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!