Padres, Fernando Tatis Jr. Embrace 'Slam Diego' Mindset With Season On The Line
SAN DIEGO—The Padres established themselves as a team on the rise this season, but it was more than that. They established themselves as a resilient team, one that had the firepower to erase any deficit and had no qualms playing from behind.
The Padres led MLB with 22 comeback wins this season. They showed themselves capable of remarkable things in big moments, from walkoff grand slams to scoring seven consecutive runs down to their final out.
“Slam Diego” was about more than their ML-record four consecutive games with a grand slam. It was a mindset the team embraced, that no deficit was too great to overcome. The bat flips and staredowns and dugout dance parties made the Padres baseball’s most entertaining team. Their ability to come back again and again is what made them baseball’s most exciting team.
With the Padres’ season ticking away, that explosive ability came out just in time to keep their season alive.
The Padres erupted for five home runs in the final three innings, including two apiece by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wil Myers, as they stormed back to beat the Cardinals, 11-9, in Game 2 of their National League Wild Card Series. The decisive Game 3 is Friday.
The Cardinals led 4-0 after three innings and 6-2 entering the bottom of the sixth, but the Padres erased the deficit in a span of six batters across the sixth and seventh innings.
“I’m not shocked,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “I’m not surprised. Just proud of the way everybody contributed and just the consistent fight throughout the night.”
Even in their Game 1 loss, that fight showed up. The Padres trailed 4-0 just 14 pitches into the game but chipped away to bring the tying or go-ahead run to the plate in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. They just couldn’t quite get the timely hit, a rare occurrence but a credit to the Cardinals bullpen and defense.
That wouldn’t happen again. Down to their final 12 outs, the magic of Tatis emerged.
The vivacious young superstar had struggled in big spots in his first career postseason series. In Game 1, he struck out as the go-ahead run at the plate in the sixth inning and grounded out weakly as the go-ahead run at the plate in the eighth inning. Earlier in Game 2, he stepped up with the bases loaded and the Padres trailing by two runs and struck out swinging on three pitches, furthering his and the team’s frustrations.
But since Tatis was an 18-year-old wunderkind in the low minors, his ability to adjust has been apparent. He started slowly in each of his two full minor league seasons and by the end of each year was one of the best prospects at his level. He jumped from Double-A straight to the majors in 2019 and figured out the best pitching in the world on the fly, emerging as one of baseball’s top young players even in an injury-shortened campaign. And in the span of one year, he transformed from one of baseball’s most-error prone shortstops to one of the game’s best defenders.
So before he stepped to the plate in the sixth inning with two on and the Padres needing a shot of adrenaline, no one felt the need to talk to him. Tingler and his staff knew the 21-year-old would adjust on his own, because he’s just that darn gifted and smart and capable.
Giovanny Gallegos, the pitcher who struck out Tatis in the sixth inning the night before, entered specifically to face Tatis in an eerily similar spot. Same inning, same number of outs, same number of men on base.
The righthander got Tatis swinging over a pair of sliders to win their first matchup. So, on Thursday, he returned to the slider well.
Gallegos threw Tatis five straight sliders. Tatis took the two out of the strike zone for balls and fouled the two away that were in the strike zone.
The fifth one hung over the middle of the plate. Tatis didn’t miss it. He swung big and swung hard, launching it into the left-field seats for a three-run homer. The Padres four-run deficit was now just one. Their young savant had given them life.
“I feel like we needed that big swing for the entire team to get us going,” Tatis said. “We were missing a lot with runners in scoring position and I feel like whoever did it first, we were going to feed off that.”
The rest of the Padres, indeed, fed off it. Machado, the next batter, followed Tatis with a solo shot to left to tie the game. Myers led off the seventh with a screaming liner that just snuck over the left-field wall and banged off the Western Metal Supply Co. building, a tiebreaking homer to give the Padres their first lead of the series. Four batters later, Tatis struck again, launching a two-run homer to right and adding an emphatic bat flip for good measure.
“When Tatis got that first one it felt like the field either shrunk or opened it up for us,” Tingler said. “It felt like we had runners on every inning, and the finally getting the big one by Tatis … that kind of ignited us and got us going.”
Myers added a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, a critical shot that gave the Padres some breathing room after the Cardinals had cut the deficit to one.
“I feel like with the way our offense is, the guys that we have in our lineup, it’s only a matter of time before we get those big hits,” Myers said. “We knew at some point it was going to turn.”
With their two homers each, Tatis and Myers joined Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as the only teammates to hit two home runs in the same playoff game. That two players on the Padres—the franchise that has the lowest all-time winning percentage of any active team—would join such baseball royalty would have seemed unthinkable as recently as July.
But the 2020 Padres keep doing the improbable. That, above, all else, is the true magic of “Slam Diego.”
“Definitely after that game,” Tatis said, “I feel like we’re back to Slam Diego.”