If it has felt a little bit like MLB and ESPN are trying to force feed us a Dodgers-Padres rivalry, well, who can blame them? Two of the best teams in baseball just so happen to play in the same division, the Dodgers are the defending champs, and both teams employ some of the most exciting players in the game. So there’s no grand history or fanbase animosity to be found here. Whatever. There’s plenty of good baseball to watch.
And the baseball has indeed been good. The Dodgers and Padres played each other for the seventh time this season last night, and like the previous six games, they gave us all a pretty good show. Their games have been close and heavy on dramatic flourishes—the Dodgers’ five-run 12th inning on April 16, Mookie Betts making a walk-off diving catch the next night—and those flourishes have most recently been provided by Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who also spent the weekend as the biggest story in baseball.
Coming into last night’s series finale, Tatis Jr. had already taken Clayton Kershaw deep twice in Friday’s game, tagged Trevor Bauer with two more homers in Saturday’s game, mocked Bauer with each of his home-run trots, and was accused of looking down at the Dodgers’ catcher to try and steal signs. That last bit kicked up a bit of a controversy on Saturday night, which included Bauer sending an extremely on-brand and insufferable tweet about it and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts making what sounded like vague allusions to Tatis Jr. being the target of some retribution. The young Padres star took it all in stride:
Thankfully, there were no plunkings to mar last night’s action, and Tatis Jr. was allowed to go on kicking the Dodgers’ asses on the way to turning a 7-1 deficit into an 8-7 win 11 innings. Tatis Jr. socked another damn dinger in the fourth inning, walked and scored in the eighth, hit a single and scored the tying run in the ninth, and then stole third in the 11th to get into position to score the winning run on a sacrifice fly.
It’s difficult to think or talk about which baseball players are or are not capable of becoming a Truly Transcendent Superstar for too long without wanting to crawl into a toilet. It’s a thought experiment that shouldn’t really concern anyone who likes baseball, because the league is stocked with plenty of cool teams and cool players to enjoy, and a fan’s enjoyment of those things is never going to be dependent on whether or not Mike Trout has enough charisma to book an endorsement deal or crack jokes with Jimmy Fallon. But you can imagine the widening eyes of league and media executives as they watched Tatis Jr. play over the weekend. Here is a player who is not only capable of hitting five homers in three days, but is relishing the opportunity to talk shit both on and off the field. Toss in a budding division rivalry with the defending champions, who the Padres will be facing many more times this season, and you have a player and team who the league and networks would be stupid not to put all of their chips behind.
Maybe one day Dodgers vs. Padres and Tatis Jr. vs. Betts will become as tedious as Red Sox vs. Yankees did over the last two decades, but that’s not something anyone who just wants to enjoy some exciting baseball games should concern themselves with at the moment. For now, we just get to watch Tatis Jr. and the rest of the supremely talented players who populate the Dodgers’ and Padres’ rosters put on a great show.