May 26, 2002: Padres’ Dennis Tankersley records only career win and homer

This article was written by Gerard Kwilecki

TankersleyDennisSunday, May 26, 2002, was a sunny, breezy day in Milwaukee. The Brewers had beaten the San Diego Padres the previous two nights and were looking to sweep and turn their season around. They were in sixth place, 12 games back in the NL Central at 17-32. The Brewers had already changed managers, firing former All-Star Davey Lopes after 15 games in the season. He was replaced by former infielder Jerry Royster

The game also featured a Richie Sexson bobblehead giveaway. The first 10,000 fans were to receive the collectible for the Brewers’ first baseman. As the sun shone and the stadium staff stacked the bobbleheads at the front gate, both teams were getting ready for the afternoon first pitch. This was the final game of a 13-game homestand for the Brewers.

Coming into the game on a five-game losing streak, the Padres were in fifth place in the NL West Division, 8½ games back with a record of 22-27 under manager Bruce Bochy. The Padres’ starting pitcher was 23-year-old right-handed rookie Dennis Tankersley. He was looking for his first career win. A blown save had dashed his chance to win his first game in his previous start vs. the Colorado Rockies. The Padres were winning 6-4 when he exited after the fifth inning, but their bullpen coughed up the lead.1 Now he was taking the mound hoping today was the day. 

The Brewers were countering with 28-year-old right-handed pitcher Nelson Figueroa.  A 30th-round draft pick in 1995 by the New York Mets, he was on his fourth team after being traded by the Mets to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. Arizona traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000, and he went to the Brewers on waivers before the 2002 season. This season he was struggling on the mound, with a 1-2 record and a 4.95 earned-run average. 

Leading off the game, Padres center fielder (and future Oakland A’s manager) Mark Kotsay singled to center. After third baseman Sean Burroughs hit into a force play, first baseman Ryan Klesko hit a home run to right field, the first of two he hit in the game. A frustrated Figueroa hit the next batter, right fielder Bubba Trammell. The umpires issued warnings to both teams, but there were no ejections. 

The Brewers answered in the bottom of the first inning. The guy on the day’s bobblehead, Richie Sexson, delighted the crowd with a two-run home run, giving the Brewers a 3-2 lead. Sexson said after the game, “I think everybody hits a homer on their bobblehead day.”2

The Padres came out swinging in the top of the second inning.  Starting pitcher Tankersley led off with a ground-rule double, and Kotsay followed with a home run to right field. After a Burroughs groundout, Klesko was up again, and he deposited Figueroa’s first pitch into the right-field seats for his second home run of the game. With a 5-3 lead, Tankersley shut down the Brewers in the bottom of the inning.

The Padres’ hot bats were still cooking in the top of the third. Figueroa was replaced by right-hander Mike Buddie. Two singles put runners at first and third, and a run scored on a double-play grounder. Tankersley came up to the plate with two outs and homered deep into the left-field bleachers. The Padres were now leading 7-3. 

Tankersley gave up two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. He was relieved in the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs after hitting Alex Ochoa. The Padres were leading 8-5, so Tankersley had to put his faith in the bullpen once again. This time the bullpen did not let him down. 

The bullpen (Jeremy Fikac, Alan Embree, and Steve Reed) gave up two runs in the seventh and made it close, but future Hall of Fame relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman closed out the ninth inning for his 13th save of the season. The Padres were able to salvage the last game of the series with an 8-7 win. Ryan Klesko said after the game, “I don’t know what would have happened if they’d come all the way back.”3

Tankersley won with his pitching and his hitting. He earned his only major-league victory and belted his only home run. He said after the game, “I’m a little disappointed in my pitching performance, but my hitting was better than anything I could have expected coming to the yard.”4 Mike Buddie, the pitcher who gave up Tankersley’s home run, was not as thrilled; he said, “The pitcher took me deep, I’m on suicide watch now.”5 Mark Kotsay added that the “game was one we knew we must win.”6

Brewers interim manager Jerry Royster did not hide his disappointment after the game. He lamented, “We’ve got to win that game. To battle back the way we did and then just leave it out there, those games just aren’t acceptable anymore.”7 Losing pitcher Figueroa commented, “Very disappointing.”8

After snapping their five-game losing streak, the Padres headed back home to face the Colorado Rockies. The Brewers hit the road for a six-game West Coast swing starting with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Tankersley appeared in 13 more games for the Padres in 2002, one in 2003, and nine in 2004. His win on May 26, 2002, was the only one of his major-league career.



This article was fact-checked by Bruce Slutsky and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.





1 The Padres did lose the game, 7-6.

2 Drew Olson, “Failure to Seize the Moments—Missed Opportunities Doom the Brewers,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 27, 2002: 1.

3 Tom Krasovic, “Padres Salvage One Win Behind Klesko, Kotsay,” San Diego Union-Tribune, May 27, 2002: C-1.

4 Krasovic.

5 Krasovic.

6 Krasovic.

7 Olson.

8 Olson.

Additional Stats

San Diego Padres 8
Milwaukee Brewers 7

Miller Park
Milwaukee, WI


Box Score + PBP:

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