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The Padres And Nationals Manufactured A Thrilling Summertime Rivalry Out Of Nothing At All

Jurickson Profar chirps at Keibert Ruiz.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Benches cleared in the first inning of Tuesday's game between the San Diego Padres and the Washington Nationals. Luis Arráez had just opened the bottom of the frame with a weak fly-out to center field, and San Diego's Jurickson Profar was headed to the plate. Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz said something to Profar, and then said something else, and then continued saying things, and then he pushed his finger into Profar's chest. Manny Machado, waiting in the on-deck circle, hurried over and shoved Ruiz away. The sudden flash of even very minor violence was enough to lure every player on both teams out onto the field, where they stood around for a few minutes and muttered half-heartedly at one another. Umpires and managers eventually managed to shoo everyone back to their stations, but not before issuing warnings to both sides: Any escalations would lead to ejections.

To understand Ruiz's gripe with Profar, you must rewind a little bit, to the 10th inning of Monday night's series opener between the two teams. Washington had chipped their way back from an early three-run deficit, benefitting from an unusually sound pitching performance from the abominable Patrick Corbin. In the top of the extra frame, Ruiz doubled home the go-ahead run and then scored on Nick Senzel's subsequent sockdolager, to give the Nationals a three-run lead. Nationals manager Dave Martinez called upon his best reliever, righty flamethrower Hunter Harvey, to close out the win, but Harvey soon worked his way into trouble, hanging curveballs to Donovan Solano and Jackson Merrill and allowing two runs to cross without recording an out. Ha-Seong Kim walked and then a sacrifice bunt moved the winning run into scoring position. After a cheap out, Martinez made the call to intentionally walk Arráez to load the bases with two down. This brought Profar to the plate.

The Nationals have no real history with Profar, but they have enough with Arráez from his brief but spectacular time with the Miami Marlins that the mere sight of him is enough to make them quake at the knees. By my recollection, approximately 201 of his 203 hits in 2023 came off of Nationals pitchers, who failed to stop him from reaching base pretty much ever. Profar is no slouch himself—he is having a bonafide breakout season and today leads the National League in on-base percentage—but Arráez is arguably the game's best contact hitter, plus or minus one Steven Kwan, and this was a scenario where a base-hit would win the game for the Padres. The intentional walk gave the Nationals potential force-outs at every base, avoided the reigning batting champion, and moved the switch-hitting Profar to the lefty side of the plate, where his OPS is 108 points lower and his strikeout percentage is more than double.

It didn't work. Profar went down 0–2 and then dove theatrically away from a pair of inside fastballs, one of which lightly buzzed the tower. After a couple of foul balls, Harvey left a splitter up in the zone and Profar socked it deep into the gap in right center to drive home the game-tying and game-winning runs. Profar evidently had feelings about the intentional walk, and also about being pitched inside by Harvey, and so instead of celebrating in the middle of the diamond with his teammates, he raced over toward the Nationals' dugout and yelled at his defeated foes. "I felt disrespected, yeah, I felt disrespected," he confirmed after the game. "It was two things: the walk, and then this pitch, up and in, up to my face. That pumped me up." Several of Washington's redder-assed veterans climbed to the top dugout step to make disapproving faces at Profar's gloating performance, but there was no immediate escalation.

This is what Ruiz was scolding Profar about in Tuesday's first inning. "Just to let him know, and he knows, he didn't do good yesterday. That was it," explained Ruiz, per MASN Sports. "We don't want to hit him because that's bad for him. He's having a good season, he's having a great year. But I feel like I've just got to let him know he's got to show us respect." The message may not have gotten across; certainly you are not very likely to meet someone who enjoys being lectured about manners by an opponent suspected of participating in the throwing of a baseball at their head. After umpires cleared the field of several confused relievers, Profar continued to express exception to Ruiz's message. "He said, 'Hey, if you want to hit me, hit me.' But I said, 'Hey, we don't want to hit you.'" The two were separated yet again, and it was another minute or two before umpires finally got Ruiz behind the plate and Profar back into the box and the game back underway.

This is where an already ridiculous situation became hysterical. Nationals pitcher and former Padres prospect MacKenzie Gore, who'd been languishing on the mound throughout this silly non-donnybrook, yanked a first-pitch fastball and threw it directly into Profar's back shin. It didn't look intentional, but the Nationals were clearly intending to pitch Profar inside and the timing was horrible. The home plate umpire—the crew chief who'd just moments earlier issued warnings to both teams—hopped up and jogged out into the infield grass, but did not eject Gore. Profar turned and flipped his bat at Ruiz, and Padres manager Mike Shildt erupted out of the San Diego dugout, incredulous that after all of that extracurricular bullcrap the Nationals could hit his guy with the very next pitch and suffer no consequences. For his intrusion onto the field, Shildt was ejected.

To everyone's credit, this did not immediately become any stupider. In fact, it soon became cool as shit. Machado, whose earlier intervention at home plate seemed to trigger the clearing of the benches, strode to the plate. Gore started him with another first-pitch fastball, this time over the heart of the plate. Machado socked it into orbit.

This fired up Machado's teammates. "That’s how you fucking lead,” Padres center fielder Jackson Merrill said after the game, per the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I’m not saying he had to hit a homer, but right there off the bat, fucking first pitch, ready to go. That’s how you fucking lead right there. That’s fucking electric." The Nationals answered with a four-run third inning, but the Padres scratched three across in the fifth to go back up by a run. San Diego's crowd was great, the baseball was very fun, and every time any of Profar, Ruiz, or Machado came to the plate it felt like some shit was about to go down.

It mostly did not, until the bottom of the sixth inning. The Padres loaded the bases with no outs against Nationals reliever Dylan Floro. After a pitching change and an Arráez fielder's choice that failed to push across a run, Profar came back to the plate, spit on a couple of fastballs, and then unloaded on a 2–0 cutter over the plate. The grand slam sent the crowd into hysterics and eventually led to San Diego's 9–7 victory. Here's a great view of it:

There's no reason these two teams should be rivals. They play on opposite coasts, and they've never in their 112 combined seasons of existence made the playoffs in the same year, which means they have never directly competed in anything more serious than a midsummer series. For that matter, any rivalry that forms between the Padres and Nationals this season is unlikely to survive into the next; Profar will be a free agent after this campaign, and the perennially underperforming Padres are always wheeling and dealing. Ruiz's sanctimonious disapproval is much more likely to follow Profar to, say, the Mets than it is to stick with the Padres, who could have an entirely different roster by this time next year. And at least a couple of the objecting Nationals—Winker and Senzel, specifically, but also like six other guys—have approximately zero chance of being on Washington's roster after this season, as Mike Rizzo is expressly using this year to flip rehabilitated veterans for prospects.

But like flower petals and fireflies and flings at Niagara Falls, most baseball rivalries are not meant to survive the heat of summer. Today the Nationals and Padres hate the shit out of each other, and that hate will be given a sequel when the Padres travel to Washington after the break. All it took was a journeyman outfielder manufacturing deep personal offense from normal baseball shit, and a dipshit 25-year-old catcher presuming to lecture a grown man about manners on the diamond. Somewhere in the genesis of every bitter sports rivalry, no matter its duration or geographic sensibility, there is a story of a butthead behaving like a butthead. Or even two of them! Baseball rules.

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