Fernando Tatis Jr. was in and out of the lineup during spring training, suffered a shoulder subluxation five games into the regular season and still didn't look right when he returned 10 days later. But San Diego Padres manager Jayce Tingler began to notice hints of the real Tatis -- the 22-year-old superstar who's quickly evolving into the face of his sport -- as the second series against the Los Angeles Dodgers approached. He saw a shorter swing, a more disciplined approach and an ability to track pitches deep into the strike zone, all signs that Tatis might be poised for a breakout.
On Friday night, in the fifth of seven games against the rival Dodgers in a stretch of 10 days, Tatis finally broke out in a way that was noticeable to everyone. He blasted two home runs off three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium -- on the 22nd anniversary of his father, Fernando Tatis, famously hitting two grand slams in the same inning at Dodger Stadium.
"It's crazy to think about," Tingler said after the Padres' 6-1 win. "I don't even know how to explain it. Just more reassurance that there's a higher being."
Tatis Jr.'s first home run, on a first-pitch, 90 mph fastball in the third inning, traveled 431 feet and came with an exit velocity of 113.4 mph, making it the hardest-hit homer of his career. The second, on a hanging 3-1 slider in the fifth, traveled 419 feet and came with an exit velocity of 115.9 mph, the new hardest-hit homer of Tatis Jr.'s career.
The elder and younger Tatis became the first father-son duo to each record a multihomer game at the same venue on the same calendar date, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
"It's great," Tatis Jr. said. "It's definitely something we're gonna take into our last day in this world."
Tatis Jr. was 111 days old when his father pulled off an unprecedented feat while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and batting against Chan Ho Park, now an adviser to the Padres' baseball operations department. As he grew older and began to understand the difficulties of mastering baseball, Tatis Jr. increasingly appreciated the feat's significance. When Major League Baseball commemorated the anniversary through its Instagram page on Friday morning, Tatis Jr. liked the post and linked to it in his Instagram story. "History!" Tatis Jr. wrote. He also wondered.
"I told myself, 'Can you imagine if you just hit two home runs today? That would be so crazy,'" Tatis Jr. said, laughing. "And I feel like the baseball gods were in my favor today. Glad it happened. It's something definitely me and my family are going to celebrate and something that's gonna be in my heart for the rest of my life."
Kershaw entered his start without allowing a home run in 24⅔ innings this season, then served up three solo homers through seven innings, the other one coming off the bat of Wil Myers. Tatis Jr. became just the eighth player to homer twice in the same game against Kershaw, who's pitching into his 14th season. Tatis Jr.'s second was the hardest-hit ball Kershaw has allowed in the Statcast era, which dates back to 2015. In that stretch, Tatis has two of the four hits off Kershaw that have traveled 113 mph or faster, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
"I just made some mistakes," Kershaw said. "He did a really good job of hitting the ball really hard."
The Dodgers and Padres have been separated by two runs or fewer in 44 of the 48 innings they've played against one another in 2021. The Dodgers took two of three at Petco Park in San Diego last weekend, but the Padres have won the first two of this four-game series in L.A. And the difference, perhaps, is Tatis, who entered Friday's game batting only .163/.265/.326 in 49 plate appearances.
Tatis Jr. has continually dismissed concerns that his ailing shoulder might be the cause of his slow start and talked repeatedly on Friday about the humbling nature of this sport.
"This game, it's gonna bring you up, it's gonna bring you down, it's gonna beat you all the way to the ground, and then the next day it's gonna bring you all the way up," Tatis Jr. said. "You just have to find a way to stay stable."
Tatis Jr. learned that from his father, who carved out an 11-year career in the major leagues and broke out during a 1999 season that was punctuated by his two grand slams in one inning. The elder Tatis continually impressed that lesson upon his son as he began to display the talent to play professionally. The elder Tatis was in San Diego for the start of the season but was back in his native Dominican Republic when his son paid homage on Friday.
His father's most recent piece of advice, the younger Tatis said: "Keep going. Never be afraid, and trust in my abilities and what I have put in work for. And just keep going. Keep going nonstop. He said, 'At the end of the day, this game is gonna reward you if you do it right.'"