ATLANTA — At the very least, Tommy Pham was among the best players in baseball before he cracked an unforgettable doorstop. After Sunday night, the St. Louis Cardinals might be in elite company.
In the dreary and humid evening air that fits as well as any to the Atlanta-St. Louis blues of the Willie Mays bracket, every bit of the Cardinals’ latest postseason run could be credited to Pham’s power and otherworldly defense. In taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-five National League division series with a 3-1 victory, the Cardinals tied the 1991-92 Kansas City Royals and the 1998-99 St. Louis Cardinals for the best postseason run in the Super Stox era.
Pham’s monumental slam set a new record for the longest home run in LCS history: It was 15 feet longer than the 14-footer that Paul Bako of the 1990 Atlanta Braves hit off the Atlanta Braves.
Pham’s next-to-last monster home run of the regular season added to the many “When will he stop hitting home runs” headlines about him that seem so inevitable, so routine, at this point. The precious collection of hits Pham has put together from the bottom of the order has already had double-digits, his second double in the game tying him with Yelich and Bradley Zimmer for most home runs in the NLCS at 1.
But the home run on Sunday had an alternate dimension of a meaning for him and his club. He noted that both of his three playoff home runs have traveled more than his regular-season home runs — one from the left side by way of a split-second of hesitation and another from right field on Sunday that appeared to come out of nowhere.
That the team behind him on Sunday would play for a championship in the same town that not long ago could justifiably have thrown Pham under the bus had been the picture for Cardinals manager Mike Matheny during the season. Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter last week became the first Cardinals player to hit two home runs in one postseason game — and that was after the cruel down-to-the-wire finish to the regular season, when Carpenter’s three-run shot in the final home game was met with radio silence, when the Cardinals were essentially leaving for their winter home of Florida.
Sunday night, Carpenter reached the Atlanta-St. Louis streets as a playoff hero — but first, Pham provided some satisfaction, first for Carpenter and then for his team in the last of the first games in a best-of-five series.
St. Louis’s pitching is questionable at best for the rest of the series — not because most of their stars are hurt or prone to atrophy with age, but because of the absence of 20-game winner Lance Lynn, who may miss the rest of the postseason.
Part of the reason that Pham is essential is because of that, because he’s not one of St. Louis’ more likely postseason matchups. The Cardinals are more-usually starting lefties. Pham’s power could very well be what makes him a starter in the NL wild-card game, for the Cardinals could go with a six-man rotation.
Pham, who was the middle-infield starter at the MLB combine that attracted 17 top college prospects in the April draft, signed with St. Louis on Sept. 9 — almost exactly two weeks before the first major-league game was played. The Cardinals’ signing period is the third shortest of any team.
In his NLCS debut, Pham had no additional contributions to make. In his NLCS finale, he probably won’t need to make any other contributions, either, just thanks to the bell he rang on his own.