Optimism was high as the San Diego Padres entered Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
They had just won their first postseason series since 1998, and Mike Clevinger, their ace pitcher who had been on the shelf with an elbow injury, was taking the mound.
Plus, they were facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, who San Diego had… less than pleasant interactions with.
The positive vibes left soon after Clevinger departed his start after just 24 pitches. Then Walker Buehler navigated out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Jurickson Profar and Trent Grisham. San Diego’s bullpen, which carried the Padres to the NLDS, faltered as eight relievers largely failed to find the strike zone.
A four-run sixth inning gave Los Angeles a lead they wouldn’t surrender as San Diego could not mount a comeback against their division rivals, falling 5-1 in Game 1.
Clevinger managed to pitch one complete inning before feeling his arm tighten up two pitches into an at-bat against Cody Bellinger in the second. His velocity had slowly been dipping throughout the first inning, and a 77 MPH slider indicated something was wrong. Manager Jayce Tingler came out and, after a lengthy discussion with Clevinger, called forth Pierce Johnson from the bullpen.
The early departure was just the start of a frustrating night for San Diego, despite taking a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Wil Myers worked a full count walk and stole second base, setting up Austin Nola’s RBI single in the fourth inning.
His name is literally NO LA. pic.twitter.com/UMaP04gM52
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) October 7, 2020
The bullpen, already taxed from their Herculean efforts against the St. Louis Cardinals, finally gave way at the worst of times. Tim Hill walked Justin Turner in the fifth inning then his replacement, Garrett Richards, also issued a walk. The former Angel got a ground ball from Bellinger, but Eric Hosmer failed to catch second baseman Jake Cronenworth’s throw at first base, allowing Turner to score.
Richard went out for the sixth inning and, after striking out Enrique Hernandez, walked Chris Taylor and surrendered a double to Mookie Betts. The Padres’ frustrations boiled over later in the frame as an animated Tingler was tossed by home plate umpire Lance Barrett for arguing balls and strikes.
Tingler’s ejection saved him from watching what unfolded. Matt Strahm entered the game and allowed three runs to cross the plate while a wild pitch from Craig Stammen allowed a fourth runner to score.
The Padres’ offense, which mounted incredible comebacks during the season, suddenly went cold. Ice cold. Dustin May silenced the Padres over two innings and three relievers combined to allow a single hit, a double by Grisham in the eighth.
The lone bright spot for San Diego came in the form of Ryan Weathers. The left-hander entered the game in the third inning and was given the prestigious honor of facing the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup. For a 20-year-old making his major league debut in the postseason, this was a “sink-or-swim” moment.
Not only did Weathers tread water, he swam the metaphorical English Channel without the need for water wings or inflatable inner tubes. Despite walking two batters, Weathers navigated past the seasoned Dodger lineup while his parents looked on from the bleachers.
He even bagged his first career strikeout, getting reigning NL MVP Bellinger to swing through a 95.7 MPH fastball.
The Padres may need him to perform such acts again. To say the bullpen has been overworked is putting it mildly, and the Dodgers look stronger than ever.
Nobody said this series was going to be easy. Good teams get back up, dust themselves off, and look forward to the next game, which is exactly what the Padres need to do tomorrow.