By Rob Rains
In the Padres first 68 plate appearances in the wild-card series, the Cardinals pitchers who had heard all about the powerful San Diego lineup managed to get key strikeouts, pitch out of jams and most of all not allow any of their pitches to leave the ballpark.
That changed in a hurry on Thursday night and as a result of the Padres record-setting five home runs between the sixth and eighth innings, the Cardinals will find themselves in a win-or-go home game on Friday
The home runs, including two each from Fernando Tatis Jr. and Will Myers, allowed the Padres to rally from 4-0 and 6-2 deficits to earn an 11-9 victory.
“We knew coming in they had big bats and could put up runs in a hurry,” said Kolten Wong. “We were doing our best to keep them down but you know they are going to step up eventually.
“Usually when someone punches you in the mouth like they did, it’s one of those where it’s hard to come back but you saw this team fought back every single inning.”
After getting Tatis Jr. to strand 10 runners on base in his first eight trips to the plate, including a strikeout by Austin Gomber with the bases loaded to end the fourth, the Cardinals turned to Giovanny Gallegos to face Tatis with two runners on base in the sixth.
This time, Gallegos threw five consecutive sliders, two of which Tatis fouled off. The fifth landed in the left field seats for a three-run homer, also bringing home the two batters Genesis Cabrera had walked to open the inning.
That cut the Cardinals lead to 6-5, and seven pitches later, Manny Machado’s home run tied the game – the first time in Gallegos’ career he had allowed two home runs in a game.
Myers led off the seventh with a home run off Daniel Ponce de Leon to break the tie, and then a walk brought Tatis Jr. to the plate again, and he delivered his second home run. Myers hit his second of the night, and the team’s fifth in a span off 15 batters, off Kodi Whitley in the eighth.
“They are kind of a momentum team, and once the momentum started we weren’t able to have any shutdown innings,” said manager Mike Shildt. “The balls are going to leave the ballpark. It’s the walks that kind of bother you the most.
Three of the extra runs which scored on the home runs came from players who had reached base on a walk.
The Cardinals tried to come back from the onslaught. Paul Goldschmidt homered leading off the ninth, his second home run of the series, and a walk to Dylan Carlson and single by Yadier Molina put the tying runs on base.
Trevor Rosenthal was able to get the next three outs, however, to keep the runners stuck on first and second and preserve the victory.
Wong also homered, as the Cardinals built their second 4-0 lead in the series. He drove in four runs, including one in the eighth when the Cardinals cut the San Diego lead to 9-8. Harrison Bader drove in two runs with a single and sacrifice fly.
The late assault on the Cardinals bullpen ended some rather historic streaks for the Cardinals:
The Cardinals had won 44 consecutive postseason games in which they had at least a four-run lead, dating back to game four of the 1982 World Series when the Cardinals led the Brewers 4-0 before losing 7-5. In their 258-game postseason history, the Cardinals had been 68-1 when leading a game by four or more runs.
The Cardinals had won 52 consecutive games when leading by four or more runs, the longest active streak in the majors, with the last loss coming on June 8, 2019 to the Cubs.
Including regular season and postseason games, the Cardinals had won 139 consecutive games when scoring at least nine runs. Their last loss when they scored nine or more runs was a 11-10 loss to the Nationals on Aug. 26, 2010.
In the postseason, the Cardinals had been 22-1 when scoring nine or more runs, with the only loss coming 11-9 to Boston in game one of the 2004 World Series.
The Padres became the first team in postseason history to hit five home runs from the sixth inning on. Only once before, in game four of the 1928 World Series, had the Cardinals allowed four home runs in the final three innings of a game, including two hit by Babe Ruth.
“Had the lead, got down, scratched back, got the go ahead run to the plate in the ninth and I don’t think there was anybody in our dugout who didn’t think we were going to at least tie it or go ahead,” Shildt said. “A lot of guts. We’re going to be ready to go tomorrow.”
Jack Flaherty will get the start for the Cardinals in the decisive game while the Padres, with their two top starters absent from the roster because of injuries, did not know on Thursday night who will start the game from them.
“Excited to watch Jack pitch, excited to watch our guys go play,” Shildt said. “We had a hiccup with our pitching, but it’s just that, a hiccup, and hiccups don’t last long.”
Added Wong, “We’ve been battling all year for this and we’re not going to just give it away. We all understand how crazy our season was to get here and we’re excited. We’ve got one game tomorrow, winner take all, backs against the wall. We’re excited to get going.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains and read his stories @STLSportsPage for complete Cardinals coverage during the playoffs.
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports