Musgrove on dream start: 'I'll be ready for it'

One-time Padres fan, hometown kid gets wish to pitch postseason game in San Diego

October 15th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Joe Musgrove, a native of nearby El Cajon, Calif., who grew up a diehard Padres fan, has plenty of stories from Padres-Dodgers games through the years. Unprompted, he shared one of them on Friday:

"I remember at Qualcomm [Stadium], Phil Nevin was hitting BP, and I had gone in early with one of my buddies to watch batting practice," Musgrove said. "My parents had walked me in, got me situated, and then I think somebody ran back to the car to grab the rest of the people and come in. So we were sitting in the outfield watching BP.

"Nevin hits a ball in the cup holder a few rows to my left, and me and this other kid are staring at it from side to side. We're both waiting for someone to make the first move. It was like a mad dash to get to the ball. I think I got to it first. He tried to pull it out of my hand. We ended up getting in this little tussle, and I punched the kid. I think it might have been the first kid I ever punched.

"I punched the kid, and I kind of looked at him like, 'Oh, my gosh, what did I just do?' I got booted out by one of the security guards. I think that was my first Dodger game."

Quite an introduction to the rivalry.

Two decades later, Musgrove finds himself at the center of the biggest game in that rivalry’s history. The Padres sit one win from clinching a trip to the National League Championship Series, leading the Dodgers two games to one.

"It feels like it's kind of meant to be, right?" manager Bob Melvin said. "... It's really cool to watch when you have a hometown guy that embraces and is embraced as he is by the city."

Musgrove's homecoming story is already the stuff of legend in San Diego. He was traded to the Padres in the offseason prior to the 2021 season. In his second start, he ended the franchise's longstanding no-hitter drought.

The right-hander posted an excellent '21 season, and he was even better in '22, earning his first trip to the All-Star Game. Shortly thereafter, the Padres rewarded him with a five-year, $100 million contract extension -- a deal Musgrove acknowledged came with a bit of a hometown discount.

Musgrove has been one of the steadiest presences in a rotation full of them. He's coming off what he called the best start of his life -- yes, even better than that no-hitter.

And yet, nobody seems to be talking about Musgrove's seven one-hit innings in a winner-take-all NL Wild Card Game 3. The reaction has mostly centered on Mets manager Buck Showalter's decision to ask umpires to inspect Musgrove for foreign substances.

As has been dissected ad nauseam, Musgrove's spin rate was up -- but not out of proportion with his rise in fastball velocity. Umpires also found Musgrove to be clean, so it irked him that much of the chatter afterward was around whether he'd cheated.

"That bothered me, but you can't get attached to it," Musgrove said. "As much as it offended me, I'm moving past it. That was one outing, and I've got a bigger task in front of me right now [on Saturday]. Trying to remove those emotions and just focus purely on the task at hand is what I'm trying to do."

Musgrove is facing quite a challenge. The Dodgers boast arguably the deepest lineup in the Majors, and Musgrove has been challenged by them before. But he's posted a wholly respectable 3.63 ERA against Los Angeles this season -- including five scoreless innings on Sept. 28.

Still, Musgrove readily acknowledges that this start will be different. He’s been dreaming of pitching playoff games in San Diego for most of his baseball life, and on Saturday night, it becomes a reality.

"It's probably going to be a little bit more emotional, so that will be something I'll have to manage," Musgrove said prior to Friday's Game 3 of the NLDS. "But that's stuff I'm going to make myself really aware of tonight when I'm prepping and getting ready for the start tomorrow -- going over any situation, the excitement, the joy, the struggle, whatever it might be that I'll encounter. I feel like I'll be ready for it."