Fireworks from Tatis, Machado, and Myers Key Padres Comeback

Within the context of the abbreviated 2020 season, both Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado produced electrifying highlights and eye-opening numbers while helping the Padres to the National League’s second-best record. But with the team on the verge of elimination against the Cardinals in the best-of-three Wild Card Series, the two MVP candidates spent the first five innings of Thursday night’s game unable to get the big hit that would take a tattered pitching staff off the hook. And then with two swings of the bat, the pair’s fourth set of back-to-back home runs this season changed everything, erasing a four-run deficit. Additional fireworks followed — enough to summon the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, even — and ultimately, the Padres outlasted the Cardinals for an 11-9 win, forcing a Game 3 to be played on Friday.

For the first five and a half innings, this one had the feel of déjà vu. Already without Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet due to arm injuries suffered during the final week of the regular season, and having gotten just 2.1 innings from Chris Paddack in Game 1 as they fell into a 6-2 hole from which they never escaped, the Padres fell behind early. Sinkerballer Zach Davies simply could not get the Cardinals — who finished in a virtual tie with the Padres for the lowest swing rate in the National League (43.6%) — to play his game by swinging at pitches below the strike zone. During the regular season, nobody threw a higher percentage of such pitches:

Highest Percentage of Pitches Below Strike Zone
Rk Pitcher Team Below Zone Total Pitches % xwOBA
1 Zach Davies Brewers 546 1055 51.8% .288
2 Randy Dobnak Twins 365 748 48.8% .293
3 Zack Greinke Astros 497 1060 46.9% .128
4 Erick Fedde Nationals 394 850 46.4% .313
5 Kenta Maeda Twins 443 986 44.9% .184
6 Tommy Milone Orioles-Braves 313 697 44.9% .239
7 Corbin Burnes Brewers 451 1010 44.7% .180
8 Dallas Keuchel White Sox 427 960 44.5% .260
9 Shane Bieber Indians 551 1238 44.5% .136
10 Gio González White Sox 272 618 44.0% .249
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Pitches in Gameday Zones 13 and 14.

In two innings of work totaling 55 pitches, Davies got just 19 swings. Just four were whiffs, while seven were foul balls; of the eight put into play, four were hit for exit velocities in excess of 100 mph, three of them hits in the second inning.

The Cardinals worked Davies for 30 pitches in the first inning, of which they swung at just 10. A one-out single by Tommy Edman, a two-out walk by Dylan Carlson — who didn’t take his bat off his shoulder for any of the six pitches he saw, all on the very fringe of the strike zone or lower — and an RBI single by Yadier Molina gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

Matt Carpenter led off the second inning with a 100.1 mph double to right field and came around to score one out later on a Harrison Bader single to center, a welcome turn of events for the Cardinals center fielder, who had struck out in all five of his plate appearances in Game 1. Kolten Wong followed, falling behind 0-2 on a pair of called strikes but then pouncing upon on a sinker that didn’t sink, 102.8 mph off the bat for a two-run homer to right field to run the Redbirds’ lead to 4-1:

Davies escaped by striking out both Edman and Paul Goldschmidt, but after using seven relievers to cover 6.2 innings in Game 1, Padres manager Jayce Tingler had no choice but to start the parade again. Pierce Johnson, Adrian Morejon, and Austin Adams combined to put up three zeroes, but Adams’ leadoff walk to Paul DeJong to start the sixth sparked a two-run rally, as successor Matt Strahm issued a free pass to Carpenter and then served up an RBI double to Dexter Fowler, with Carpenter scoring on a Wong groundout, putting the Padres in another 6-2 hole.

The Padres had their chances to overcome Davies’ dud and get back into the game against starter Adam Wainwright, a 39-year-old veteran making the 28th postseason appearance and 14th postseason start of his career. Alas, one-out singles in each of the first three innings went for naught. Machado grounded into an inning-ending double play following Tatis’ single in the first, Tommy Pham was stranded after an infield single in the second, and after a Jake Cronenworth single and Trent Grisham walk, both Tatis and Machado struck out swinging at fastballs in the third.

The Padres broke through and chased Wainwright in the fourth. Consecutive singles by Eric Hosmer, Pham, and Mitch Moreland loaded the bases with nobody out, and Hosmer scored when Wil Myers grounded to Edman, who forced Pham at third base but was too late in throwing to complete the double play. A wild pitch sent Moreland to third, and an Austin Nola walk loaded the bases and ended Wainwright’s night early. Reliever Austin Gomber walked Cronenworth on seven pitches, forcing in a run, but recovered to strike out both Grisham and Tatis, the latter on three pitches.

So the Padres entered the sixth inning with their all-too-familiar four-run deficit, with Tatis and Machado a combined 1-for-6 with three strikeouts and eight men left on base. When Nola and Cronenworth drew walks against Génesis Cabrera to start the sixth, Tatis got his chance for redemption in the form of a slider from Giovanny Gallegos that hung in the middle of the zone. The 21-year-old phenom, whose 17 homers ranked second in the NL during the regular season, didn’t miss it:

Tatis’ 377-foot drive trimmed the Cardinals’ lead to 6-5. Seven pitches later, Gallegos came upstairs with a 93.5 mph fastball, and Machado, whose 16 homers tied for third in the NL, was ready:

That 110.4-mph screamer went 414 feet and tied the game. One out later, Pham nearly added a third homer to the inning with a 110.8 mph drive that bounced off the left-center field wall; it was his fourth hit of the night. Jurickson Profar’s strikeout ended the threat, but the Padres weren’t done showing off the firepower that produced 95 home runs, the majors’ fourth-highest total.

In the seventh inning, Myers pounded a Daniel Ponce de Leon cutter off the left field foul pole to give the Padres a 7-6 lead, and after a Nola walk and a pair of strikeouts, Tatis struck again, punctuating his two-run homer with the most epic postseason bat flip this side of José Bautista:

A Tatis throwing error in the top of the eighth — flat on his back, he threw wildly past second base and into foul territory in right field — keyed a two-run Cardinals rally to trim the lead to 9-8, but Myers hit another homer, a two-run shot to center field off Kodi Whitley to give the Padres a three-run cushion. Here’s his pair:

With that, Tatis and Myers joined none other than Ruth and Gehrig as the only teammates ever to homer twice in one postseason game. The two Yankees did so exactly 88 years ago, on October 1, 1932 in Game 3 of the World Series against the Cubs — the game in which Ruth hit his legendary “Called Shot.”

Still, the Cardinals did not go quietly. Goldschmidt led off the ninth with a solo homer off closer (and ex-Cardinal) Trevor Rosenthal, who then walked Carlson and gave up a single to Molina, who departed for a pinch runner while collecting the ball from his 100th postseason hit. With the Padres’ season on the line, and their win probability having dipped from 96.9% after Myers’ second homer to 73% after the Molina single, Rosenthal recovered by inducing DeJong to pop up, striking out Carpenter on a slider in the dirt, and then getting Fowler to ground out to first base.

Speaking of win probabilities, check out the ups and downs here:

The Cardinals had a 93% chance of winning after Fowler’s double, but their bullpen, which ranked seventh in the NL in FIP (4.63) and eighth in WAR (0.8) during the regular season, couldn’t hold it as five straight relievers that manager Mike Schildt called upon gave up runs. One doesn’t have to think too hard to summon memories of postseason games in which it was the Cardinals rallying from down four runs or more with their patented devil magic, such as the 2014 Division Series opener against the Dodgers, when they overcame a five-run deficit against Clayton Kershaw at a point when they had an estimated 2.2% chance of winning, or Game 2 of the 2011 Division Series, when they climbed out of an early 4-0 hole while having a 9.5% chance of winning.

On Thursday night it was the Padres with the magic and the thunder thanks to Tatis, Machado, and Myers. The Cardinals will send Jack Flaherty to the mound for Game 3. As for the Padres? “I have no idea,” said Tingler after the game.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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3 years ago

How appropriate that Tatis, Machado and Myers came up like a trio of sevens on a slot machine last night. That’s been the story of the Padres this whole season.