SAN DIEGO — From 21-year-old budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. to 36-year-old reliever Craig Stammen, the San Diego Padres tossed aside more than two decades of futility and brought joy to a city that’s had its sports psyche beaten down for far too long.
Stammen and eight fellow relievers combined on a four-hitter in a brilliant, record-setting effort that sent the Padres over the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 Friday night in the deciding Game 3 of their NL wild-card series.
The Padres won a postseason series for the first time in 22 years and advanced to face the NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series at Arlington, Texas, starting Tuesday.
Stammen, making his first start in 10 years, said the Padres weren’t wrapped up in past playoff failures, including being eliminated from the playoffs by the Cardinals three times since 1996.
“We’re trying to write our own piece of history right now,” said Stammen, who mentioned the Padres’ return to a brown and gold color scheme. “It’s icing on the cake to maybe turn the page on some of the San Diego struggles in the playoffs against the Cardinals, turn the page on maybe some struggles within the organization, the blue Padres, and now we’re the brown Padres. Excited to build some memories with the new colors.”
The nine pitchers marked the most used in a nine-inning shutout in any big league game since at least 1901.
With starters Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet unavailable due to injuries suffered in their final regular-season starts, rookie manager Jayce Tingler was forced to tap the Padres’ already-stressed bullpen and it came through magnificently. San Diego became the first team in baseball history to use eight or more pitchers in three straight postseason games.
“What those guys did this series and tonight, wow,” Tingler said. “They’ve been overworked, they’ve been overtaxed. Man to man, everybody came up and said, `I’m good, give me the ball. I’m good, give me the ball.’ Tonight, for me, was as team-oriented as so many guys contributed again. That’s who we are. That’s why we’re going to continue to keep playing.”
Trevor Rosenthal, who started his career with the Cardinals, struck out the side in the ninth and the team began celebrating in empty Petco Park. Players gestured toward fans who watched from balconies overlooking the ballpark. Fans crowded downtown and honked car horns and chanted.
This was the first postseason series victory for the Padres since the 1998 NLCS.
While the Padres celebrated, the Cardinals found out Hall of Famer Bob Gibson had died.
“It’s kind of hard losing a legend,” catcher Yadier Molina said. “You can lose a game, but when you lose a guy like Bob Gibson, just hard. Bob was funny, smart, he brought a lot of energy. When he talked, you listened. It was good to have him around every year. We lose a game, we lose a series, but the tough thing is we lost one great man.”
All four Division Series feature matchups between division rivals. All seven Central teams lost in the first round, with the Cardinals joining Cincinnati, the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota.
Tatis, who homered twice and drove in five runs in Thursday night’s wild 11-9 victory, doubled into the left-field corner off losing pitcher Jack Flaherty with one out in the fifth and scored on Eric Hosmer‘s two-out double to right-center.
Rookie Jake Cronenworth homered in the eighth.
The Padres rewarded their long-suffering fans by winning one of the most meaningful games of any kind in San Diego in a long time. The city’s only major professional championship remains the San Diego Chargers’ 1963 AFL title. The Chargers headed to Los Angeles after the 2016 season, leaving the Padres as the only pro team in San Diego, which lost NBA franchises to Houston and Los Angeles.
The Padres lost 4-1 to the Detroit Tigers in the 1984 World Series and were swept by the New York Yankees in the 1998 Fall Classic.
The 36-year-old Stammen, who hadn’t started since 2010 with the Washington Nationals, pitched a perfect first inning and made way for Tim Hill with one on and two out in the second. Hill retired Matt Carpenter, got the first two outs of the third and then handed off to Pierce Johnson. Johnson loaded the bases on a single and a walk but struck out rookie cleanup hitter Dylan Carlson.
St. Louis had another scoring chance in the sixth when Yadier Molina hit a one-out double off rookie Luis Patino and took third on Paul DeJong‘s grounder. Patino got Dexter Fowler to fly out to the warning track in right-center to end it.
The bullpen had been one of the Padres’ strengths coming into the season but lost several members to injuries, including closer Kirby Yates, who led the majors with 41 saves last year. General manager A.J. Preller replenished it just before the trade deadline.
Stammen had a seesaw regular season, going 4-2 with a 5.63 ERA in 24 appearances.
Flaherty was brilliant as well, allowing one run and six hits in six innings while striking out eight and walking two.
The loss ended a season that saw the Cardinals shut down by a virus outbreak in the early going. Manager Mike Shildt’s team earned a playoff spot by last Sunday by winning on the final day of the regular season.