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Daniel Camarena’s grand moment keys Padres’ comeback

The Padres' Daniel Camarena gets the swagg chain from Manny Machado
The Padres’ Daniel Camarena gets the swagg chain from Manny Machado after hitting a grand slam in the fourth inning.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Pitcher from Cathedral Catholic hits grand slam off Max Scherzer; Grisham wins it in ninth

The white flag was seemingly all but hoisted as Daniel Camarena grabbed a bat with the bases loaded in a six-run game in the fourth inning Thursday night, July 8. Yu Darvish had already walked off the mound with a miserable three innings, Camarena had already given up a homer himself and the priorities were clear as the reliever stepped into the box to face three-time Cy Young-winner Max Scherzer.

Preserve the bullpen.

The Cathedral Catholic product had grander ideas.

The reliever’s historic grand slam got an ailing Darvish off the hook for one of the worst starts of his career and Trent Grisham capped an improbable comeback with a walk-off single in a 9-8 Padres win over the Nationals in front of 29,434 at Petco Park. (box score.)

“I don’t have a word for it,” Camarena said after the comeback from an eight-run deficit matched the largest in Padres history. “I’m still trying to find a word for my debut and this took it to whole other level.”

Especially because the slam didn’t go for naught.

Tommy Pham tied the game with a sixth-inning double, led off the ninth with a single for his third hit of the game and scored on Grisham’s ninth-inning single to right, allowing the Padres to thoroughly enjoy Camarena’s memorable homecoming.

“We fought too hard,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said, “not to win this game.

That fight started with Fernando Tatis Jr.'s solo homer to left-center, his 28th of the season to start the fourth after Trea Turner’s second homer of the game, this one off Camarena, opened up an 8-0 lead for the Nationals.

Scherzer then hit Manny Machado with one out, allowed a single to Grisham and hit Eric Hosmer to load the bases. After Wil Myers’ walk pushed across the Padres’ second run, Victor Caratini struck out and Camarena walked to the batter’s box even with Jurickson Profar still sitting on the bench.

Again, the priority was clear a day after Chris Paddack lasted just two-plus innings in a lopsided loss to the Nationals: Preserve the bullpen.

After all, the 28-year-old Camarena had just 31 plate appearances over his eight-year stay in the minors, just five hits and no extra-base hits as a pro and hadn’t homered since wearing a “Dons uniform up in Del Mar.”

“I was debating it in my head,” Tingler said. " ... We were down six at the time with two outs. It crossed my mind (to pinch-hit), but ... I wanted to keep the bullpen intact somewhat for Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday. I didn’t think about it too long. I thought the right thing to do was to try to get the innings.”

Predictably, Scherzer got ahead with two quick strikes.

After taking a change-up in the dirt, the left-handed-hitting Camarena offered at a 97 mph four-seamer below the zone and yanked it well out to right.

The tale of the tape — a 107 mph drive for a 416-foot homer — was almost as impressive as the brush with history.

No pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) had ever hit a grand slam for his first MLB hit. The only one to do it before that was the Phillies’ Bill Duggleby on April 21 in … 1898.

Naturally, no other Padre had ever mashed a grand slam for his first big-league hit.

“Oh my God, I blacked out,” Camarena said. “I hit first base and then I noticed the lights were flashing in the stadium and that’s when it hit. Oh my god I just hit a home run.”

The blast was especially jaw-dropping given Camarena’s path to Petco Park.

He signed a minor league deal with the Padres before the 2020 season, was on the taxi squad a few times last year and didn’t make his MLB debut until allowing three runs in 2 2/3 innings in relief on June 19, the culmination of a decade-long journey that began when the Yankees selected him in the 20th round out of Cathedral Catholic in 2011.

Trials and tribulations piled up along the way, beginning with missing all of 2015 following a procedure to remove bone spurs from his left elbow, most significantly his father dying unexpectedly in February 2019 and then losing an entire year of in-game development to the pandemic last year.

“I came back in 2016 hungry,” Camarena said. “I’ve been just trying to persevere through this career and everything. For moments like that tonight, that’s where all the workouts, all the blood, sweat and tears, it makes (up) for it.”

Added Camarena’s 40-year-old brother, Louie, who was in attendance with their mother Consuelo and other family and friends: “It’s powerful. … Here we are at home, not too far from where Dad is. … This is the stuff that Dad and all of us dreamt of and talked about, so to do it here, it’s just truly remarkable. It’s a testament to his grind. Perseverance, all the hard work. We’ve never lost faith.

"… Our tribe never lost doubt. We always believed. In some ways, we believe we’re where we’re supposed to be, quite frankly. It feels just right.”

Camarena followed his grand slam with a scoreless fifth inning before Craig Stammen continued the run of shutout innings ahead of Grisham’s game-winning hit.

The Padres, of course, weren’t done in the fourth after Camarena’s grand slam, but Scherzer certainly was after Pham followed with a double to right, cashed in by a Tatis single that fell in between three Nationals in right field for Scherzer’s career-worst seventh earned run over 3 2/3 innings.

Darvish was just as bad in his last start before representing the Padres in the All-Star Game, allowing six earned runs on eight hits and no walks over three innings before Tingler elected to pull his pitcher after back tightness that was an issue last month spread into his hip Thursday night.

His availability for Tuesday’s All-Star Game is now in question.

“The back tightness started to go with the kinetic chain a little bit,” Tingler said. “He was locked up in the front left hip, so when he came off there he was complaining of tightness in the hip. … The trainers were trying to loosen him up, doing some extra stretching and at that point that’s when we went ahead and staid we’re not going to power through this one.”

The six earned runs for Darvish were a season-high — and one shy of a career high — and the most he’d allowed in a game since allowing six in 5 1/3 innings on Aug. 21, 2019.

The three-inning start was the shortest of Darvish’s career.

Darvish was in a hole almost immediately, serving up the first of Turner’s two homers on a middle-in, 94 mph fastball that the one-time Padres prospect yanked out to left as the second batter of the game.

It was third straight homer that Darvish had yielded via his four-seamer following both long balls allowed Saturday in Philadelphia.

Starlin Castro added a two-run double before Darvish could escape a first inning in which he allowed four hits. After a one-two-three second, the first three hitters reached in the third, with Josh Bell doubling in a run, Castro adding a sacrifice fly to center and Josh Harrison opening up a 6-0 lead with a single to center.

Darvish ended the third inning with his second strikeout of the game and walked off the mound as Camarena began to warm up in the bullpen.

After Tatis’ fourth-inning single, he swiped second for his NL-leading 20th steal to make him — at 22 years and 187 days old — the youngest player to ever log a 20-20 season before the All-Star break.

Caratini was hit on his right throwing hand by a foul ball and later exited for pinch-hitter Webster Rivas. X-rays taken during the game were negative, Tingler said.

Union-Tribune videographer Annie Heilbrunn contributed to this report.


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