Slam Diego is back, and the San Diego Padres could not be happier.
Despite losing the opening game of their National League Wild Card Series 7-4 to St. Louis, the San Diego Padres rode the bats of practically their entire offense to win the subsequent two games and clinch a berth in the divisional round.
The Padres will now face Los Angeles, but the series against the Cardinals – particularly the second game – was where the team flipped the switch and rediscovered its identity. San Diego made the postseason to snap a 13-year playoff drought, riding their potent offense led by the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Eric Hosmer.
Nearly the entire primary starting lineup closed out the season with batting averages well above .250, with four players hitting ten or more home runs and the team itself reeling off several winning streaks during the year.
San Diego would have qualified for the playoffs regardless, but drew the Cardinals in the first round – the team that eliminated the Padres in both the 2005 and 2006 postseasons.
After dropping the opening game, San Diego seemed to be on their way to getting swept early on in Game 2. St. Louis again racked up at least four runs in the first three innings, and the Padres had yet to score at all.
The Friars plated a pair in the fourth thanks to a groundout and walk, but couldn’t get anything done in the fifth and their pitching allowed two St. Louis runs in the sixth – a 6-2 deficit.
Then something clicked with the offense.
A pair of walks in the bottom of the sixth put two Padres on base with one out for Tatis, who hadn’t had much to write home about in the opener and struck out earlier in the evening with the bases loaded.
The game changed in an instant when Tatis jumped on a 2-2 pitch and deposited it in the left-field seats, bringing the Padres within one. Machado followed that with a homer of his own moments later to tie the game at six.
One inning later, Tatis did it again with another shot – this time after Wil Myers blasted one himself to break the tie. Myers hit his second of the night an inning later to put himself and Tatis in elite company – the duo became the first teammates to each have two homers in a postseason game since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did it in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, Ruth’s famous “called shot” contest.
Neither called their shot, but Tatis cemented a moment of his own with his second homer, flipping his bat towards the Padres dugout before rounding the bases. It was evocative of Jose Bautista’s home run during the 2015 ALDS’ deciding Game 5, albeit without a deafening crowd filling the seats.
Twenty-four hours later, the Padres sent the Cardinals home with a 4-0 shutout. The win came more as a result of Cardinal mistakes than Padre offense, but San Diego’s pitching kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard, using nine pitchers and yielding just four total hits.
Reliever Trevor Rosenthal should have the most confidence of anyone on the mound staff heading to Texas, though. Rosenthal walked two and allowed a run in the first game and gave up a home run, single and walk in the second, shutting down a Cardinal rally by the skin of his teeth.
Friday’s (Oct. 2) Game 3, though, was the ultimate confidence-booster for Rosenthal – after the rough two nights, the veteran needed just 13 pitches to strike out all three batters looking.
The Padres have to have immense confidence heading into their series against the Dodgers, and could be a huge threat to advance to the NLCS if all cylinders continue to fire. San Diego went 4-6 against Los Angeles in regular season play.
Is it the return to the classic brown-and-yellow jerseys that brought magic to San Diego? Maybe it’s that combined with the raw talent on the team, but Slam Diego’s matchup with Los Angeles will be must-see television over the next week.
The San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers begin their divisional series on Tuesday, Oct. 6. Game times have yet to be announced.