With Major League Baseball’s World Tour finally extending to the most populous city in North America, the 2023 Mexico City series between the San Diego Padres (15-14) and San Francisco Giants (11-16) was highly anticipated.
Considering the Padres’ 2020 trip with the Arizona Diamondbacks to Mexico’s capital was canceled due to COVID, the hype this year was magnified. Serving as MLB’s first international game this decade, regular season games have been played in Mexico before, but never in Mexico City.
Sitting at a breezy 7,350 feet in elevation – which is over 2,000 feet higher than Coors Field in Denver – Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu will play host to the two N.L. West rivals this weekend. The stadium has a seating capacity of 20,576, and is the newest in Mexico City.
Despite being a completely outdoor field, the playing surface is artificial turf (one that plays very buoyant). A premier national venue, Estadio Alfredo was constructed for the Diablos Rojos del Mexico (Red Devils of Mexico); the Reds have won more Mexican League championships (16) than any other franchise. They moved in upon the ballpark’s completion in 2019.
As mentioned, MLB regular season action has come to “El Tri” previously, as well as other nations of the world. After the Padres first played real games in Monterrey, Mexico back in 1996, MLB went on to host regular season contests in various international metropolises like Tokyo, Sydney and London. In fact, the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are scheduled for a two-game tilt at London Stadium later this summer. Be that as it may, there’s a reason baseball’s best league keeps coming back to Mexico, and this time, to its most sprawling city.
Perhaps when you think of Mexican athletics, you initially think of soccer or boxing. At the Olympic level, even Mexico’s diving teams have had success. Still, baseball is a culture that is definitively etched out; America’s pastime runs deep with our neighbor to the South. MLB legends Adrian Gonzalez and Fernando Valenzuela can attest to that resonance.
If you missed the 2023 World Baseball Classic back in March, Mexico showcased a team that arguably played more invigorated than any other nation. Led by MLB stars like Randy Arozarena (Cuban-defect), Alex Verdugo and Rowdy Telez, Team Mexico nearly won the entire tournament if not for a late-game collapse in the semifinals against eventual champion Japan. Mexico also competed with an insatiable swagger in every game. All this is to highlight just how much the rawhide means in Mexico–and with the Padres and Giants in the capital, an emphatic capacity crowd (19,611 official attendance) turned out.
Game 1 on Saturday afternoon was a stint between hurlers Joe Musgrove and (former Padre) southpaw Sean Manaea. Musgrove was in only his second start of 2023 due to sustaining a weight room injury prior to the season. With San Diego as the home team, Musgrove gave up just a lone hit in the top of the first inning before the Padres wasted no time getting scoring started in the bottom half.
With two outs and two runners aboard, Nelson Cruz smashed a line-drive comebacker at Manaea that careened off the pitcher’s shin and rolled along the (very live) turf surface all the way past the third base dugout. This sent the crowd into a frenzy, and allowed Manny Machado to score with a contested throw. But the ensuing throw from J.D. Davis was errant, and the ball again rolled away from San Francisco, giving Xander Bogaerts enough time to score all the way from first on the same play: 2-0 Padres. That would be all for the opening frame, but with plenty of early action, the Mexican audience was raucous and ready for more.
From there, the ballgame essentially turned into a home run fest–no surprise given the lofty altitude. San Diego added another run in the second inning after a passed ball from Manaea to catcher Blake Sabol–Austin Nola waltzed in to score easily from third base. Next, the Giants got on the board in the third inning via back-to-back tape measure home runs from Brandon Crawford (482 feet on a lazy curveball from Musgrove) and Lamonte Wade Jr. When the Padres next came up to bat, Cruz produced another RBI after blasting a homer to right center. By the end of the third, the score was 5-2 San Diego, as the Padres were able to knockout the familiar-Manaea after only two innings pitched from the lefty.
Musgrove would not endure much longer, either. Mitch Haniger came up to the plate and – with two runners aboard – cranked one over the fence. Musgrove proceeded to surrender two more base runners before skipper Bob Melvin made a call to the bullpen. With the score tied at 5 in the fourth inning, reliever Brent Honeywell was next on the bump for the Friars.
Honeywell could not limit the damage, as Thairo Estrada came through for San Francisco with a three-RBI double to make it 8-5 Giants. But in the bottom of the fourth, Juan Soto and Bogaerts contributed back-to-back homers of their own. Just like that, it was 8-7 S.F., but the momentum was back with the Padres. The score headed into the fifth frame as such, with already six combined home runs in the game. That also closed the book on Musgrove at 3.1 innings pitched, six hits (three HR) allowed, seven earned runs and three strikeouts. Of course, this contest was far from over.
Naturally, San Diego went on to produce another set of back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the fifth–this time from Fernando Tatis Jr. and Machado (off Jakob Junis). This pair of blasts would catapult the Padres ahead of their Northern California rival, leading the Giants 10-8 just over half way through.
The majority of Game 1 in Mexico City continued in this bombastic fashion. Notably, lefty reliever Tim Hill did well for the Padres–he escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning that held the two-run lead. Still, the back-to-back homer theme re-emerged for the Giants; In the seventh, Sabol and David Villar hit another consecutive pair over the wall for San Francisco (surrendered by reliever Steven Wilson) to give them an 11-10 lead. Strikingly, that gave both sides in this game two separate sets of back-to-back home runs, which had previously never occurred in MLB regular season history.
Again, the Friars would not trail long. On the other side of the seventh inning stretch, a double from Tatis Jr. was followed by Machado’s second home run of the evening. The blast put the Padres back ahead, 12-11, and was San Diego’s sixth home run of the game. That is the most home runs any Giants-team – an organization that dates back over 130 years – has ever given up in a single game. Additionally for the Padres, the first five hitters in their lineup (Tatis Jr., Machado (twice), Soto, Bogaerts and Cruz) all belted home runs.
The first Major League Baseball contest in Mexico City was certainly a historic one. Also serving as the highest elevation game MLB has ever played, we saw 11 combined home runs between the Padres and Giants: Go figure. San Diego managed to add a few insurance runs in the final frames of Game 1, winning the inaugural Mexico City-game by a final score of 16-11. A note of optimism for the Friars: They produced runs in every frame except the sixth.
Game 2 on Sunday featured dueling right handed pitchers Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb. Darvish – who had previously not allowed a HR all season – got into trouble early after surrendering a leadoff home run to Wade Jr., but the Japanese pitcher managed to settle in (eventually going 6.0 IP, giving up six hits and four earned runs). By the end of the second inning, it was 2-0 San Francisco.
From there, Game 2’s action was not as rampant as Saturday’s. However, the Padres did well to put up three runs in two separate frames (fifth and eighth innings) later in the ballgame. Nola had the only homer for San Diego in Game 2, but Soto, Jake Cronenworth and Matt Carpenter all contributed with hits in big spots. After the Padres took the lead in the eighth inning, closer Josh Hader came on in the ninth to close the door, retiring the side in order: 6-4 final. Just like that, the Friars sweep the inaugural Mexico City series!
MLB’s reception in Mexico City was glorious, and with all the exuberance, it will be sure to return (so long as they temper that artificial turf some).
Mexico City Game 1 line – SF: 11 runs behind 13 hits with one error. SD: 16 runs behind 17 hits with no errors. W: Tom Cosgrove (1-0), L: Tyler Rogers (0-1), Sv: Nick Martinez (1).
Mexico City Game 2 line – SF: 4 runs behind 9 hits with no errors. SD: 6 runs behind 10 hits with one error. W: Luis Garcia (1-2), L: Tyler Rogers (0-2), Sv: Josh Hader (10).
Padres’ record against San Francisco