Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado went back to back for the fourth time this season in the sixth inning of an elimination Wild Card series game against the St. Louis Cardinals, officially ushering in the Era of big hits, playoff dramatics, bat flips, forearm smashes and emotional electricity.
With the Padres teetering on the brink of playoff elimination and trailing 6-2, the 21-year-old Tatis — who tore through much of MLB’s COVID season before hitting a wall in the last 20 days (Tatis hit .164/.242/.291, lost 125 points off his OPS) — stepped to the plate, having also left 10 men on base over the first game-and-a-half of his first postseason.
Then the winds of fate started swirling, the clouds darkened and El Nino hit the 3rd 3-run homer in Padres postseason history (1st since 1984).
As Manny Machado approached the plate for his at-bat, the two players leaped into the air and smashed forearms. Remember that moment because kids across the country will be doing the same thing after home runs. It’s become the wood-toting tandem’s signature celebration after a long ball.
The 28-year-old Machado wouldn’t be outdone by the neophyte, so the future Hall of Famer, whose passion for baseball seemed to be rejuvenated this season by Tatis’ infectious energy, followed Jr.’s at-bat with some fireworks of his own. After all, The young Latin Lord Machado rakes. When Machado was Tatis Jr.’s age he was known as “The Babyface Assassin.” Known for his prolific glove, he also has five consecutive seasons of 30 or more homers (in traditional 162-game schedules) on his resume since his MLB debut in 2012.
That explosion was a blast of reality. Finally, a consensus understanding that the Padres are back. They have two Top 10 players in the game — one in his prime and already considered the greatest third baseman of his generation. Another, a baby boomer whose youthful exuberance reinvigorated the high-paid OG’s passion for the game.
The Padres finished the 2018 season with the fourth-worst record in the league and the franchise hasn’t won more than 76 games since 2010. That’s almost a decade of futility. However, the front office gave Machado one of the biggest bags in sports history, then Tatis Jr. arrived like a comet landing on earth, and in 2020 they lead San Diego to the playoffs.
“We bring each other’s A-Game every single day,” Tatis Jr. told MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds and Greg Amsinger, referencing his relationship with Machado. Flexing a wide smile from dreadlock to dreadlock, Tatis Jr. added: “We feed off each other and we learn from each other. We compete against each other…we have too..it’s part of the game. I learned a lot from that guy. Every time we have a chance we talk about situations and what we should do to get the team better.”
Coming back from 4-0 deficits when you can just lay down, go home and prepare for next season is a great way to accomplish that goal.
If you didn’t believe in the power of El Nino after he pulled his first homer to leftfield, he had more in store. Tatis came up again in the 7th inning and went oppo-Taco, as the Padres started to pull away and prepare for a series-deciding Game 3. He finished the game 3-for-5 with two homers and 5 RBI.
The kid that the Chicago White Sox signed as an international free agent from the Dominican Prospect League in 2015 has elevated to the top of the MLB visibility charts in a half decade’s time.
We don’t want to totally leave out veteran Wil Myers who also hit a couple of bombs and will play a huge role in the team’s success moving forward. Or leadoff guy Trent Grisham who could be considered part of The Padres “Big Three “ of the future.
But the culture of the squad is set by Machado and Tatis who are already marking their territory in the National League and looking forward to a meeting with division-rival LA Dodgers if the chips can fall that way. San Diego has to first win tonight’s elimination game beginning at 7:08 pm. Even if they fall short, this season will be a significant one in their franchise history when we reflect back years from now.
“Just being able to be part of a postseason…” said Tatis Jr, who became the 3rd youngest player with a multi-homer game in playoff history. “What it means for the Padres and the fans, not having been in the postseason for 14 years. ..The way we have played and being able to have a chance in the playoffs is just great.”
Remember these guys. They will ultimately influence the culture of the game as well as future generations of young players. They have already elevated the entire San Diego Padres brand with their talents.