It’s safe to say that the MLB commissioner’s office will be rooting for the San Diego Padres tonight as they take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the third and deciding game of their National League Wild Card Series. That’s because San Diego has the one player who is widely proclaimed to be the future of baseball, 21-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.
After putting up MVP numbers for the first five weeks of the season, Tatis cooled off in September and hit .208/.311/.403 while the Padres cruised into the postseason. Still, the sophomore’s combination of speed, power, and swagger has him on the path to superstardom. That was never more apparent than last night, when he keyed a come-from-behind win with San Diego teetering on the edge of elimination.
That epic flip — reminiscent of the one Jose Bautista pulled off during the 2015 ALDS — was from Tatis’s second home run of the night. His first home run was a laser beam to left field that turned the score from 6-2 to 6-5 in the sixth inning. Manny Machado tied the score with a big dong of his own immediately after. The bat flip home run, though, turned out to be just as important because it drove in two runs, which was precisely San Diego’s margin of victory. Drew Pomeranz and Trevor Rosenthal fended off a late Cardinals rally and secure an 11-9 victory.
Game 3 tonight gives Tatis another chance to shine on the national stage, especially since the game starts two hours before Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Heat and Lakers. Of course, the way baseball is played nowadays, that gives Tatis about four innings to do something amazing before many fans switch to the basketball game.
Rob Manfred is going to end up making a lot of changes to baseball during his term as commissioner, but he hasn’t yet figured out how to return the game to the swift pace of the 1980s. A slow pace means less action and more time between Tatis at-bats. It also means that the Padres and Cardinals won’t reach the late stages of their game until halftime or later of the NBA Finals.
MLB is already at a disadvantage to the NBA because baseball’s star players aren’t on the field as often and they won’t put up big numbers in every single game. It only makes matters worse than almost every basketball game finishes in less than three hours while baseball games routinely go over that mark. That’s why Tatis can hit four home runs tonight and most sports fans will still be more likely to talk about what LeBron James did against Miami.
We can talk all we want about baseball’s supposed marketing problem, but the game won’t make traction on the national stage until the commissioner finds a way to eliminate some of the dead time in between pitches.