SAN DIEGO (AP) — Rookie Francisco Mejia is quickly giving the downtrodden San Diego Padres a hopeful glimpse of the future.
The 22-year-old hit his first grand slam with two outs in the ninth inning and the rebuilding Padres rallied to beat the Texas Rangers 7-3 Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep in a matchup of last-place teams.
It was the first walkoff for Mejia, who was promoted from Triple-A on Sept. 4. The prized catching prospect has hit three homers since then.
Mejia was obtained from Cleveland for closer Brad Hand and reliever Adam Cimber on July 19. He is part of the third wave of young talent that has come up since late in the 2016 season, when the Padres turned from a failed win-now approach to rebuilding via the farm system.
“It’s a really special moment,” Mejia said through a translator. “Especially for my career. It’s great.”
The switch-hitter, batting right-handed, turned on the first pitch he saw from reliever Jeffrey Springs and drove it to left field.
He said he was “looking for a pitch up in the zone, especially with the shadows out there. I wanted to look for a good pitch there and get a good swing on it.”
Mejia was doused with a cooler of ice water at the plate and the celebration extended into the clubhouse.
Asked what he’ll remember most about the homer, he said it would be “the energy, the moment coming into the clubhouse and having everyone waiting for me there.”
Manager Andy Green said Mejia “seems at home with this group of guys. He showed up and everybody welcomed him and brought him into the family, and everybody has enjoyed him. When you’re new to a club you want to come through quick because it makes you feel like a part of it. Clearly he did that in a big way for us today.”
Green watched the winning shot from his office after being ejected in the top of the ninth.
“I do feel comfortable,” Mejia said. “I think the home runs, those are always going to come. That’s just part of the game. But I do feel comfortable being here and being a part of this team.”
Ownership expected the Padres to be better this year than their finish of 71-91 last year, but the Padres are one loss away from matching last year’s win total. They’ve lost at least 90 games for the third straight season and the fourth time in eight years.
The Rangers were two outs away from a 3-2 win and a three-game sweep before rookie Franmil Reyes hit a bloop single to right off rookie reliever Jeffrey Springs (0-1) and made way for pinch-runner Travis Jankowski. Freddy Galvis then doubled to left to bring in Jankowski with the tying run.
Pinch-hitter A.J. Ellis walked as Galvis took third on a ball four-wild pitch. Cory Spangenberg walked to load the bases and bring up Mejia, who homered to left on the first pitch he saw.
“Things unraveled a little bit just with the walks, but I’ve got to hand it to him,” Banister said about Springs. “The guy’s never been in that situation before. I put him in that situation and I thought he showed a grit throughout the course of an inning.”
Green was ejected in the top of the ninth after Robinson Chirinos appeared to hit the ball off the knob of his bat into fair territory. Padres reliever Trey Wingenter fielded the ball and threw to first. After the umps huddled and then went to a video review that lasted four minutes, 50 seconds, Green was ejected for arguing and Chirinos was awarded first on a hit-by-pitch.
“I was pretty adamant telling them it’s not a reviewable call, it’s on the field,” Green said. “You have to fix the call on the field. It has to be a fair ball or a hit batter. It can’t be a foul ball. I’m not quite sure how we arrived where we arrived.”
The Rangers loaded the bases but failed to score.
Kirby Yates (5-3) got the last two outs of the ninth for the win.
The Padres had runners on first and third with no outs in the eighth and failed to score.
Rangers starter Mike Minor allowed two runs and four hits, struck out seven and walked one. He also doubled. Minor’s only big mistake was allowing Hunter Renfroe’s homer with two outs in the first, his 23rd.
Willie Calhoun homered with one out in the second, his second, and Jurickson Profar hit a leadoff shot in the third, his 18th. Both were off Padres rookie Jacob Nix, who also allowed Robinson Chirinos’ RBI single in the sixth.
Nix allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings, struck out three and walked one.
Rangers: RHP Adrian Sampson (0-1, 5.06) is scheduled to make his second start with Texas when it opens a three-game home series against Tampa Bay on Monday night. The Rays will counter with RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-6, 4.48).
Padres: RHP Bryan Mitchell (1-3, 6.07) is scheduled to go in the opener of a three-game home series against San Francisco on Monday night, his third start since returning from 1 ½ months on the disabled list. He’s 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings since being reinstated. The Giants will counter with LHP Andrew Suarez (6-11, 4.33).