In the first game and a half of the NL Wildcard series between the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals, the Friars found themselves constantly in the backfoot as the Redbirds capitalize on scoring runs off the Padres rotation that are missing both of their top starters Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger. Chris Paddack did not pitch well a game ago and Game 2 starter Zach Davies did not fare any better, as the right-hander allowed 4 runs in the first two innings. While the Padres are having men in scoring position early on, they could not capitalize, especially their young superstar Fernando Tatis, Jr.
In the bottom of the third inning with men on first and second base, El Niño struck out on a foul tip on a high and inside heater from Cardinals veteran Adam Wainwright. In the bottom of the fourth inning where the Padres are starting to wake up against Cardinals pitching, Tatis had a bases loaded, two-out situation where a base hit could turn the tides for them. Instead, Tatis could not catch up to the high cheddar from Austin Gomber.
Tatis, Jr. was yet met with another at-bat with men on base, with runners on both first and second just like in the third inning. After failing to catch up with high fastballs with his two previous at-bats, it would be wise to keep attacking the young phenom up there until he’s proven that he can catch up to that high cheddar. After making a pitching change to bring in Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos, Tatis, Jr. never saw a single fastball up in the zone in the at-bat. Instead what he saw are as follows:
Slider up in the zone, slider in the heart of the plate, slider up in the zone, slider in the heart of the plate, slider in the heart of the plate.
Basically 2 sliders that are now competitive and three potential meatball pitches. Speaking of meatballs, you already know what happened on that third slider that caught far too much of the plate.
Technically, the Padres are still down a run after that three-run shot. However, like a soldier firing a flare to give the go signal to the armada, it swung the momentum completely towards the home team. The energy and the passion that Tatis, Jr. brought to the dugout after that home run was more than enough to light the fire on the Padres offense that are always never out given the potency of their lineup. Analytics-wise, it was also the moment that game the biggest jump in terms of win probability for the Padres, with a 22.1 points gap between the Trent Grisham strike out (13%) and the Tatis tater (35.1%) according to FanGraphs.
After the Manny Machado home run that tied the game and the Wil Myers homer in the bottom of the 7th that put the Padres in the lead (Myers had a very good game itself with a two-home run night). In the same inning, Tatis, Jr. was up again, and again with a runner base. Facing a full-count situation, Cardinals pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon threw him a fastball in the outer half of the plate and Tatis absolutely destroyed that ball to the opposite field. And oh,
Technically, both Tatis, Jr.’s home runs did not really flip the scorecard as the first one brought the game close and the second one padded on their lead. However, it gave the Padres something that they lacked in the game and a half that they played earlier: life. The Padres lineup basically laid waste on the Cards bullpen in the final three innings, scoring nine runs off it. And it all started with that one blast in the 6th inning off Tatis, Jr.
They say that October is where legends are truly made. Don Larsen. Reggie Jackson. Luis Gonzalez. Madison Bumgarner. El Niño started off his first postseason series with a BANG after stranding the 10 runners on base before his first home run. This is his first October legacy. The first moment that baseball fans will think of when they think about Tatis, Jr. in the postseason.
It has become a cliché to see “Player X. Oh by the way, he is (less than 23) years old.” Quite honestly, I am not a big fan of that because everyone arrives at their own pace. But if I put in my evaluator hat, age is a major factor of looking at each baseball player. What Tatis, Jr. did this year was nothing short of spectacular as he will be the fiery face of this Padres franchise for years to come as he is only 21 years young.
The Padres will still need to regroup and finish off the Cardinals after already using the majority of their pitching staff. However, they will have the euphoria and momentum to their advantage and must capitalize on it to move on to the NLDS. And that’s all thanks to Fernando Tatis, Jr.’s one swing of the bat. Even if they lose Game 3, it will be very easy to think that this team is still going to get better with how much talent they still have on their farm system to bolster their depth. And that only means more chances for Tatis, Jr. to make his mark in the bright lights of the postseason where it really, really matters.
I’m pretty sure Mr. Tatis, Sr. is smiling right now.
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