No team has ever begun its home opener with more authority than the San Diego Padres did in 1987. Their first three batters of the game all hit home runs, establishing a new major-league record for homers to open a game.
But the visiting San Francisco Giants returned fire by battering five San Diego pitchers for 13 runs and 17 hits, and a controversial call scrubbed out a Padres’ rally and led to rookie manager Larry Bowa’s ejection, as the Giants ran away with a seven-run victory at Jack Murphy Stadium.
San Diego outfielders Marvell Wynne, Tony Gwynn, and John Kruk became the first trio of hitters ever to lead off a first inning with consecutive home runs, but San Francisco surged back to win, 13–6. The loss spoiled the Padres’ streak of three straight home-opening victories. But for the Giants, the victory was one of 90 on the way to winning the National League West Division and making the postseason for the first time since 1971.
San Francisco starter Roger Mason, working with a 2–0 lead after Chili Davis’ RBI groundout and Jeffrey Leonard’s solo home run in the top of the first, was the victim of San Diego’s early home-run barrage, a feat that has been repeated five more times through the 2020 season.1 As a crowd of 48,686 was settling into their seats, Wynne led off by lining Mason’s full-count slider down the right-field line and into the stands. Gwynn followed by smacking a 1-and-1 fastball over the wall in right-center.
Kruk came to the plate, preceded back-to-back home runs. He fully expected a traditional “knockdown” pitch to open his at-bat.2
“I was waiting for one under my chin,” Kruk said afterwards. “I said, ‘Here I go. I’m getting knocked down.”3
Mason instead threw a ball outside, and then gave Kruk a waist-high split-finger fastball over the plate. Kruk drove an opposite-field home run into the left-field seats to make history.4
Padres fans were thrilled with the 3-2 lead, but it was temporary; the Giants deflated them by swatting four home runs of their own, fueling multiple comebacks.5
“This looked like the Hagler-Leonard fight,” Giants manager Roger Craig quipped after the game in reference to a split-decision heavyweight boxing bout between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler earlier in the week. “Everybody came out swinging.”6
San Diego received power from surprising sources. The light-hitting Wynne — who was one of 33 players who had 200 plate appearances but hit no more than two home runs in 1987 — wasn’t even supposed to play. But regular leadoff man Stan Jefferson was scratched on the day of the game with an ankle injury that later forced him to the disabled list. Gwynn had only seven home runs in 1987, while second-year man Kruk was San Diego’s biggest power threat on the season with 20 homers. As a team, the Padres hit just 113 home runs in 1987, the second fewest in the National League.
“I’ll take it,” Kruk said of the record. “But I’d rather have a win than a record. A record is something that’s just going to be in Trivial Pursuit. A win might get you a pennant.”7
Mason lasted 2⅔ innings before getting pulled in what turned out to be one of the final starts of his career. He was demoted to the minors at the end of April and didn’t return to the majors on a regular basis until 1991, when he reemerged as a relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.8
But Mason’s San Diego mound opponent, Andy Hawkins, didn’t fare much better with three home runs allowed over four innings. The Giants also shelled three of four pitchers who appeared from San Diego’s bullpen.
The Padres squandered three leads over the first four innings and fell behind for good after San Francisco picked up four runs in the fifth off reliever Dave Dravecky.9 But in the bottom of the sixth, the Padres tried to rally against a still-manageable 8–6 deficit.
Garry Templeton led off the inning with a single off Giants reliever Jim Gott, and Tim Flannery followed with a walk. Craig summoned Jeff Robinson to replace Gott, and Joey Cora popped up for the first out.
Wynne hit a grounder to first baseman Will Clark, who threw to rookie shortstop Matt Williams — San Francisco’s first-round draft pick in June 1986, playing in his third major-league game — for a force out at second base. Flannery slid in hard to try to break up the play. Williams’s throw sailed into the dugout as Templeton crossed home plate with an apparent run.
But Flannery was ruled out of the basepath on his slide into Williams. Instead of an 8-7 game, it was an inning-ending double play. Bowa argued the call with umpire Bob Engel.10 It ultimately resulted in Bowa’s first career ejection as a manager.11
“I’ve never had a call like that, and I’ve been knocked on my butt into right field,” said Bowa, 40, hired by the Padres to replace Steve Boros the prior October. Bowa had been a major league shortstop for 16 seasons and suggested that Flannery’s slide mark was close enough to the base for him to reach it. “The whole time I’ve played, I’ve never had an interference call called when a runner hit me. … And I’ve seen a lot more blatant slides than that.”12
Without the interference call, the Padres would have had runners at the corners and Gwynn at the plate. That’s about as optimum a situation as San Diego could have asked for that season, when Gwynn hit .370 to win his second of eight batting titles and recorded a .468 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position.
Robinson pitched the rest of the way for his second save of the year. The only base runner he allowed was Gwynn’s single to open San Diego’s half of the seventh, creating a “but for” moment of what might have been in the sixth inning. Gott, who had pitched 2⅓ innings out of the bullpen in relief of Mason, got the victory.13
Giants third baseman Robby Thompson delivered a crushing blow with his second career grand slam in the top of the seventh inning; he drove home another run in the ninth to match his career-high with five RBIs. Clark and Bob Melvin also homered for San Francisco. A day later, Melvin, who was on a home run tear to open the season, hit his fourth to take over the National League lead. But he finished the year with just 11 home runs.14
San Francisco had swept three games against San Diego at home to open the 1987 season. The Giants followed this win with two more victories over the Padres, completing another three-game series sweep. They fell one game shy of the 1987 World Series, continuing their upward trend after losing 100 games in 1985.
The Padres’ loss was part of a dismal 2–12 start, on their way to a 65-97 final record — the worst mark in the National League in 1987. It was the lowest point of a three-year slide following San Diego’s 1984 NL pennant.15
Gwynn was sadly prescient after the game: “It’s your home opener and you get six runs and 12 hits—and then you look at the scoreboard and it’s not even close. The three homers is nice history, but that doesn’t mean much to us now. We’re just not doing too many things right.”16
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and Stathead.com websites for statistics and team information. I also viewed the MLB Advanced Media video highlights of the game posted on YouTube:
1 The Arizona Diamondbacks are the most recent team to tie the record, when Jarrod Dyson, Ketel Marte, and David Peralta hit consecutive home runs off of Philadelphia Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff on June 10, 2019.
2 Jay Posner, “Padres blast their way into record book,” Times-Advocate (Escondido, California), April 14, 1987: C1.
4 Mason’s struggle was quite a deviation from his first start of the season, which saw him throw 7⅔ innings of one-run baseball against the Padres five days earlier.
6 Bob Padecky, “Padres set HR record, lose to SF,” Sacramento Bee, April 14, 1987: D1.
7 Posner: C3.
8 Mason led the Pirates in appearances (65) in 1992, and after getting traded to San Diego for the second half of the 1993 season, he took seven losses in 34 games during the Padres’ 101-loss year.
9 Less than three months later, on July 5, the Padres and Giants made a seven-player trade. One of the Padres who went to San Francisco in the deal was Dravecky; he started twice for the Giants in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals that October, including a complete-game shutout win in Game Two on October 7.
10 John Shea, “Padres set record, but it isn’t enough,” Times-Advocate (Escondido, California), April 14, 1987: C1, C3.
11 Prior to becoming a manager, Bowa was ejected from 16 games as a player. In his managerial career, he was ejected 29 times.
12 Padecky: D4
13 The victory was Gott’s only winning decision between September 1985 and April 1988. He missed most of 1986 with a biceps injury and became a closer after the Pirates claimed him on waivers on August 3, 1987.
16 Padecky: D4.