Padres, White Sox create their own energy in empty stadiums

Without fans in the stands at Major League Baseball stadiums, high-stakes games between skilled athletes lack sizzle. They’re short on emotional punch. Even this month with divisional opponents locked in a race for first place, games just aren’t the same, with all due respect to the cardboard cutouts.

Baseball just isn’t baseball without paying customers roaring at climactic moments or leaning over the guard rails to slap the side of the stadium walls. It’s bad for everyone, but it’s really been a shame for the fan bases in San Diego and Chicago.

The Padres haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. The White Sox since 2008. In a normal season, fans would be packing Petco Park in San Diego or Guaranteed Rate Field on the south side of Chicago to watch these long-suffering franchises contend for pennants.

Both the Padres in the National League and the White Sox in the American feature young stars in contention for MVP awards. And yet, in the stretch run of a season overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, the stadiums were empty Monday night during games with playoff implications.

Both fan bases were left watching on living room television as the Padres downed the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-2, and the White Sox turned back the Minnesota Twins, 3-1. To both ball clubs’ credit, the Padres and White Sox not only have put together talented teams, but they have assembled groups capable of generating their own energy.

Even without the roar of the home crowd, both teams are doing as good a job as anyone at making the best of an awkward situation. As we all know, fans in most major sporting events can’t attend games because of restrictions related to the threat of the virus.

The Padres and White Sox both have shrugged it all off and just played ball. In the NL West, the Dodgers (33-15) lead the race and hold the best record in baseball, but the Padres (32-17) are right there, only a game and a half out of first. In the AL Central, the White Sox (31-16) are in first place, with the Twins (30-19) two games back.

Scott Merkin, who covers the White Sox for mlb.com, pointed out that no playoff berth in the AL was on the line Monday night in Chicago. At the same time, he wrote that the atmosphere, “even with pumped-in crowd noise replacing fans in the stands, sure felt like postseason baseball.” White Sox player Adam Engel agreed.

“I don’t know what the starters felt like, but being a bench guy, it feels like you are living and dying on every pitch,” said Engel, whose pinch single in the eighth produced the game-winning run. “You have a lot of emotion going with every pitch.

“A lot of guys say at the end of a playoff game [that] everybody is mentally and emotionally exhausted. Tonight wasn’t the real thing per se, but it felt pretty similar to that.”

In San Diego, the Padres rallied from a 1-0 deficit to beat the Dodgers and ace Clayton Kershaw. Trent Grisham, who played for the Triple-A San Antonio Missions last year, hit a solo home run off Kershaw to spark the comeback.

Afterward, Ken Gurnick of mlb.com wrote that Kershaw stressed the importance of playing well against the Padres and finishing the season strong despite the unusual circumstances.

“These games matter,” Kershaw said. “If you want to be the (No.) 1-seed, it matters. To say, ‘Hey, I can’t get up for games, or there’s no adrenaline because there’s no fans,’ figure it out. I don’t want to hear that anymore.

“We want to play well, we want to beat the Padres and win the division. I think it’s important to play well the last two weeks of the season going into the playoffs. Maybe even try to create the atmosphere, as best you can, that these games matter to get ready for the playoff games.”

So, there you have it. Some players seem to feel the playoff vibe already. Others are trying to feel it, but it’s difficult, as Gurnick suggested, because the lack of fans “saps the electricity of a playoff race.”

It’s too bad for the fans, particularly in San Diego and Chicago. The season has a chance to be special. But even if either team rises up to win the World Series, a championship parade with thousands in attendance will be out of the question.

Unless they call in the cardboard cutouts.

Shortstops Tim Anderson (above) of the Chicago White Sox and Fernando Tatis, Jr., of the San Diego Padres have played their way into contention for Most Valuable Player honors in their respective leagues. Anderson leads the AL (and all of the majors) with a .369 batting average. Tatis, who played in San Antonio with the Missions in 2018, leads the NL in RBI with 40 and is tied for first in home runs with 15.

Tatis Jr. homers twice and drives in seven runs for the Padres

Fernando Tatis Jr. made himself at home Monday night in the new home of the Texas Rangers.

The San Diego Padres’ second-year phenomenon belted two home runs, produced seven RBI and stirred one controversy in a 14-4 victory at Globe Life Field.

In a stunning show of power, Tatis crushed a line drive to left for a three-run homer in the seventh inning. In the eighth, he followed with an opposite-field grand slam.

The grand slam left the Rangers fuming.

It came on a 3-0 count with the Padres holding a seven-run lead. After it sailed over the wall in right field, the Padres expanded the advantage to 14-3.

“There’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward told reporters, as noted in a Twitter post from San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Jeff Sanders. “I didn’t like it, personally. You’re up by seven in the eighth inning. It’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0.”

Added Woodward, “It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game, but like I said, the norms are all being challenged on a daily basis. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right. I don’t think we liked it as a group.”

On the next play, Texas reliever Ian Gibaut threw a pitch that sailed behind San Diego slugger Manny Machado. Woodward said there was no purpose to the location of the pitch. “It slipped out of his hand and went wide,” he said, in comments relayed by Sanders.

“(Umpires) didn’t issue any warnings, so they must have come to the agreement that it wasn’t intentional. I was expecting them to warn somebody, but they didn’t.”

Jayce Tingler, a first-year Padres manager who worked with the Rangers for the past 13 years, congratulated Tatis for the slam but also told his young star that he had missed a take sign.

“He’s young, a free spirit and focused and all those things,” Tingler said in a story published by the Associated Press. “That’s the last thing that we’ll ever take away. It’s a learning opportunity and that’s it. He’ll grow from it.”

The power show boosted Tatis into the home-run lead in the major leagues.

Two years ago, he was one of the top prospects in baseball with the San Antonio Missions. Now he has 11 homers on the season, one more than Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels.

Tatis is only 21 years old.

Notable

Former Missions players Franmil Reyes and Fernando Tatis, Jr., have produced multi-home run games on back-to-back days in the major leagues. Reyes hit two for the Cleveland Indians on Sunday in Detroit. Tatis followed with two on Monday at Texas.

Padres organization delivers title in first year at the Wolff

Fourth in a series of stories on championships won by the San Antonio Missions in the Wolff Stadium era:

2007

Big picture: With Chase Headley, Nick Hundley and Will Venable on the team, the Missions’ hopes soared entering their first year of affiliation with the San Diego Padres. But after a last-place finish in the first half, they had to rally, and they did, winning 42 games for the second-half division crown. Then the Missions rolled to the championship behind first-year manager Randy Ready, once a rival in the 1980s as a player for the El Paso Diablos. Headley was Player of the Year and Josh Geer Pitcher of the Year.

Regular-season record: 73-66

First half: 31-39. Second half: 42-27.

Playoff record: 6-1. The Missions rolled through two best-of-5 series, winning three straight against the Frisco RoughRiders, before taking down the Springfield Cardinals in four games.

Parent club: San Diego Padres.

Manager: Randy Ready, first season with the Missions.

Top players: Chase Headley (.330, 20 HR, 78 RBI, Nick Hundley (20 HR, 72 RBI), P Josh Geer (16-6, 3.20); P Cesar Ramos (13-9, 3.41).

Players who reached MLB: Position players — Matt Antonelli, Luis Cruz, Chase Headley, Chad Huffman, Nick Hundley, Sean Kazmar Jr., Drew Macias, Colt Morton, Will Venable, Shawn Wooten. Pitchers – Frank Brooks, Roger Deago, Mike Ekstrom, Josh Geer, Dirk Hayhurst, Wade LeBlanc, Arturo Lopez, Edwin Moreno, Cesar Ramos.

Key team stats: Eighth in batting average (.256), fifth in runs scored (642) third in home runs (133). First in earned run average (3.81), first in WHIP (1.299) and sixth in strikeouts (902). Tied for first in fielding percentage (.981) and first in fewest errors (95).

Notable: Utility player Brett Dowdy wasn’t thrilled when he was sent down from Triple-A Portland at midseason. But he didn’t let it bother him in the playoffs. Defensively, he played shortstop, left field and center field in the postseason. Offensively, he hit .379, including four doubles, two triples and three home runs. The former collegiate standout at Florida drove in six runs in an 11-7 title-clincher at Springfield.

Quotable: “It was somewhat difficult for me to come back down here, but I knew there was a role for me and a plan for me and it was hard for me to complain about the way the year turned out.” – Brett Dowdy told Express-News reporter David King, discussing his journey down to Double-A and a postseason title.

Sources: samissions.com, expressnews.com, baseball-reference.com