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Players in Nationals, Padres game recall scene after shots fired outside park

Players quickly cleared the field and fans scrambled for safety, some of them leaving the park and others taking cover.

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When the gunshots started to echo all around Nationals Park, San Diego Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. quickly thought about the team's family members and friends in the seats.

Tatis bolted from the bench down the left field line Saturday night, helped open a gate to the stands and began ushering a group back to the dugout to shelter.

“Our family, loved ones, little kids. Feel like somebody needed to go get them,” Tatis said Sunday. “I feel like the safest place was the clubhouse and we were trying to get our families into a safe place.”

The top half of the sixth inning in the game between the Padres and Washington Nationals had just ended in front of about 33,000 fans when several shots were heard from an incident that occurred on South Capitol Street, just outside the third-base side of the stadium.

But in the moment, no one knew whether the rapid series of shots was coming from inside the ballpark or beyond.

Padres manager Jayce Tingler was on his way to see plate umpire Jordan Baker about a pitching change in a game San Diego led 8-4 and was suspended at that point.

“He’s like, ‘Did you hear that?’'' Tingler recalled Baker saying. “I’m like, ‘yeah, I think so’ and it kind of registered what it possibly could have been and obviously it was just a nightmare.”

A chaotic scene quickly developed. As the Padres cleared the field, some fans rushed to leave the stadium while others ducked and tried to hide, looking for cover.

“Everybody running. It was crazy. You couldn’t figure out what was going on. If it was one or two people,” Tatis said. “I was just trying to get to the safest place and get our families.”

Spectators stand in the visiting team dugout during a stoppage in play due to an incident near the ballpark in the sixth inning of a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the San Diego Padres, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
APNick Wass
Spectators stand in the visiting team dugout during a stoppage in play due to an incident near the ballpark in the sixth inning of a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the San Diego Padres, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Tatis and teammates Manny Machado and Wil Myers drew praise for helping guide — and even carry — fans out of harm’s way.

“The situation changed immediately,” Tatis said. “There’s no longer players, fans. I feel like everybody’s just people, human beings trying to be secure.”

The game was halted then and completed on Sunday, with the Padres finishing off a 10-4 win. The teams were then set to play the regularly scheduled game.

The shooting, an exchange of gunfire between people in two cars, left three people injured, according to Ashan Benedict, the Metropolitan Police Department’s executive assistant police chief. One of the people who was shot was a woman who was attending the game and who was struck while she was outside the stadium, he said Saturday night. Her injuries weren’t considered life-threatening.

Two people who were in one of the cars later walked into a local hospital with gunshot wounds and were being questioned by investigators, Benedict said, and the extent of their injuries wasn’t immediately clear. Investigators were still trying to locate the second vehicle involved in the shooting.

As the shots rang out, Nationals manager Davey Martinez was making sure his players were safe.

“Then I started worrying about their families and trying to do the best I could to get them down to the players,” Martinez said. “And I started worrying about the fans as well.”

Seeing the reaction on the third base side of the stadium, fans on the first base side began fleeing their seats as well. Some of them went down to the field.

“There was a bunch of fans, they were in our dugout and I wanted to get them safe as well,” Martinez said. "We got them in through the tunnel and got them in safely and tried to keep them safe. For me, it was just about protecting our people and doing the best I can to stay calm.”

The scoreboard displays a message to fans during a stoppage in play due to an incident near the ballpark in the sixth inning of a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the San Diego Padres, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
APNick Wass
The scoreboard displays a message to fans during a stoppage in play due to an incident near the ballpark in the sixth inning of a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the San Diego Padres, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Like Tingler, Martinez got emotional recounting the previous night’s events.

Minutes after the shots were heard, a message appeared on the Nationals Park scoreboard saying that the incident was outside the park and fans should remain inside. About 10 minutes later, fans were instructed to leave by the center- and right-field gates.

“We started to get word that everything happened right outside the stadium,” Tingler said. "That’s when we started to feel a little bit better. You never feel great.”

In a statement Sunday, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and team owner Mark Lerner said police don't think “the Washington Nationals, the ballpark or fans were the target" of the shooting.

“We appreciate the tremendous cooperation of the fans at Saturday night’s game who did all that was asked of them under very stressful circumstances, and the police and the fire emergency medical personnel who responded," they said.