The power of positive Padre-ing

It didn’t need a meal and a stewardess a la Willson Contreras, but Fernando Tatis, Jr.’s Thursday bat flip was second only to hitting two bombs in two innings helping the Padres steal the Thursday Show.

Clayton Kershaw channeling his future Hall of Famer self to pitch eight innings, strike thirteen out, walk one, scatter three hits, and refuse to let a single Milwaukee Brewer even think about coming home? Fun, and who cares?

The Oakland Athletics having a ball on the Chicago White Sox bullpen’s dollars and walking as much as swatting their way to a division series for the first time in fourteen years? More fun, and who cares again?

Marcell Ozuna joyously pantomiming a selfie up the first base line after he launched a mammoth two-run homer against Atlanta reliever Raisel Iglesias, driving the Fun Police and the boring old farts out of their skulls while helping the Braves to their first postseason series win since the immediate wake of 9/11? Marvelous. And who cares yet again?

The Slam Diego Padres thinking they were twelve outs from winter vacation one moment and deciding that being swept out of a wild card series by the St. Louis Cardinals was not a viable option? Now you’re talking.

Yes, it’s possible that the Padres and the Cardinals fighting baseball’s equivalent of the Battle of the Bulge right down to the final out, with Fernando Tatis, Jr. playing George Patton, just to force a third wild card game, was the most must-see baseball on a Thursday that was overloaded with must-see.

If we weren’t going to get a continuing opportunity for the 29-31 Brewers to push onward and possibly (underline that, gang) meet the 29-31 Houston Astros in the World Series, and thus make a first class chump out of Commissioner Nero and his hopes that this sixteen-team-opening postseason becomes a permanent blight on the concept of championship, the least we could get was some plain fun ball.

The Padres made sure it was the very least and absolute most when they out-wrestled, out-bopped, out-slapped, and out-lasted the Cardinals, 11-9, in Petco Park, the lair where the big bats normally went to die at the mercy of the infamous Dreaded Marine Layer. The one that floated into San Diego and turned booming home runs into bloated, crashing fly outs. Or, once in awhile, turned those bombs into measly dropping base hits at best.

These Padres couldn’t care less about that marine layer. They’ll just drive their long balls right through it and part it the way God parted the Red Sea. And they won’t even let it bother them that they can finish five innings, sit in the hole 4-2 against the Cardinals, and sit concurrently twelve outs from being swept into early winter vacation.

The Cardinals tack up two more in the top of the sixth? Tatis will just have to hit a three-run homer followed by Manny Machado hitting a solo bomb in the bottom to tie it. Then the Padres will keep the Cardinals from scoring in the top of the seventh, Wil Myers will hit one over the left field fence to open the bottom of the seventh, and—two outs after a walk to Austin Nola—Tatis will send one over the right field fence for a 9-6 lead.

“I feel like we needed that big swing for the entire team to get us going,” said Tatis—who hit four homers only three other extra-base hits from 2-27 September—about that first bomb. “We were missing a lot with runners in scoring position. I feel like whoever did it first, we were going to feed off that. Thank God I did it first, but I’m just happy the team clicked and we won the game.”

Padres reliever Drew Pomeranz has to plunk Matt Carpenter to open the St. Louis eighth and Tatis himself has to throw offline on the next play to set up second and third for Harrison Bader and Kolten Wong to hit back-to-back sacrifice flies and close the Cardinal deficit back to a single run? No problemo. Jurickson Profar will be more than happy to bop a two-out single in the bottom of the eighth and Myers will be even more than that to hit one over the center field fence.

Then Paul Goldschmidt leading off the top of the ninth hit an 0-1 bomb against an old Cardinals buddy, reliever Trevor Rosenthal, once a lights-out closer, but addled since by injuries and picked up by the Padres from the New York Mets’ scrapyard. For several brief, none-too-shining moments, it looked as though walking Carlson and letting Yadier Molina single Carlson to second meant Rosenthal was going to let the Cardinals re-tie at least and make the bottom of the ninth either a Padres last stand or a Padres plotz.

No chance. Pop out to second, swinging strikeout, and ground out to first. And pandemonium wherever Padres fans were watching since the pandemic-mandared empty ballparks came into force. Even the broadcasters working remotely from ESPN’s Connecticut headquarters let their enthusiasm for a game like that spill into the next work stations where another team was still covering and calling Kershaw and company.

“We’re in the playoffs. The game was not done, the job was not done until we get those 27 outs, we cannot back down, we cannot settle,” Tatis went on to say about his second homer. “There was a lot of game left. I was wanting to keep motivating my teammates, just to let them know, to keep on. They are a team that they’re going to answer back, so we’ve got to keep doing the work.”

How could the Dodgers and the Brewers possibly top the Friars roast? These Padres just did in one three-inning stretch what they’d never done in any postseason series—hit five over the fences. They never came back from four or more runs behind in any previous postseason—but they came back from 4-0 Thursday.

Tatis and Myers also became the first teammates to swing for the Delta Quadrant twice in a single postseason game since—wait for it!—Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in Game Three of the 1932 World Series. The one in which Ruth is still alleged to have called his shot. Neither Tatis nor Myers thought of calling theirs, but don’t bother us now, brothers and sisters.

For that matter, the last time the Cardinals blew a four-run lead in a postseason game was Game Four of the 1982 World Series, a series they won. Not to mention that in the past eight years the Cardinals won 139 times straight in games where they scored nine or more runs. Until Thursday.

“We played a great lineup, a great team,” said Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who lasted three and two thirds and two runs worth Thursday, “and they came at us over and over and over again and we never backed down. We answered back almost every time. Every time we put them in a hole they came right back.”

The Friars’ work is never done yet. They still have to push, shove, and rumble past Jack Flaherty Friday. Flaherty started the irregular season brilliantly enough, then faltered mostly due to one horrific nine-run battering inflicted by the Brewers in mid-September. But he’s still Jack Flaherty. And he’s no pushover. Yet.

But that won’t diminish what the Padres did Thursday and all season long. Lots of teams made baseball fun again this year. These Padres made those guys resemble funeral home staffs. Even when you beat them, which happened 23 times against 37 times they beat the other guys, they wouldn’t let you go without feeling like the whole game was a party.

Oh, yes. Before I forget. When Tatis launched his second bomb, he delivered a lovely bat flip two steps out of the batter’s box. It wasn’t even close to requiring a meal and a stewardess on board, as Willson Contreras’s flip a week ago, but it spun like a Lockheed Constellation engine’s propeller warming up nonetheless.

The joyous leaping forearm bumps among Tatis and Myers and their mates after they crossed the plate were just as rich and just as much fun. Take that, Bambino, wherever you are!

Salami on special at the Slam Diego Deli

Rookie Jake Cronenworth joined the Padres’ grand slam parade Saturday.

A spectre may be haunting major league baseball—the spectre of San Diego. The Padres, usually renowned for a checkered history, lots of ugly uniforms, a handsome ballpark where hitters usually go to die, and a seeming genius for watching as many as three top-of-the-line players depart for every one or two they could find. Rudely interrupted by a couple of pennants.

That was then and this is now: The Padres now wear uniforms that are passable, if unlikely to put them on the best-dressed men’s lists. They make the right headlines in the press and hash in the National League West and elsewhere. They also make hash out of the National League leader board, where you’ll find them as of this morning at the top for total bases, stolen bases, walks, slugging, OPS, and home runs.

Previous generations of baseball’s big bopping teams have earned colourful nicknames: The Bronx Bombers, the Pittsburgh Lumber Company, Harvey’s Wallbangers. To those add now Slam Diego. These Poundres don’t just hit home runs, they hit conversation pieces. Especially with the bases loaded. The Slam Diego Deli is the Show’s first to grind salami on special in four consecutive games.

When rookie shortstop Jake Cronenworth saw and raised center fielder Trent Grisham’s three homers in a Saturday burial of the Houston Astros by slamming Astros reliever Humberto Castellanos, it was the fifth San Diego slam in six games while they were at it.

The 13-2 win was also the Padres’s sixth straight win overall and raised their record in interleague play to 6-0 so far. These are not your grandfather’s, your father’s, or even your big brother’s Friar Ducks. Sitting, that is.There’s nothing like a not-so-little beatdown laid upon last year’s American League pennant winner to redeem a five-game losing streak that ended when the Poundres flattened the Texas Rangers 14-4 last Monday.

That just so happened to be the same game in which the Slam Diegans’s gigastar-in-the-making, Fernando Tatis, Jr., provoked this year’s first major debate over the Sacred Unwritten Rules—when he faced Juan Nicasio in the top of the eighth, with the bases loaded, one out, a 3-0 count, and a 10-3 Padres lead in Globe Life Hangar, and hit something too meaty to resist over the right field fence.

Baseball’s boring old farts screamed about Tatis’s lack of manners. Rangers manager Chris Woodward, who harrumphed after the game about how offensive Tatis was for daring to swing 3-0 late in the middle of a blowout, lifted Nicasio for Ian Gibaut, who threw right behind Manny Machado’s rump roast immediately to follow.

The problem was that, this time, most of baseball applauded Tatis and decided the SURs a) were patent nonsense and b) don’t cover when a hitter as good as Tatis is fed something Ray Charles could have hit for distance. Apparently, so did Commissioner Nero, suspending Gibaut three games.

The further problem, once Padres manager Jayce Tingler got over his own dismay at Tatis violating the SURs, is that the whole hoo-ha just put rocket fuel into the Padres at the plate. The following night, they could only muster a 6-4 win over the Rangers but Wil Myers joined the deli crew in the top of the first, with the bases loaded and two out, clearing the left center field fence and staking the Pads to an immediate 4-0 lead.

The night after that, back in Petco Park, the Padres and the Rangers wrestled to a tenth inning ted at two. After the Rangers snuck an unearned run home in the top of the tenth, Machado checked in with the bases loaded on the free cookie at second to start their bottom of the tenth, a dubious-enough sacrifice bunt (sorry, I still say you don’t give outs to the other guys, especially with a man in scoring position gifted you), and back-to-back walks.

Machado re-opened the Slam Diego Deli by hitting a full-count meatball over the left center field fence. The night after that, Eric Hosmer checked in with one out, the Padres in the hole 2-1, and the pads padded on two base hits and a walk. Hosmer nailed Rangers starter Kyle Gibson with a drive down the right field line and into the seats. The Padres needed every morsel of that salami even more this time; they had to build and then hold on for the 8-7 win.

When they beat the Astros 4-3 Friday night, there may have been some wags thinking the Padres were on the threshold of disaster. The deli stayed closed. The Padres didn’t even load the bases once against five Astros pitchers. Don’t tell us the magic was gone before we really had a fair shot at it sinking in at maximum depth.

Thank God for Cronenworth. Be so [fornicating] glad the Poundres have Cronenworth. In the bottom of a second inning that began with a 2-1 lead and already added five runs on a leadoff bomb (Myers), a three-run homer (Grisham), and an RBI single (Ty France), Cronenworth tore into a Castellanos fastball on 3-1 and tore it over the right field fence.

“It’s somebody different every single night stepping up,” Cronenworth said after the Saturday night massacre. “Grish has three home runs tonight, Manny hit a home run tonight, Wil [Myers] hit a home run tonight, [starting pitcher] Zach Davies had an incredible outing. It started with him shutting their offense down and getting us back in the dugout as quick as possible.”

Don’t ask about his turn behind the San Diego Deli counter, though. The bad news is that the kid has the boilerplate mastered: “Put a good swing on a good pitch. Just keep my approach up the middle. Just happened to put a good swing on it.” Thank you, Friar Obvious.

Institutionally, the Padres have a few reasons to thank the Astros. It was the Astros who got them into San Diego in the first place, after that lovely city by the harbour and the Pacific hosted the Pacific Coast League Padres for generations. (Including a local kid named Ted Williams playing his minor league ball there, in the era when the PCL was the a major league in everything but name.)

The National League’s second expansion intended for Montreal and Dallas to have new teams. The Astros’s founding owner, Judge Roy Hofheinz, banged a gavel and said, “Not so fast, buster.” Hofheinz would rather have blown the Astrodome to smithereens than sanctioned a rival team playing a hop, skip, and bronco-busting bull’s jump up the road from (as then-Yankee first baseman Joe Pepitone called it) the world’s biggest hair dryer.

So the National League’s lords relented and, with no little help from Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley—who needed a place to dump his general manager Buzzie Bavasi, when O’Malley son and heir Peter was ready to graduate to the Dodgers’ front office—what was meant for Dallas ended up by the southern California seas.

Once upon a time, another Padres owner, Ray Kroc (McDonald’s mastermind and magnate), took to his own public address system to commiserate with fans over “the stupidest baseball playing I’ve ever seen.” Who the hell needs a Big Mac when you’re running the National League’s least-expected delicatessen lately?