SAN DIEGO — The most unique season in Major League Baseball history will continue with the Padres as part of it after their most improbable victory Friday night.
Nine pitchers, starting with 36-year-old Craig Stammen and including 20-year-old Luis Patino before ending with borrowed closer Trevor Rosenthal, produced a gem of a game and the Padres beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-0, to win their best-of-three Wild Card Series at Petco Park.
It was the second time in MLB history — and the first time in the postseason — a team used nine pitchers in a shutout victory.
The Padres’ first postseason in 14 years will carry on to Arlington, Texas, for their first ever playoff meeting with the Dodgers. The best-of-five National League Division Series begins Tuesday at Globe Life Field, where the winner would continue to play as long as it survives.
In this season unlike any other — delayed by four months and shortened by two-thirds due to COVID-19 — the Padres coalesced into a team rarely seen in San Diego. If ever.
They scored the third-most runs and allowed the eighth fewest. They hit the fourth-most home runs and stole the most bases. By some measures, they had the major leagues’ best overall defense.
They made joy their sixth tool, laughing and dancing their way to the second-most victories in the National League.
And just when it seemed they would not get to show the world their swaggy exuberance and brimming talent, they scored nine runs in their final three innings to come back and beat the Cardinals 11-9 on Thursday night, forcing Friday’s deciding game.
The elimination game became more tense with every passing scoreless half-inning, as the Padres had to take the next step toward history — in their words eat “the big cake” for the first time in the franchise’s existence — by using almost every member of their already exhausted bullpen.
After being down 4-0 at the end of the second inning in both of the first two games, they took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning on doubles by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eric Hosmer.
They added two runs in the seventh on a single, two Cardinals errors and two walks, including one drawn by Hosmer with the bases loaded that made it 3-0.
Rookie Jake Cronenworth made it 4-0 with a solo home run in the eighth inning.
For all the Padres’ success heading into this series, what happened right before it and at its start made this result somewhat improbable.
With Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet, the expected starters in Games 1 and 2, ruled out due to arm ailments and starters Chris Paddack and Zach Davies having bad games at the worst time, it was essentially three bullpen games for the Padres.
The relievers combined for a 1.58 ERA in 22 2/3 innings.
The Padres, not anticipating their top two pitchers would get hurt, sent Garrett Richards to the bullpen in September. So they came into this series with just two starting pitchers.
But what they were missing on their pitching staff did not crush them, because what they had would not allow it.
They used a franchise-record eight pitchers in Wednesday’s Game 1 then broke that record by using nine in Game 2 and then matched that in Game 3, becoming the first team to ever use at least eight pitchers in three consecutive postseason games.
Friday’s game was scheduled to be a bullpen bash from the start.
What wasn’t determined until early Friday morning was that Stammen, the oldest Padres player, would get the ball at the start.
Stammen took 10 pitches to retire the Cardinals in order in the first inning and got two outs in the second after allowing a soft single to Dylan Carlson leading off. As Tim Hill jogged in from the bullpen, Stammen walked to the dugout serenaded by a relatively loud standing ovation from the few hundred people (mostly team employees and players’ families) inside Petco Park.
His 1 2/3 innings were only one out shorter than Davies lasted on Thursday and two outs shorter than Paddack lasted Wednesday.
Stammen allowed four fewer runs than either.
Hill, making his first appearance in the series, ended the second by getting Matt Carpenter to ground out to first base.
The Padres loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the second before Trent Grisham struck out.
The Cardinals did the same thing their next time up, loading the bases with two outs in the top of the third when Hill hit Harrison Bader with one out and Pierce Johnson came in with two outs and promptly surrendered a single to Tommy Edman and walked Paul Goldschmidt. But he was walking off the mound pounding his fist into his glove after striking out Dylan Carlson.
It was Johnson’s third appearance in the series, following his scoreless inning in each of the first two games.
When 21-year-old Adrian Morejon entered the game at the start of the fourth, he was making his first appearance on successive days.
The left-hander got five outs and left Austin Adams to get the final out of the fifth, stranding runners at first and second with a strikeout of Goldschmidt.
Patino, who made his first 11 big league appearances in the regular season, made his playoff debut in the sixth.
A one-out double by Yadier Molina made that an adventure, as Molina moved to third base on Paul DeJong’s groundout and Carpenter walked before Dexter Fowler ended the inning on a fly out to the wall in right-center.
When Emilio Pagan entered to start the seventh inning, it was confirmation the night had gone from a pitching standpoint as well as could have been expected. The Padres had a lead and were in position to give the ball to their three back-end arms.
But adding to the tension and intrigue of this night was the fact Pagan, Drew Pomeranz and Rosenthal had all already pitched back-to-back days. Pagan had thrown 41 pitches over the two games, Pomeranz 37 and Rosenthal 45.
None of them had worked a three-peat this season. Pagan did it twice last year, Pomeranz did it last in 2015 and Rosenthal hadn’t since ’17.
Pagan set down all three batters he faced.
Pomeranz survived a walk in the eighth.
Rosenthal, who was acquired in an Aug. 29 trade to replace injured closer Kirby Yates, struck out the side.
©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune