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Tatis homers at dad's former stomping grounds

Rookie's clutch hit caps three-run seventh inning
@AJCassavell
April 5, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Fernando Tatis Jr. was born into a Cardinals family 20 years ago. But he had no problem spoiling the Opening Day festivities in St. Louis on Friday afternoon. Tatis’ second career home run was the decisive blow in the Padres’ 5-3 victory on Friday afternoon at Busch

ST. LOUIS -- Fernando Tatis Jr. was born into a Cardinals family 20 years ago. But he had no problem spoiling the Opening Day festivities in St. Louis on Friday afternoon.

Tatis’ second career home run was the decisive blow in the Padres’ 5-3 victory on Friday afternoon at Busch Stadium. He sent a 97-mph Alex Reyes fastball into the left-field seats and punctuated it with an emphatic bat drop, capping a thrilling three-run seventh inning for San Diego.

“I got goosebumps and everything,” Tatis said. “It was a very special moment.”

Tatis Jr. was too young to remember it, but his father had only just been traded to St. Louis when he was born in January 1999. Tatis Sr. would go on to hit 60 homers as a Cardinal while serving as a useful utility infielder for three seasons. On April 23, 1999, he was wearing a Cardinals uniform when he became the only player to hit two grand slams in the same inning.

The fans in St. Louis don’t forget. When Tatis Jr. was introduced during pregame ceremonies, he received a rousing ovation.

“It's a credit to him, 100 percent,” he said. “He did some special things here, and they still appreciate it. I loved that.”

Now, Tatis Jr. has a memory of his own to cherish in St. Louis. The 20-year-old phenom had been disappointed that his first dinger came in a blowout loss on Monday night. This one counted. Big time.

With the game tied at two entering the seventh, Manny Machado opened the frame with a walk, marking the seventh consecutive plate appearance in which he’d reached base. He’d score on Franchy Cordero’s sacrifice fly, before Tatis gave the Padres a three-run lead, plating Franmil Reyes with his home run.

“What’s class about these fans is how loud they were when he came out,” said Padres skipper Andy Green. “We know it’s not because they love our young prospect. We understand why. That’s pretty special. It meant something to him, and it meant something probably to his dad.”

“He has a ton of respect for the fans,” Green added. “But I’m sure he enjoyed spoiling it for them, too.”

Of course, few outside the organization envisioned Tatis ever getting this opportunity. He was a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster last week, as the Padres defiantly ignored service-time considerations by promoting their top prospect three weeks ahead of schedule.

Tatis could’ve been in El Paso for opening weekend in Triple-A. Instead, his home run served to quiet 46,615 raucous fans at Busch Stadium. If the Padres somehow find themselves in a tight playoff race this summer, Tatis’ early-season heroics will be worth remembering.

In a pinch
For the second straight game, the Padres pinch-hit for their starting pitcher after he’d gone just five innings. For the second straight game, that decision paid off in a big way.

On Wednesday, Francisco Mejia put San Diego on top with a go-ahead double against Arizona. In St. Louis, it was Hunter Renfroe, who came off the bench with a runner on second and two outs in the sixth. He saw one pitch from Cardinals reliever Dominic Leone, and he sent it soaring toward Big Mac Land in left field. The Padres’ one-run deficit became a one-run lead.

“Hunter’s had some huge at-bats off the bench for us,” Green said. “He really steps up in big moments, and it was fun to watch him do it today.”

This season, the San Diego bench has combined to hit .348 with two homers and five RBIs. That success is no coincidence. The current group of reserves is easily the best since Green took over. Thus far he’s pulled the right strings.

“We’ve been really adamant as a staff letting these guys know that the guy coming off the bench is going to have probably the most impactful at-bat of the game,” Green said. “You’re not benched for the day. You’re waiting to be utilized as a weapon.”

80s night
Velocity is in style these days, but there's clearly still a place for pitchers like Nick Margevicius.

The Padres starter didn't hit 90 mph once on Friday afternoon. His fastball averaged 87.8 mph. But the Cardinals still had trouble squaring up the 22-year-old left-hander, who worked five innings of one-run ball. Margevicius mixed his pitches nicely, and he spotted his fastball on the corners.

“There’s clearly some deception,” Green said. “The ball gets on you, even though you don’t think the velo is going to do that to you. He’s got a way to beat some guys. What he did so well was he just yo-yo’d guys back-and-forth today. It was hard to sit on a particular pitch, because he wasn’t in a pattern at any point in time. It was just really good pitching.”

A year ago, Margevicius was starting on Opening Day for Class A Fort Wayne. He’s come a long way since then, holding the Cardinals to only one hit -- a Paul DeJong homer in the fourth.

Tidbits
• Machado worked three walks to go along with a third-inning single, before he grounded out to third in the eighth. His streak of reaching base in seven consecutive plate appearances was the longest by a Padre since Jose Pirela did so in August 2017.

• Reyes entered play Friday ranked ninth in the Majors with a 96.1 mph average exit velocity, but he had just one hit in 16 at-bats to show for it. Sure enough, Reyes’ 76-mph blooper into right field -- the third-softest ball he’s hit this season -- landed for a single in the fifth.

“It’s smarter not to hit it so hard all the time,” Green quipped.

Robert Stock was drafted by the Cardinals as a catcher in the second round of the 2009 Draft. Ten years later, in his first game at Busch Stadium, Stock picked up the win (though he allowed a run on a Marcell Ozuna single in the bottom of the sixth inning).

• Cordero’s afternoon was loaded with one savvy at-bat after another. He bunted for a hit in the second, then doubled to right in the third. In the fifth, he worked a walk ahead of Renfroe’s go-ahead homer. Then, in the sixth, he plated Machado as the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.

“He’s doing everything we want him to do,” Green said. “He’s battling with two strikes, walking, hitting balls hard, bunting. He’s got a special skill set, and he really showed a lot of it today.”

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.