A look at game number 163 of the 2007 season for the San Diego Padres.
In Colorado, they celebrate “Rocktober,” but in San Diego, Padres’ fans still dream of what could have been in the 2007 season.
In a duel to determine the National League’s wild-card team, the Rockies and Padres played a seesaw, riveting, frustrating four-hour and 44-minute clincher that ended with a disputed call at home plate. Of course, the call went against the Padres, and most fans still doubt that outfielder Matt Holliday ever touched home plate.
Perhaps even more frustrating for San Diegans, that game would have been unnecessary had closer Trevor Hoffman managed to hold the lead against the Milwaukee Brewers in the penultimate game of the regular season that year. Hoffman had a 3-2 lead and two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. Proving that irony has not died, up walked the son of Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn Jr. Pinch-hitting, he laced a line drive to deep right for a triple and tied the game, which Milwaukee won 4-3. The next day the Brewers beat the Padres 11-6 and forced Game 163.
Unfortunately, the teams played in Colorado, a venue often compared to the moon by Padres longtime broadcaster Ted Leitner. The ball does not play the way it does at sea level in the Mile High City. Jake Peavy started the game giving up ten hits and six runs in 6.1 innings, a very un-Peavy result in a season he won 19 games, lost only six, and had an ERA of 2.27. Relievers Heath Bell, Doug Brocail, and Joe Thatcher managed to hold the Rockies scoreless.
In the top of the ninth, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Adrian Gonzalez grounded out, and Khalil Greene flew out to send the game into extra innings. The score tied at 6-6, both teams held the line until the Padres plated two runs on a walk by Brian Giles and a home run by Scott Hairston in the top of the 13th inning.
Hoffman entered the bottom of the inning with a two-run lead, and nothing went right. Back to back doubles by Kazuo Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki followed by a triple by Matt Holliday scored two runs. Then Hoffman intentionally walked Todd Helton to get to Jamey Carroll, a much less intimidating batter. Carroll hit a sacrifice fly, and Holliday scored (supposedly) to win the game.
While the many Padre fans, players, and that season’s manager Bud Black will never believe that Holliday actually touched home when he slid headfirst and tried to swipe the plate, umpire Tim McClelland, on a delayed call, gestured safe. That same Bud Black, fired by general manager A.J. Preller in the middle of the 2015 season, took over as skipper of the Rockies in 2017 and has led them to a 249-238 record since then. At the time of Black’s departure, the Padres had a respectable 32-33 record, six games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 2007 Major League Baseball had not yet created a system of video review. If it had, the ultimate winner of Game 163 might have been the Padres. But, even if the play stood up to review, Padre fans would be able to accept the outcome more readily.
The available video certainly appears to prove that catcher Michael Barrett blocked the play with his left leg. Yes, he dropped the ball, but that would be irrelevant had the umpire determined that Holliday’s awkward slide and the blocked plate prevented him from getting even the tip of his finger on home plate. The delayed call by McClelland demonstrates he had his doubts too.
Don Orsillo (yes, the Don Orsillo who now calls Padre games) and Joe Simpson, the TBS announcers for the game, indicated that they too doubted Holiday had actually scored. But, of course, the call stood, and pandemonium erupted in the ballpark. In fairness, the Colorado Rockies did prove they had the talent to go deep in the postseason. Undoubtedly fueled by that epic win, the Rockies went all the way to the World Series for the first time since the team entered the league in 1993 but lost to the Boston Red Sox 4-0.
Despite the loss, Game 163 encapsulates all the best and most heartbreaking aspects of the game of baseball. It also explains the collective angst of the Friar faithful. In 2007 the Padres had a record of 89-74, but the next year plummeted to a 63-99 and a last-place finish in the division. Since then, the team has not even broken even since 2010 when San Diego finished second in the division with a 90-72 record.
Despite a disappointing 70-92 record last year, this season may have been the most anticipated in years. Exciting newcomers like pitchers Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack combined with veterans like shortstop Manny Machado and outfielder Tommy Pham, as well as potential call-ups like MacKenzie Gore encouraged fans to believe that better days had finally arrived. It would be an understatement to call this a most inopportune moment for a worldwide pandemic.
Of course, the frightening, uncertain times in which we live diminish the importance of any sport. Our collective focus must be on flatlining the curve and ultimately prevailing against a truly insidious virus. And someday, baseball will return. When play resumes, whenever that may be, the Padres will help us return to the good old days when we can focus on the next day’s game rather than body counts.