Padres riding the momentum

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

On October 15 at 10:55 p.m., under threatening skies over Petco Park, the San Diego Padres slayed the “the dragon up the freeway.” Team owner Peter Seidler coined that phrase, obviously well aware that the Los Angeles Dodgers won fourteen of the nineteen regular series games against his team this year. In fact, the Padres failed to win even one series. Historically, L.A. has owned the local team with a record of 511-415.

Before the season began, Dave Roberts, the manager of the “dragon”, guaranteed fans a trip to the World Series. His team proceeded to win a whopping 111 games (the fifth team in Major League Baseball to reach that threshold), going 57-24 at home and 54-27 on the road. Obviously, Roberts’ prediction went up in smoke in the postseason.

Through the long season, the Dodgers cruised along in first place in the National League West and ended up 22 games ahead of the second-place Padres. In contrast, San Diego had to battle until late in the season to seize a Wild Card berth.

On Saturday night, the series stood at 1-2, after the Padres split a series in L.A. and won the first game on home turf, hanging on in a 2-1 victory. Manager Bob Melvin had saved Joe Musgrove for this crucial spot.

Musgrove held the Dodgers at bay until the third inning when Freddie Freeman drove in two runs. In the seventh, L.A. added another run. That not-again feeling began to creep into the festive atmosphere at Petco Park, filled with 45,137 fans. The Padres hadn’t scored since the fourth inning of the previous game.

Finally, in the seventh inning, the offense got involved. Jurickson Profar started the frame with a walk, and by the time the dust had cleared, Austin Nola, Ha-Seong Kim, Juan Soto, and Jake Cronenworth had kept the line moving for a total of five runs.

That inning changed the game and the series, as well as the entire narrative of the National League West in 2022. For the first time since 1998, the San Diego Padres secured a spot in the National League Championship Series. Back then, the starters featured Tony Gwynn, Steve Finley, Wally Joyner, and Greg Vaughn in the lineup, with Kevin Brown, Andy Ashby, and Trevor Hoffman on the mound.

In the ninth inning, closer Josh Hader dispatched the Dodgers in short order, needing just ten pitches, nine of them strikes. The amped-up fans ignored the weather and rode the wave to victory. Although Dodger fans tend to flock to games at Petco Park, the Padres managed to limit their numbers.

After 24 long, long years, Padres fans could look forward to a National League Championship Game. The team had achieved that long-sought goal without sparkplug and problem-child, Fernando Tatis Jr. They’d overcome the legions of men left in scoring position.

Bill Plaschke, a baseball columnist for the Los Angeles Times, called the loss ”the biggest upset in Dodger history.” Manager Roberts had few words, “Shock factor very high…It’s crushing.”

It’s no coincidence that the Padres have gotten this far under the management of Bob Melvin, the first experienced manager in A. J. Preller’s tenure as general manager. His predecessors may have ranted at times, but Melvin has the gravitas to reach his players and light a fire under them if necess.

Beginning Tuesday, the Padres will face the Philadelphia Phillies. Their season began with a losing record of 21-29. However, the Phillies pulled themselves together and won just two fewer games than the Padres. Their record of 87-75 was worth third place in the National League East behind the New York Mets (defeated by the Padres in the first round of the playoffs) and Atlanta Braves.  At home, the Phillies have a record of 47-34 but just 40-41 on the road. The Padres have had more balanced results of 44-37 at home and 45-36 on the road.

The importance of the decisive victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers cannot be overstated. The Padres didn’t just win the series, they overwhelmed the Dodgers. The San Diego Padres have a valid reason to believe in themselves. Their momentum could very well carry them through the next series against a lesser foe than the dangerous Dodgers.

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