondbacks.

Tatis finished his third year in the bigs with a .282 average, a National League-leading 42 homers, 97 RBIs and stole 25 bases. He’s just the 15th player in league history — and the only one age 22 or younger — to hit at least 40 homers and steal 25 bases in a single season.

Where he’ll play in the field in the years to come – and if he’ll seek out surgery in the future for his shoulder – is a question, but he’s proven he’ll be a high-impact player while he’s under contract through 2034.

Aug. 23: Larry Rothschild fired

ARLINGTON, TEXAS – APRIL 09: Joe Musgrove #44 of the San Diego Padres celebrates with Larry Rothschild 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)

So long, Larry.

A season that largely fell apart due to pitching woes ultimately cost the team’s pitching coach Larry Rothschild his job. In making the move, Preller acknowledged that Rothschild, 67, “brought a lot to us – a lot of experience, a ton of knowledge,” but that the team’s inconsistency on the mound showed the need for “a different voice.”

That voice came in the form of bullpen coach Ben Fritz, elevated to replace Rothschild in an interim capacity.

Starter Joe Musgrove, who tossed the first no-hitter in franchise history, told reporters the pitchers felt “partly responsible” for Rothschild losing his job.

Lefty Blake Snell said losing Rotshchild “sucks” and that he felt he “was growing a lot with him.”

But it would not be the only in-season personnel change for the Padres. The team’s farm director Sam Geaney also found himself out of a job after being fired Sept. 21.

Aug.31/Sept. 7 Snell flirts with no-nos in back-to-back starts

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Blake Snell works against a Los Angeles Angels batter during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Coming off Rothschild’s firing and amid a series of injuries that plagued the pitching staff, it was unclear what the Friars would bring in the final weeks of the season.

But in back-to-back starts in late August and early September, the southpaw Snell brought plenty.

Facing the Diamondbacks Aug. 31, Snell threw seven hitless innings before yielding the mound to the bullpen after 107 pitches. The bid at a combined no-hitter would end the following inning with a base hit by David Peralta on Pierce Johnson, but the Padres still went on to win the game, 3-0.

A week later, Snell stepped to the bump again against the Angels seemingly right where he left off. That night, he took a perfect game — a feat never accomplished by a San Diego pitcher — into the seventh inning. He retired the first 18 batters before walking David Fletcher at the top of the seventh.

Snell would walk one more before surrendering a two-run single to Jo Adell.

Adell’s hit broke a scoreless tie and the Angels would go on to a 4-0 victory.

Snell’s first year in San Diego wasn’t all it was thought it might be, finishing with a 7-6 record with a 4.20 ERA in 27 starts. But his fall form should give the organization plenty of reasons to be optimistic when he returns for his age-29 season next year.

Sept. 18: ‘It’s not about you’

Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres exchange words in the dugout during the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on September 18, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

What’s a disagreement among friends? For the Padres, it was a major story.

In a crucial mid-September matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals, Machado and Tatis got into a screaming match in the dugout. Machado reportedly yelled and cursed at Tatis, telling him “it’s not about you” and “you go play baseball” after Tatis struck out in the fifth inning, the Associated Press reported.

The two were separated by teammates before returning to the field soon thereafter.

Cloudy skies soon blew over and it was a different tune days later when both superstars addressed the confrontation before a gaggle of reporters. Doing much of the talking, Machado called the incident “unfortunate” and remarked that the two of them are leaders of the organization dealing with “the pressure of trying to win.”

“Those are situations we learn as leaders, as a team, as an organization, and we just get better from that,” Machado said.

Sept. 22: El Niño belts 40th home run

SAN DIEGO, CA – SEPTEMBER 22: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres hits a solo home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park on September 22, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Another Tatis moment. Get used to them, San Diego.

Even as the team faded out of the playoff picture, El Niño kept swinging a hot bat and joined some elite company. With his seventh-inning solo blast Sept. 22 against the Giants, he became the fifth Padre to eclipse 40 home runs in a season after Greg Vaughn, Phil Nevin, Ken Caminiti and Adrián González.

Vaughn holds the team’s record for his 50 homer season for the National League champion Padres of 1998.

Tatis’ milestone home run came in a losing effort for the Friars. He acknowledged to MLB.com that the dinger was “something to celebrate,” but “wish(ed) I could celebrate in a different story.” Don’t we all?

Still, he wasn’t done with memorable homers in the month.

He became just the fifth player in history to hit a ball out of Dodger Stadium with an absolute missile hit Sept. 30 off right-hander Tony Gonsolin, a blast which also came in a loss.

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