Padres bet on ‘trustworthy man’ in former Dayton pitcher Stammen

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Craig Stammen leaves the game after working against a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the second inning of Game 3 of a National League wild-card baseball series Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Craig Stammen began his career as a starting pitcher but had not started a game in 10 years when he took the mound for the San Diego Padres on Friday for Game 3 of a wild-card series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It was maybe not something I probably expected,” Stammen told reporters in San Diego. “I thought it could happen. When I was told I was starting, I was pretty excited. It was a little bit of an adrenaline rush. I was trying to think back to when I was a starter when I was 25 or 26 years old and trying to remember how not to do it.”

Stammen, a Versailles High School graduate and former Dayton Flyers standout, allowed one hit and did not walk a batter in 1 2/3 innings. Eight pitchers followed him as the Padres completed a four-hit shutout and eliminated the last of the four National League Central Division teams that made the playoffs, beating the Cardinals 4-0.

The No. 4 seed Padres will play the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. All games in the final three rounds of the playoffs will be played at neutral sites.

The Padres won a playoff series for the first time since they advanced to the World Series in 1998. It was also the first postseason series victory for Stammen, who made six relief appearances for the Washington Nationals in the 2012 and 2014 NLDS.

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“It’s very exciting, a long time coming, something we’ve been working on for a long time," Stammen said. “It was exciting in the fashion we did it, and we’re looking forward to this next series.”

Stammen, one of three Dayton pitchers to appear in the big leagues along with Jerry Blevins and Mike Hauschild, became the first to start a postseason game. He started 19 games in his rookie season in 2009 with the Nationals and 19 the next season but then moved into the bullpen and has pitched there ever since.

Stammen, 36, is 48-39 with a 3.69 ERA in 462 appearances in 11 seasons. This is Stammen’s fourth season in San Diego. He’s 4-2 with a 5.63 ERA in 24 appearances. He returned to the big leagues with the Padres in 2017 after missing two seasons when he underwent surgery to repair torn flexor tendons in his right forearm.

“You never know when this baseball life is going to end,” Stammen told the Dayton Daily News in 2017 during a series in Cincinnati. “It could end in a minute, or you could to pick when it ends and you want to retire. There were times when I thought, ‘This might be it,’ but I kept going and said I was going to exhaust all my opportunities and try to get my arm back healthy and see if I could pitch again.”

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Stammen got the ball Friday in part because in five appearances against the Cardinals in his career at Petco Park, he had a 0.00 ERA. Just getting out of the first inning without a run was important for the Padres, who allowed four runs in the first in a 7-4 loss in Game 1 and one run in the first in a 11-9 victory in Game 2.

“What he did was set the tone,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “We had a ton of discussion. What’s the right move? You look at the numbers. You look at the analytics. At the end of the day, we banked on the man. This guy never missed a day in COVID camp. He knows this mound. He’s one of the leaders in the clubhouse. There’s a ton of belief in the man. We looked at numbers. We looked at other options. We just gave it to a trustworthy man. How hew as able to set the tone and get us out of there in an even game when we hadn’t done that yet, it was huge. I think it set the tone in a domino effect for the other guys coming in and doing the job. If that goes haywire, we may be spinning, but at the end of the day, we bet on the person.”

Hearing about his manager’s comments after the game, Stammen said, “You can’t get a better compliment than that. I’ve tried my hardest to be a good leader for this team, to bring a little bit more to the table than what I do on the field. It’s nice to be rewarded with the start today. I kind of had the easiest job. I knew exactly who I was facing. I tried to set the tone for the guys.”

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