Baseball has been played for a very long time, by a whole lot of people, and under a functionally infinite number of circumstances. This means that for something truly unexpected to happen, something that can leave even the most seasoned baseball observer slack-jawed and giggling, a lot of things have to break just right.
So how do you get to this point: A relief pitcher, making his second major-league plate appearance at 28 years of age, stepping into the box to face Max Scherzer with the bases loaded, and then hitting a grand slam while his family watches from the stands?
First the pitcher in question, Daniel Camarena, has to get on the big-league roster. His opportunity came Thursday morning, when the Padres placed Nick Ramirez on the 10-day injured list. Needing an extra lefty arm in the bullpen for last night’s game—the Padres’ bullpen had been stretched and overworked the previous three games—the team decided to call up Camarena from its Triple-A affiliate in El Paso. Camarena had previously been up to the big club before being sent right back down over the course of one day in June.
So how do you get that guy up to the plate, in the fourth inning of a game that the Padres were trailing 8-2? First, things would have to go very wrong for the Padres’ starting pitcher, Yu Darvish, which they did. Darvish made it through only three innings, surrendering eight hits and six earned runs before being chased from the game. The score was 6-0 when Darvish was pulled, and Padres manager Jayce Tingler threw Camarena into the game, likely with the hope that the rookie could just soak up a few innings. Camarena took the mound in the top of the fourth and things … didn’t go that well. He struck out opposing pitcher Max Scherzer to start the inning, but then gave up a single and a home run to stretch the Nationals’ lead to 8-0. But he got two quick outs after that and, hey, the game was one half-inning closer to being over! A job well-enough done.
But Camarena was still a long ways from holding a bat in his hand and facing Scherzer in a high-leverage moment. For that to happen, Scherzer, one of the best damn pitchers in the world, had to start missing his spots. The bottom of the fourth inning started with a solo home run from Fernando Tatis Jr. Scherzer struck out the next guy, Jake Cronenworth, on four pitches and then got Manny Machado to an 0-2 count. But on his third pitch to Machado, Scherzer plunked him. Then he gave up a single to Trent Grisham before hitting Eric Hosmer on a 1-2 count. After that he worked yet another 0-2 count to Wil Myers, but eventually walked him on nine pitches. After striking out Victor Caratini, all Scherzer had to do was get past the pitcher’s spot in the lineup in order to hold onto an 8-2 lead.
This is where the Padres had a decision to make. Under normal circumstances, it would have been an automatic decision for Tingler to send a pinch hitter up to bat in Camarena’s spot, because why the hell would anyone pass up a golden opportunity to take a chunk out of a six-run deficit by sending a poor, overmatched relief pitcher to get slaughtered by Max Scherzer in front of God and everyone? To do that would be to wave a white flag and concede the game. That is what Tingler did, as he determined that it was more beneficial to keep Camarena in the game and ease some of the stress on the team’s already fraying bullpen than to give a real hitter a crack at doing some damage. Had the Padres pitched just a little bit better at any point during the previous three games, it’s likely that Camarena would have never been allowed to step to the plate last night. But he was, and that’s how we got here:
Ah, right, and then we still have to figure out how Camarena’s family managed to be in the building, despite the fact that he had been called up just a few hours before the game started. As it turns out, Camarena is a native of Bonita, just outside of San Diego, and so it was pretty easy for his family to make it to the game. That led to his older brother (he was misidentified in the tweet below) having one of the all-time greatest live sports experiences:
Would you believe that the Padres went on to win this game, 9-8, on a walk-off in the bottom of the ninth inning? Why the hell wouldn’t you?
Correction (11:14 a.m.): This post originally identified the family member cheering for Camarena in the video above as Camarena’s father, but he is Camarena’s brother.