He’d already acquired lefty ace Blake Snell — earlier that very day. But Preller wasn’t done. He wanted more high-level pitching talent for his rotation, and he wanted depth behind the plate. So Preller sent five players to the Cubs for Darvish and Caratini in a deal that sent shockwaves throughout the sport.
At the time, the Padres probably envisioned nights just like this one.
Darvish was dominant across six innings, allowing just one run on three hits as the Padres beat the Giants, 3-1 on Tuesday night at Petco Park — an important win, too, with San Diego reeling from consecutive losses and an injury to Fernando Tatis Jr. Caratini, Darvish’s favored batterymate, backstopped the effort with ease, as Darvish blended eight different pitches to strike out seven Giants before he was removed after 89 pitches.
Then — and maybe the Padres weren’t envisioning this part — Caratini won the game with his bat.
San Diego’s newest catcher lofted a towering two-run home run just inside the right-field foul pole, putting the Padres on top by two. He stomped onto home plate with his left foot and retreated into the first-base dugout, where he made sure Darvish was watching.
“Every time he hits a home run, he comes to me with that grin,” Darvish joked afterward. “I don’t really like that. … But it was good for the team, so I think that makes it OK.”
That’s the playful nature of the friendship Darvish and Caratini built during their years working together in Chicago. It hasn’t changed since they arrived in San Diego.
Asked about Darvish’s two 100-plus mph lineouts as a hitter on Tuesday night, Caratini said (with the straightest of straight faces): “I learned a lot, because he’s a really bad hitter. A really bad hitter.”
Jabs and barbs aside, Darvish and Caratini clearly click. Caratini has backstopped 28 consecutive Darvish starts now, and he has mastered signs for all 11 of Darvish’s pitches. They have combined for a 2.87 ERA as a battery, and Caratini was behind the dish last season when Darvish made a serious push for the National League Cy Young Award, finishing second.
“They’re both on the same page, and they’ve both got a lot of confidence in one another,” manager Jayce Tingler said. “They understand their gameplan, and they’re thinking along with each other.”
Caratini also credited his work with Darvish for making him a more well-rounded catcher.
“Being behind the plate these past few years has helped me a ton,” Caratini said. “I need to know how his pitches move. I need to know how each one of them moves. I need to know how he’s going to throw them.
“Each one of those pitches is good enough to get anybody out. So if he wants to throw them differently to different people, I have to be on top of that. It’s been a good experience for me, and it’s really helped me.”
Tuesday marked something of a statement victory for the Padres. No, they don’t have Tatis, and, no, they aren’t sure when they’ll have him back. (Though they got some positive news on that front Tuesday afternoon with word that he’s not headed for surgery.) This is still undeniably one of the sport’s most talented rosters — even without its most electrifying presence.
In 2019, when the Padres lost Tatis for the season due to a back ailment, they floundered, losing 29 of 44 to finish the season in last place in the NL West. On Tuesday, right fielder Wil Myers was quick to offer a reminder:
“This is not the 2019 team,” he said. “This is the 2021 team that’s very good.”
In late December — with two blockbusters in the span of a few hours — Preller made absolutely sure of that.