Sunday, August 26, 2012

Game 17: A Walk-Off Win on Taco Tuesday

Baseball is a hard-to-predict game. As Jeff wrote in his last post, good matchups aren't necessarily a strong indicator of good baseball. Starting pitchers play a significant role in determining how interesting a game will be, but even then there are few guarantees. Luckily for us, the Dodgers-Giants game lived up to its hype.

But the difficulty of knowing how interesting or entertaining a game will be is just another example of the many differences between baseball and other major American sports. In baseball, the premium placed on individual achievement and the sport's relative single game parity — there are no "upsets" during the regular season because the best teams lose 60-plus times a year and the worst teams win 60-plus times a year1 — means that your Wednesday afternoon game between two last place teams might be more entertaining than the Sunday Night Baseball game featuring the league's best teams. When Felix Hernandez throws a perfect game or Aaron Hill hits for the cycle twice in a week, the rest of baseball looks on, regardless of how important that game was or what we thought of the teams beforehand.

All of this is to say that it was foolish of me to believe, as I did, that we were in for a snoozer at Petco Park on Wednesday night in San Diego. First, however, I would be remiss not to mention how much I enjoyed the Padres' stadium. Petco, which opened in 2004, is as well done as any of the other new stadiums. The structure is sand-colored, which, coupled with the wide, open concourses filled with the aromas of all sorts of different foods creates a light, airy environment. The feel of the stadium, the quality of the food and the great views from the stands make Petco one of the best places to see a game. 

And the game itself! There have been more impressive performances, undoubtedly, but it's hard to say that any other contest was more enjoyable than the game Wednesday night. AJ Burnett, who pitched for the Pirates and who has been enjoying something of a career renaissance, was far from his best. Burnett surrendered 17 baserunners, allowing 12 hits while walking five, but continually made just enough pitches to stay in the game. One out into the seventh inning, Burnett was finally pulled, but only after stranding an astonishing 10 runners. When it was all said and done, the teams combined to strand 22 total runners. 

With runners here, there and everywhere, the game took on a festive atmosphere, though this was probably because we were in San Diego, where tacos turn Tuesday from an ordinary day sandwiched between Monday and Wednesday into a reason to party. 

As the game progressed, each baserunner took on a little more significance and the crowd focused its collective energy on the game. When Burnett was finally removed the game was tied, though not for long as Chris Denofria drove a runner in with a sacrifice fly to regain the lead for the Padres. The home team scored once more in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a two-run lead into the top of the ninth inning.

With a runner on base, Garrett Jones stepped to the plate as the potential tying run having already homered once in the game. Sure enough he deposited a ball over the center field wall — the only hitter-friendly part of the ball park — to tie the game. 

The game appeared to be headed for extras, but with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, consecutive hits gave the Padres runners on second and third. With the Pirates outfield playing in, Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera hit a moon shot to deep center field that hung up in the air just long enough for Andrew McCutchen to make a running catch on the warning track to send the game into extra innings.

The drama certainly didn't end there though. After the Pirates failed to score in the top half of the tenth inning, San Diego made Taco Tuesday a little more exciting. Will Venable singled to lead of the inning and then stole second. The next 90 feet were considerably more relaxed, however, as Chase Headley crushed a 3-2 pitch over the right field wall for the walk-off win. 

The ensuing party at home plate was echoed throughout San Diego, where life became just a little better on Taco Tuesday. 

This is actually a pretty interesting dichotomy. In the NFL people use parity to discuss the relative equality of success between teams on a yearly basis. In a given year, however, there will be an NFL team that wins two games or fewer — it has happened eight times since 2008 and in every season since 2003. And though the NFL has a reputation for big upsets, in many cases, the idea of Any Given Sunday doesn't ring true. In Major League Baseball, meanwhile, parity exists on a game-by-game basis. When you consider that the best regular season team of all time lost 46 times in a single season and the worst team of all time still won 40 games (or 24.7% of the games they played that season) you come to the conclusion that parity exists in both leagues, but in remarkably different ways.   

Games Watched: 17
Games to Go: 13
Thuuz Score: 100
Stadium: Petco is a really well put together park. Jeff and I walked around the entirety of the park and were continually impressed with how many fun and interesting displays there were. At one end of the stadium there's a pitching cage with a turf mound and a radar. (I had my Dennis Quaid in The Rookie moment, hitting 69 mph on the gun before hanging it up). There were also areas dedicated to the history of the military in San Diego as well as the history of baseball in the city. The view from the seats was also tremendous. From the upper deck behind home plate we looked out over "The Park at The Park" — the grassy area in centerfield, which actually extends all the way into the city, making Petco the first (and only stadium to our knowledge) that is open to the city. 
Concessions: Petco boasts probably the best food of any ballpark we've visited. On the lower levels, every concession stand/restaurant is different and is highlighted by the emphasis on local cuisine. The fish tacos were particularly good, but there was all kinds of good food. There was also a beer stand that advertised pretty much any kind of beer you could want — Craig approved.
Scoreboard: Petco also has one of the best scoreboards around. The screen is very large, organizes the necessary information in a clean, concise manner while also providing some great facts about each player — did you know, for example, that Carlos Quentin was on the same high school basketball team as both Mark Pryor and Luke Walton?
Tim Kurkjian Award: In the ninth inning, Garrett Jones homered to tie the game and send it into extra innings. The ball cleared the center field wall, hopped into the Padres bullpen and nestled itself in the sweatshirt pocket of a Padres reliever.
Quote of the Day: "I've seen vendors who have made better calls than that!" -Me, yelling after a vendor publicly, and proudly, expressed his dismay at a call made by home plate umpire Joe West.
Total Miles Traveled: 7,350
Miles to Next Game: 355 (Padres @ Diamondbacks, August 25, 5:10 PM)

Petco provides a great view of downtown San Diego.

Beyond the center field wall lies "the Park in the Park" which extends all the way back into the city, making Petco the only truly open stadium we have visited. 

The view from the other side of park which looks over the harbor. 

Another look into the ocean/harbor which is spanned by an iconic bridge.

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