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Padres rookie has debut with destiny

Cory Spangenberg's game-winning homer made him a popular guy at home plate.
Cory Spangenberg's game-winning homer made him a popular guy at home plate.
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

When Cory Spangenberg was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2011, the first-round selection came with the caveat that the second baseman had a major-league quality glove and speed, and that his offense would catch up later.

Spangenberg has quickly caught up.

The rookie was promoted from the minors on Monday and started at third base. He responded by making two fielding gems and collecting a single that knocked in two runs in a 3-1 victory over Arizona in his MLB debut.

On Tuesday night it got even better. With his Pennsylvania-based family in the stands, Spangenberg was sent up to pinch-hit for Cameron Maybin in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game. Facing former ace closer Brad Zeigler, Spangenberg sent a line drive into the Petco Porch down the right-field line, giving the Pads a 2-1 victory and earning the rookie a Gatorade shower later.

"I've always dreamed of playing Major League Baseball," Spangenberg said. "I don't think I ever (went) into detail about hitting the walk-off home run. It's just incredible."

Thanks to an infusion of youthful enthusiasm and some sensational starting pitching, the Padres have posted four walk-off victories in their past five games, and are 7-3 over the past 10 games.

Spangenberg is not a complete unknown to the Padres -- he has played in the major league camp in the past two springs -- but injuries and a questionable bat slowed his progress.

Coming back from an injury this season, Spangenberg was sent to the Padres' Double-A San Antonio team. He responded by batting .331 in 66 games, showing some power and stealing 16 bases. That earned him his September call-up.

Asked about the rookie's debut, manager Bud Black was unusually effusive. "I love it," Black said before Tuesday's game. "First games are always exciting -- I certainly still remember mine -- and he makes two fine plays at third and gets a knock and drives in the winning run. He'll always remember this."

Spangenberg was one of the first players drafted by the Padres as a fit for their pitcher-friendly park. Black predicted Spangenberg won't hit a lot of homers, but said "Span-gie" will show doubles power and take advantage of Petco's spacious power alleys.

Last year's top Padres rookie, Jedd Gyorko, was switched to second base because Chase Headley was in his way. But Gyorko, who has a football build, is probably better suited long-term for third, so it would not be surprising to see Spangenberg get some playing time at second, his natural position. (Headley was traded to the Yankees at midseason.)

Black said the rookie may also see action in center field.

Wherever he ends up, it may never get any better than his debut week.