SAN DIEGO — The Padres’ home opener has always been something of a Musgrove family tradition. Joe, clad in his Padres jersey, got to leave school early to join his family’s tailgate in the Qualcomm Stadium parking lots. He’d play catch there, then head into the ballpark early to catch batting practice from the bleachers.
Good times, for sure. But it’s going to be tough to top 2022.
Musgrove pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings as the hometown kid getting the nod in the game he always attended. He was backed by an all-around brilliant offensive display — including five hits from Manny Machado, four from Eric Hosmer and C.J. Abrams’ first career homer — as the Padres cruised to a 12-1 victory over Atlanta in Bob Melvin’s first game at the helm in San Diego.
“For one day, that’s about as perfect a day as you can have,” Melvin said. “A full house, Opening Day, Joe on the mound. … You can’t script it any better than that. It doesn’t guarantee you anything after today. But for one day, that’s about as good as it gets.”
Melvin, of course, could’ve given Musgrove the ball on Opening Day in Arizona last week. He opted for Yu Darvish instead, then pushed Musgrove back another day, with the explicit purpose of lining him up to start the team’s first game at Petco Park.
“Getting the home opener, this is something that every kid would dream of, getting to open in front of your hometown, a full stadium,” Musgrove said. “And it was everything I dreamed of.”
Musgrove allowed only four Braves hitters to reach base. He got whiffs with five different pitches. Staked to an early lead, Musgrove worked quickly and efficiently, while the San Diego offense poured it on.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, as the Padres continued to tack on runs, Melvin approached Musgrove in the dugout. He was thinking about lifting his starting pitcher. Musgrove wanted another inning. Melvin settled on a compromise.
“Selfishly, I want to go back out,” Musgrove recalled telling Melvin. “He was like: ‘What if I gave you two hitters, then pull you out, see if I can get you a little ovation?’”
There was nothing “little” about that ovation, 44,844 rising in unison to applaud Musgrove, who lifted his right hand, saluting the Opening Day crowd he’d once been a part of.
“It’s a good feeling to have the support of an entire city,” Musgrove said. “You also feel a little bit more pressure. Everyone’s reaching out, pulling for you, coming to watch you. So it was nice to have that little bit of excitement from the offense and some of the other guys on the team to take a little bit off of me.”
The Padres scored three runs in the first inning on two-out hits by Hosmer and Wil Myers. They tacked on two more in the second, the first on Abrams’ opposite-field blast – his first career homer in his first career plate appearance at Petco Park.
From there, the result was never in doubt. It quickly became a party in the East Village. The first full-capacity Opening Day in more than three years didn’t disappoint. Both Abrams and Machado would receive curtain calls from a raucous Petco Park crowd — Machado’s coming after his laser home run in the seventh inning, his fifth hit of the night.
“It was just a fun day to go out there and play baseball in front of our fans,” Machado said.
With his seventh-inning homer, Machado became just the fourth Padre to record a five-hit game at Petco Park (joining a doozy of a list that also includes Mark Loretta, Tommy Medica and Machado’s close friend, Jon Jay).
In the ballpark’s history, no one had ever recorded a six-hit game. The Padres would rally to get Machado one more at-bat in the bottom of the eighth. He would fly to center field, settling for a 5-for-6 night.
“Opening days here are always special,” Hosmer said. “We got the offense going right away early, and Joe was just being Joe. … Unreal night by Manny. It was cool to see the guys try and rally up to get him a sixth at-bat. A five-hit night is pretty special. Great night all around, for everybody.”