SAN DIEGO – Fernando Tatis Jr. had been waiting for a breakout game, and boy did “El Niño” get it.
The 21-year-old budding superstar, who grew up in the game at the feet of his big league father, hit two home runs and drove in five to boost the San Diego Padres to an electrifying 11-9 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night that forced a deciding Game 3 in their NL wild-card series.
Wil Myers also homered twice and Manny Machado connected, but Tatis — with his signature exuberance and flair — was the one who carried the party at empty Petco Park.
With his blond dreadlocks bouncing around his helmet, Tatis danced down the first base line and gestured animatedly toward his teammates after igniting the comeback by lining a three-run home run into the left-field seats in the sixth inning. Machado followed with a solo shot to tie the game at 6.
Four batters after Myers opened the seventh with a solo shot for a 7-6 lead, Tatis was more dramatic after his a two-run drive into the home run deck in right. Tatis flipped his bat, turned and glared at his teammates before beginning his trot and then gave several leaping high-fives after touching the plate.
Tatis and Myers are the second teammates in postseason history with multiple homers in the same game, joining Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees on Oct. 1, 1932 in Game 3 of the World Series — including Ruth’s famed “called shot.”
The Padres are the first team in postseason history with five home runs from the sixth inning onward in a game.
It was the 23rd comeback win of 2020 for the close-knit Padres, who have pushed each other all year.
“I feel like we needed that big swing for the entire team to get us going," Tatis said of his first homer. “We were missing a lot with runners in scoring position. I feel like whoever did it first, we were going to feed off that. Thank God I did it first, but I'm just happy the team clicked and we won the game."
He was serious after his second homer because he wanted to send a message.
“We're in the playoffs. The game was not done, the job was not done until we get those 27 outs, we cannot back down, we cannot settle," Tatis said. “There was a lot of game left. I was wanting to keep motivating my teammates, just to let them know, to keep on. They are a team that they're going to answer back, so we've got to keep doing the work."
San Diego’s powerful offense finally burst to life after slumbering through a 7-4 loss in Game 1 and a listless first five innings Thursday night.
After striking out with the bases loaded in the fourth, Tatis — who along with Machado is an NL MVP contender — homered in consecutive innings. Tatis’ father played for the Cardinals for three seasons during his 11-season big league career.
Myers added a two-run homer in the eighth.
It was the Padres’ first postseason win at Petco Park, which opened in 2004. The first four losses were to St. Louis, which eliminated the Padres in the division series in 2005 and 2006 — the last time the Padres made the postseason — as well as in 1996, when the Padres played at Jack Murphy Stadium.
Game 3 will be Friday, and both staffs figure to be strapped after the clubs combined to use 17 pitchers.
It was the second time the Padres hit consecutive homers in the playoffs. The first was when Greg Vaughn and Tony Gwynn connected off San Diego native David Wells in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the 1998 World Series at Yankee Stadium. New York swept that series.
Cardinals reliever Genesis Cabrera opened the sixth by walking Austin Nola and rookie Jake Cronenworth before striking out Trent Grisham and making way for Giovanny Gallegos. Tatis lined a 2-2 pitch into the left-field seats to pull the Padres to 6-5. Machado followed by lining a 3-2 pitch to left-center to tie it.
“It’s a good lineup, no secrets to it," St. Louis manager Mike Schildt said. “We pitched them tough. Once the momentum started we weren’t able to have any shutdown innings.”
Tatis was second in the NL with 17 homers in the regular season, Machado had 16 and Myers 15.
Emilio Pagán got the win and former Cardinals pitcher Trevor Rosenthal pitched the ninth for the save.
Kolten Wong homered and drove in four runs for the Cardinals, who led 6-2 in the sixth.
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright allowed two runs and six hits before being chased after 3 1/3 innings. He struck out three and walked two.
Wong, who had just one homer in the regular season, gave the Cardinals a 4-0 lead with a no-doubt, two-run shot to deep right field off Zach Davies with one out in the second. It was fifth career postseason shot. Harrison Bader, who struck out five times Wednesday, was aboard on a single that scored Matt Carpenter after his leadoff double.
Yadier Molina, appearing in his NL-record 100th postseason game, hit an RBI single in the first and added his 100th career postseason hit in the ninth before being lifted for a pinch-runner.
The Cardinals closed the gap with two unearned runs in the eight, both on sacrifice flies, after Tatis committed a throwing error at shortstop. Paul Goldschmidt homered in the ninth, his second this series.
“We played a great lineup, a great team and they came at us over and over and over again and we never backed down," Wainwright said. “We answered back almost every time. Every time we put them in a hole they came right back.”
St. Louis: RHP Jack Flaherty (4-3, 4.91 ERA regular season) is scheduled to start Game 3 Friday.
San Diego: Haven’t announced a starter. “I got no idea,” rookie manager Jayce Tingler said moments after Game 2 wrapped. The Padres didn't include injured starters Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet on the wild-card roster.
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