Tatis focus of Cardinals' bullpen strategy

October 1st, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- For all the memorable moments has authored in 2020, his ink ran dry on Wednesday.

The Padres' superstar shortstop pounded out a hit and drew a walk in his first postseason game. But after the Padres’ tense 7-4 defeat against the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series at Petco Park, Tatis was mostly left to ponder what could have been.

The Cardinals seemed determined not to let Tatis beat them on Wednesday -- a sensible strategy considering he’s coming off a season worthy of MVP consideration.

Tatis walked and singled against lefty starter Kwang Hyun Kim. But St. Louis manager Mike Shildt maneuvered for a favorable pitching matchup immediately before each of Tatis' final three plate appearances. He stranded runners all three times.

In the fourth inning, St. Louis called for righty Ryan Helsley with a man aboard. Tatis made perhaps his best contact of the game, shooting a deep drive to the right-field warning track. But the Cardinals' outfielders played Tatis deep all game, and Dexter Fowler made a running grab on the warning track. Tatis could offer only a faux cap-tip in Fowler's direction.

"You've got to give them credit," said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. "They made plays, and they were at the right spots. ‘Tati’ hit that ball hard to right, and Fowler, at the warning track."

In the sixth, Tatis was the potential go-ahead run when Shildt made another pitching change before his at-bat, calling for Giovanny Gallegos. The right-hander got Tatis to chase with a nasty 1-2 slider off the outside corner.

Two innings later, the Padres had their best chance to tie the game. After a wacky play on the bases left men at second and third with two outs, Shildt called for closer Alex Reyes.

As a bright-eyed rookie last April, Tatis had taken Reyes deep with a two-run homer in St. Louis -- just the second of his career. But Reyes won the battle Wednesday. He got Tatis to bounce harmlessly to short with a 99.7 mph sinker at the bottom of the zone.

"You could say both at-bats, Gio and Alex, were pretty big at-bats," Shildt said. "They did really good stuff -- with nasty stuff."

For two weeks, Tatis has spoken longingly about playing postseason baseball, where he says the passion of the game mirrors his own.

Now, he's on the verge of an early exit -- unless he has another dazzling 2020 moment up his sleeve. After a season like his, you wouldn't put it past him.