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Fernando Tatis Jr. looks to be a ‘real player’ in Padres’ postseason

Fernando Tatis Jr., left, and Jorge Mateo wait to bat during the Padres' workout at Globe Life Field on Monday.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The National League MVP award was practically being engraved with his name when Fernando Tatis Jr. had a September to forget.

So he did.

There was more baseball to be played, and sometimes the best tool even a five-tool player can have is a short memory.

Besides, October is when legacies are made.

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“Real players make real history in the postseason,” Tatis said Monday. “So definitely, it’s huge to me.”

The Padres’ postseason continues Tuesday with the start of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.

A legend can grow at any time, especially in these times, almost without regard to importance.

The level beyond legend is legacy, which requires impact. A legacy is made of substance.

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Tatis is already legendary. But it’s 2020, so that’s not really what it used to be.

His brand of cool is made for social media and a world in perpetual need of instant thrill. Those dyed-blonde locks, that smile, those moves. That talent. His penchant for the big hit and the big celebration.

He really is God’s gif to mankind.

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Certainly, there is value in being outstanding in the regular season.

Tatis’ 17 home runs were second most in the National League. Tatis led the Padres with 49 runs created. He led the major leagues with seven outs above average. His energy and penchant for fun keeps veterans young and was high on the list of things that charged the Padres’ resilience this season.

“Off the charts,” catcher Austin Nola said of what Tatis brings to the Padres on the field and off. “You can watch it. It brings everybody’s energy level up when he’s so enthusiastic playing the game.”

All season, opposing managers and players talked freely about how good Tatis was. A theme heard repeatedly was that they had seen highlights and read the scouting reports but were even more impressed by what they witnessed in person.

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“He’s a star,” Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said Monday. “He does everything on the baseball field you can ask for. … He’s got all the tools, the smarts. He’s got everything. He’s definitely a lot of fun to watch. There’s also a lot of maturity there as well. Just got to tip your cap to somebody who’s that good who handles everything so well.”

That includes expectations.

For all Tatis has done over the past two seasons — and very few in history have produced as much as quickly — he knows feats accomplished while playing for a trophy are the ones most vividly remembered.

“Postseason baseball is just special, man,” he said.

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Tatis has been a man for moments.

And in his first postseason, just when it seemed a moment had been found that was big enough to keep him in its shadow, he turned around a series.

When Tatis came to bat with runners at first and second with one out in the sixth inning of Game 2, the Padres were down 6-2 in a game they had to win. His three-run homer got the Padres to within 6-5, and Manny Machado tied the game by following Tatis’ home run with one of his own. Wil Myers and Tatis homered in the seventh, and Myers added another homer in the eighth as the Padres won 11-9.

Tatis had struck out twice with runners in scoring position in Game 2 after striking out and grounding out with runners in scoring position the night before. In his Game 1 strikeout, he chased three pitches outside the zone.

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He looked at least a little out of sorts, especially for a player who has shown uncanny calm since making his major league debut on opening day in 2019 as a 20-year-old.

“We’re playing in the playoffs,” he said when asked if he had experienced nerves in the opener. “First time I’ve been in the playoffs. You’re going to feel that spark inside you no matter what.”

After starting 2-for-7 and going 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, Tatis had two home runs and a double in his final four at-bats in the series. In the three games against the Cardinals, he scored five runs and drove in five and got on base at a .571 clip.

That he overcame the nerves and delivered is due to what Padres manager Jayce Tingler called “the combo platter” of physical and mental ability Tatis and a select few possess.

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“What he’s doing is extremely hard, especially being 21 years old and you’re carrying natural emotions,” Tingler said. “In this game, you’re going to have some small pockets of the game where things don’t go your way. But I think maturity and the more he gets experience to continue to keep pushing, to keep grinding, to keep fighting, when you can do those things, the talent usually plays out at the end.”

With his home runs, Tatis blew up any thought he might start his career on a Mike Trout trajectory.

Tatis hitting .065 (2-for-31) over nine games in the middle of September likely will keep Tatis from joining the Angels’ star in being a league MVP. But Trout would almost certainly at least consider trading one of his three American League MVP awards for more chances in the postseason. Maybe he’d trade all three for a World Series ring.

Trout has been to the playoffs once in his nine big-league seasons. He went 1-for-12 with a home run and three walks in the 2014 AL Division Series.

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It won’t be surprising if regular season hardware comes at some point for Tatis. He could win a Gold Glove this year.

The postseason, he knows, is more valuable than all that.

“I feel like there’s way more to play for,” he said. “It’s just the energy and vibe it brings with itself, it’s a great moment.”


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