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Shades of Tony Gwynn? Padres praise new arrival after incredible debut

PHOENIX — Get the sculptor on the telephone.

Tell the San Diego city planners to prepare for October.

Locate that Padres record book and start rewriting it.

Come on, what Arraez did Saturday evening was bonkers.

Follow every MLB game: Latest MLB scores, stats, schedules and standings.

He gets the news Friday night before the Miami Marlins’ game against the Oakland A’s that he is being traded to the Padres.

He packs his bags, goes back to the Marlins’ hotel in downtown San Francisco, gets on a plane Saturday, arrives at Chase Field at 3:45 p.m. PT, introduces himself to his new teammates, with starting pitcher Michael King walking over to show him a video on his phone.

It was Arraez hitting a two-run homer off King on Aug. 12, 2023, while King was pitching for the Yankees.

“I tried to get him pumped up before the game,’’ King said, “by showing him that highlight.’’

Arraez steps into the batter’s box against Arizona Diamondbacks starter Brandon Pfaadt at 5:10.

And leads off the game with a double into the right field corner.

And then hits a single to left field in the third inning.

And hits a single to left field in the fourth inning.

And hits a single to center field in the seventh inning.

When the night was over, the Padres were 13-1 winners, and Arraez — who went 4-for-6 — had made the greatest first impression since fish tacos were introduced in San Diego.

“It was a sight to behold,’’ Padres manager Mike Shildt said. “What a talent. … It’s hard to have a comp to Tony Gwynn, but if there is one in our modern game, now we have him on our team.

“And that just feels right.’’

Arraez became the first player to produce four hits in his Padre debut, bringing back memories of Gwynn, Mr. Padre himself, the eight-time batting champion.

It’s crazy to think that through 570 career games, Gwynn’s and Arraez’s numbers are nearly identical:

Gwynn: .326/.378/.427/25 homers.

Arraez: .324/.377/.423/24 homers.

“Amazing,’’ Arraez says.

Arraez, a two-time batting champion, is now attempting to go where no player has gone before: winning three consecutive batting titles with three different teams.

“That would be nice,’’ Arraez said. “Let’s see what happens. I just want to stay healthy. If I stay healthy, I can do a lot of good things.’’

Well, after watching his debut Saturday, he has an entire clubhouse dreaming of playing in October. The Padres have won four consecutive games, pummeling the opposition 32-8.

“He inspired me,’’ said Padres left fielder Jurickson Profar, who went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer. “He inspired us all.’’

The craziest part of it all?

Arraez, a .324 career hitter, was the lowest-paid player on the field.

The Padres somehow got the Marlins to agree to pay all but $592,000 of the remainder of Arraez’s $8.4 million salary, while also dumping minor-league reliever Woo-Suk Go’s $4.5 million contract.

So, the Padres get a two-time batting champion, saved $4 million, traded away three prospects (none who are among the top 100), and now potentially have one of the most lethal offenses in the game.

The Marlins, who started their firesale, paid $7.9 million for Arraez to go away. They’re praying that at least one of the prospects makes an impact.

Take a bow, A.J. Preller.

The Padres GM actually was trying to acquire Arraez and starter Jesus Luzardo at the end of spring training. He couldn’t swing a deal, grabbed Chicago White Sox ace Dylan Cease instead, and then telephoned Marlins GM Peter Bendix two weeks ago to tell him he still wanted Arraez.

“You want to be able to put pressure on the other team,’’ Preller said. “You have one of the most accomplished hitters in the game over the last four or five years. We were able to add somebody that’s an elite talent, and do it where we weren’t adding to our payroll, and still gives us some dollar flexibility throughout the year. …

“We’ve always tried to be a team that looks ahead. And I think even with this move, it gives us the ability to do that if you need to go out and add another piece or two, at least it’s an option.’’

The Padres (18-18) may have slashed $80 million from their payroll from their star-studded team of a year ago, but suddenly, they look like a bona fide contender with a lineup that could be lethal.

“Obviously, we were given a real good opportunity and we didn’t do much with it,’’ Padres co-ace Joe Musgrove said, “so I can understand them not wanting to continue to dump money into it. At the same time, with A.J., and the things he can pull off, he can put a competitive product on the field. He’s going to find a way to put the best possible team out there with the money in the budget he’s been given.’’

When you have a chance to get a two-time batting champion, paying him less than the minimum salary this season, you can still work magic with your budget.

“Clearly guys are excited,’’ Shildt said. “We got the best hitter in the league. He’s a big piece to our club. There’s a lot of excitement in our clubhouse.’’

You realize you’ve got something special when guys already are making plans two years down the line when Arraez is eligible for free agency.

“When I’m a free agent,’’ King said, “I’m going to sign wherever he does just so I don’t have to face him anymore.’’

What a night.

What a first impression.

“I’m living my dream right now,’’ Arraez says.

Follow Nightengale on X: @BNightengale

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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