My First Game - San Diego
So to Tony Gwynn Way and beautiful PETCO Park for my first proper game of the season, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. There is a saying that on day one of the season that all teams are first equal. So it is in 2012 with the A’s and the Mariners having shared their historical two game set in Japan last week. Kitty and I take the Blue line on the tram and are deposited right outside the stadium. The public transport is efficient and if we are in doubt we have found the natives to be very friendly and welcoming to us.
We go to the Tin Fish restaurant next to the ballpark and have a famous San Diego fish taco washed down with a cold Bud light. Although PETCO Park has an imposing three tier grandstand (and our seats are very near the top in the nose bleed section) all the seats appear to have great views of the stadium. It is said that the grass here is the best in the league and it is meticulously manicured. The stadium has a unique “Park in the Park” feature where you can play catch, walk around or just sup a quiet ale or two as we did while soaking up the sun and the atmosphere before moving to our seats. Outside the park are palms, jacaranda trees and water displays near the entrance, as well as mission style arcades which tie the ball park to its southern California location and heritage.
Because of the parks dimensions and prevailing wind blowing in PETCO is known as a pitchers park, this allied to first game nerves means that I am expecting a low scoring game. I was slow booking tickets so had to pay $65 for tickets with a $15 face value, but that is made up when we receive free Padres tee shirts and I can buy a cap for just $7. A stirring rendition of The Star Spangled banner, a fly over, Jerry Coleman, Padres announcer, former player and veteran of both World Wars throws out the ceremonial first pitch and now it’s what I have been planning for for all this time. Play Ball!
Los Angeles Dodgers……….000 210 020 - 5
San Diego Padres…………….000 001 020 – 3
This is the way I will produce the score for each of the games I will go to. Not too difficult, innings by innings then the final score. Always visiting team first. Today it was nil all after three innings then the Dodgers scored two in the fourth, one in the fifth, none in the sixth and seventh, two in the eighth, none again in the ninth and last for a total of five runs. The Padres scored none through five innings, one in the sixth, none in the seventh two in the eighth and none again in the ninth for a total of three runs. Simple enough?
So much for my thoughts on this being a really low scoring game – though the first three innings went as I had envisaged. In front of a crowd of 42,942 the Dodgers begun with their Cy Young Award pitcher from 2011, Clayton Kershaw. The Cy Young Award is an award presented to the best pitcher in each league. It was introduced in 1956 by commissioner Ford Frich to commemorate Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young who died in 1955. It was originally presented to the one best overall pitcher, but after Frich’s retirement in 1967 it was changed so that the best pitcher in each league received an award. Although Kershaw was pitching well, and had not had a run hit off him on this night, he had a stomach virus and was not pitching at 100%. He was not at his usual velocity of the mid to high 90’s and was consistently throwing at “only” the high 80’s!
Edinson Volquez was the starting pitcher for the Padres. He retired nine of the first ten Dodgers he faced, getting five of those on strikeouts as he negotiated three innings on just 34 pitches. Most pitchers have about 100 pitches in them before they are subbed out of the game, so he was on track for potentially going all nine innings. His fastball was consistently travelling at 93-95 miles per hour and his deadly changeup (a slower pitch thrown with the same speed arm action and therefore drawing the bat out in front of the ball) at 80 miles per hour. Then though came the fourth innings and disaster for Volquez. He needed another 34 pitches just to get through the innings. At one point he walked four Dodgers out of five, including two bases loaded walks, which of course scored runs.
The Dodgers had the two run buffer and added to it in the next innings as Dee Gordon got home largely on a dropped catch in the outfield by Cameron Maybin. While he was running away from the diamond, it was a relatively easy catch that definitely should have been taken at this level. Finally the Padres put a bit of useful offence together in the bottom of the sixth innings. They bought in pinch hitter Will Venable to hit for right fielder Chris Denorfia. While he did not get a hit he reached base on balls (i.e. walked), then stole second to get into a scoring position. It is obviously much easier to get to home base from second base, and generally a good long fly ball will do it, hence being on second is referred to as being in scoring position. As it transpired the next batter, Chase Headley, actually hit a weak ground ball that while it got himself out at first base, advanced Venable to third. Next up, Jesus Guzman hit a double to centre field (i.e. a double is where he is able to get to second base) and Venable was easily able to make it home. 3-1 then and a glimmer of hope for the home team.
However after a scoreless seventh innings it was the Dodgers who seized the initiative further in the eighth. Mark Ellis (not Marc Ellis of All Black and Warrior fame) doubled and then centre fielder Matt Kemp hit a dinger that took the score line out to 5-1. The Padres then pinch hit with Jeremy Hermida in for pitcher Brad Brach and he got to first base. Maybin then made amends for his earlier error by launching a massive 445 foot home run to score both himself and Hermida. While it gave them a sniff of victory it was not to be and in fact the Padres relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri was the one who battled in the final innings, having to throw 38 pitchers as the Dodgers loaded the bases with a walk, a hit and a hit batter. On the back of two strike outs Frieri got out of the innings but the home team did not trouble the scorers at their last at bat leaving them defeated by two.
Throughout the game we shared good banter with a gaggle of Los Angeles Dodgers supporters who sat next to us (remember by this time I was wearing my free Padres shirt and $7 cap). They offered us heaps of suggestions on places to eat and drink at various places around America. We again returned to our hotel on the blue line tram and the first of our thirty leg tour was completed. The Dodgers are winning the league.