The Padres made their statement in the National League West race Monday night by beating the Dodgers in the opener of the Petco Park showdown series, 7-2. But if they’re looking for respect from the perennial division leaders, showing up future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw didn’t earn it.
Padres second-year outfielder Trent Grisham fired up both clubs, not with his game-tying home run off Kershaw leading off the sixth inning, but the celebration before, during and after. It was the home run trot that announced the torrid Padres, winners of their last eight, are legit rivals for the seven-time reigning division winners.
“I don’t mind guys admiring a homer; certainly it’s a big game, big hit,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Really like the player. But I just felt to overstay at home plate, against a guy like Clayton, who’s got the respect of everyone in the big leagues for what he’s done in this game, I just took exception to that. There’s a certain respect that you give a guy if you homer against him.”
Respect or not, the Padres have won their last eight and pulled to only 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers, who have lost five of their last eight. The division race is essentially for seeding purposes, as both teams are headed to October, but it sure seemed like more was on the line.
“You could just feel the importance of the game,” Roberts said.
After pulling the 2-1 fastball into the right-field seats, Grisham didn’t move out of the batter’s box for a moment, flipped his bat, looked into his dugout, then began his trot. The Dodgers’ dugout was livid with the celebration, and Grisham heard about it as he rounded third base when more words were exchanged. Home-plate umpire Mark Ripperger felt the tension and cautioned the Dodgers to remain in the dugout. The party reached new heights when Grisham reached San Diego’s dugout.
“It was emotional,” said Grisham. “It’s a big situation off a big pitcher, a Hall of Fame pitcher, in a big game. Stakes were high. It got the guys going. When we get excited and get after it and have fun playing the game, we go.”
From there, the game spiraled on the Dodgers. Kershaw, with a three-hitter through six innings, was lifted with two on and one out in the seventh, followed by three defensive misplays in an ugly five-run inning.
So if Grisham’s actions had any result, it incited the Padres to play better than the Dodgers.
"It was a big moment in the game, and it was a huge hit,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “It got us fired up, and we have fun. We play the game right, we respect the game, but we're going to have fun, and we're going to pull for one another. To us, that's all it is."
Kershaw took a pass when asked for his opinion.
“I’m not going to worry about their team,” he said. “Let him do what he wants.”
Until Grisham’s home run, Kershaw protected the slimmest 1-0 lead while locked in an old-school duel with Dinelson Lamet, who in seventh innings had 11 of the Dodgers’ 14 strikeouts. Kershaw struck out nine with his best fastball velocity this year and a put-away slider, the combination looking better than the three earned runs he was charged. As usual, when Pedro Báez was brought in, Kershaw wasn’t thrilled about leaving.
“I didn’t want to come out. You don’t ever want to come out, especially with guys on base,” Kershaw said. “Not to say you don’t have faith in your bullpen, it’s done a great job, but you want to get the guys out. I felt like I could do it. It didn’t work out tonight, but it wasn’t really anybody’s fault. It was kind of an unlucky inning.”
With Kershaw at 99 pitches and two runners on, Roberts brought in Báez, seeking soft contact from Jorge Oña, who singled earlier against Kershaw. Oña flared an RBI double the other way.
“I wasn’t going to leave him out there for 110, 115 pitches to get out of that inning,” said Roberts of Kershaw. “Pedro pitched well, but there were a couple balls we couldn’t turn into outs and it spun out of control there. Clayton threw the heck out of the baseball, and we just fell apart in the seventh inning.”
Kershaw stressed the importance of playing well against the Padres and finishing strong, even if the absence of fans in the stands saps the electricity of a pennant race.
“These games matter. If you want to be the 1-seed, it matters,” said Kershaw. “To say, ‘Hey, I can’t get up for games, or there’s no adrenaline because there’s no fans,’ figure it out. I don’t want to hear that anymore.
“We want to play well, we want to beat the Padres and win the division. I think it’s important to play well the last two weeks of the season going into the playoffs. Maybe even try to create the atmosphere, as best you can, that these games matter to get ready for the playoff games.”