1st pitches are Paddack's undoing in Game 1

October 1st, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- They waited 14 years for the moment, but the good vibes surrounding the Padres' return to the postseason stage lasted all of eight minutes -- or 13 eminently hittable pitches from .

By then, the Cardinals had pushed San Diego’s season to the brink.

In a merciless first-inning sequence, St. Louis tagged Paddack for four runs on five hits, then held on for a 7-4 victory in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series on Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park. To stave off elimination in the best-of-three series, the Padres must beat the Cardinals twice in the next two days.

“I’ve got to tip my cap that they came out with a great game plan,” Paddack said. “It’s just frustrating. I take all the blame for Game 1.”

More than anything, the defeat Wednesday offered a painful reminder of what the Padres are missing on the mound. A week ago, they'd settled on a Game 1 start for . Then, he suffered a right elbow impingement. They pivoted to for Game 1. His biceps barked. Both were left off the Wild Card Series roster.

Plan C was the enigmatic Paddack, whose roller-coaster season has been defined by high highs and low lows. This was the lowest. The Cardinals went on the attack against Paddack, determined to swing early in counts and avoid his putaway changeup.

“I think guys were on him,” said St. Louis shortstop Paul DeJong. “I thought we executed our approach and really just kind of ambushed him there a little bit. Bang, bang, bang -- bunch of hits, bunch of hard hits, got him on his heels.”

Paul Goldschmidt launched a towering two-run homer on a first-pitch fastball to open the scoring. Two batters later, Yadier Molina hit an RBI single on a first-pitch heater. DeJong took a fastball for ball one, then he doubled on the next one. Matt Carpenter made it 4-0, swinging at a first-pitch curve and hitting a sac fly.

“That’s the moment you work for your entire life,” Paddack said. “The most frustrating part is it just didn’t go my way. … I’m going to keep my head up. It’s so frustrating, but tomorrow’s a new day. I’ve got faith in these boys that that might be my first one, but it’s not going to be my last postseason start this year.”

Manager Jayce Tingler resolved to get him another.

“He doesn’t need to be left with that,” Tingler said. “We need to get him the ball again.”

All season, Tingler’s M.O. has been a long leash for his players and unwavering trust. That did not change on Wednesday. He stuck with Paddack well into the third inning -- even after Dylan Carlson’s single and Molina’s double.

Paddack finished having allowed six runs on eight hits over 2 1/3 innings. Afterward, Tingler acknowledged that his short-handed pitching staff was a factor in his early decision-making.

“Truthfully, we needed him to settle in,” Tingler said. “It’s no secret, from a starting pitching standpoint, we’re not as deep as we were a week ago. So we needed to give him a chance to settle in and get going. He just couldn’t get out of the third.”

From there, the Padres needed a lockdown performance from their bullpen, arguably the best in baseball since mid-August. They got one. Seven relievers -- a franchise playoff record -- combined to limit the Cardinals to one run over the final 6 2/3 innings.

In the meantime, the San Diego offense chipped away, scoring three times on sacrifice flies and a fourth time on ’s RBI single.

“We had traffic,” Tingler said. “Obviously, didn’t get the big hit.”

, a strong NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate, reached base three times in his postseason debut. But he made two regrettable baserunning blunders that proved costly.

On ’s fly ball in the sixth, Pham tagged and scored. But Cronenworth got a late break from second. Goldschmidt cut off the throw and nailed Cronenworth for the second out. The Padres put two men aboard before struck out to end the frame, but it was worth wondering if they’d run themselves out of a big inning.

“Just a bad read,” Cronenworth said. “That’s really all I can say. I should’ve stayed at second there with one out, and kind of killed the inning there.”

In the eighth, Cronenworth found himself hung up between third and home after breaking, then pausing, on ’s infield chopper -- which would have been a close play at first.

Suddenly -- after the most successful regular season in franchise history by winning percentage -- the Padres find themselves one game from elimination.

“Our back’s against the wall,” Tingler said. “Now we find out exactly what we’re made of. We’re going to be stretched. It’s going to be fun. Let’s find out who we are.”

The Padres turn to right-hander on Thursday in Game 2. The Cardinals counter with right-hander Adam Wainwright, who was on the mound to end San Diego’s last foray into the postseason in 2006.

Again, those pesky Cardinals -- the only franchise that has ever beaten the Padres in the NL playoffs -- played spoiler in San Diego on Wednesday.