LOS ANGELES -- Statement made, loud and clear. It's been the Dodgers' division for eight straight seasons. The Padres are coming for it.
The two National League West heavyweights continued their incredible season series with yet another instant classic on Sunday night -- this one an 11-inning thriller in which the Padres rallied from a six-run deficit for a wild 8-7 victory at Dodger Stadium.
It was the seventh game between the Padres and Dodgers within the past 10 days, all seven of them filled with October-like drama in April. And while L.A.’s early NL West lead remains intact, it’s the Padres who now hold the slight edge in the season series, four games to three.
“They certainly felt like playoff games,” said Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer, whose 11th-inning sacrifice fly proved decisive. “Definitely a good preview of what should come in October. But there’s still a lot of work for both teams. Hopefully we get to meet those guys again on that stage.”
The Dodgers, of course, swept the Padres in the NL Division Series last year, en route to a World Series title. The Padres, meanwhile, spent the offseason doing their best to erase that gap. They reloaded their pitching staff by trading for Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove. They added to their bullpen. They locked up Fernando Tatis Jr. for 14 seasons.
The Padres and Dodgers have only played seven times this season, and it’s still April. But it sure looks like that gap is at least narrowing.
“We’re going to fight these guys till the end,” Hosmer said. “We respect what they’ve done. We respect who they are. But we’re certainly not going to back down from them. We’re going to give them our best shot every single time. That’s the statement we made this series.”
On Sunday, especially. Musgrove struggled early, and after Nick Ramirez allowed five runs in the sixth, the Padres trailed, 7-1, and their win probability dipped to one percent. No team in baseball this season had rallied from a six-run deficit.
“Just string a couple hits together,” said Hosmer. “See what happens.”
Sure enough, Hosmer led off the seventh with a single, and one of the most remarkable Padres comebacks in recent memory was underway. San Diego scored two runs apiece in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, with Manny Machado’s RBI single plating Tatis to complete the comeback and send the game to extras. Then, Tatis would score the winning run in the 11th on Hosmer’s sacrifice fly.
“What meant the most was watching a group of men not give in, not give up, keep going, work together and chip away,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler.
Tingler isn’t one for pregame speeches. But he called his players together on Sunday morning to remind them of the work they’d put in during their stretch of 17 games in 17 days. The Padres were tired, sure. But Tingler asked for one more day of intense focus and drive before Monday’s off-day. His players responded.
Dodgers starter Dustin May stifled the Padres for six innings, allowing only a solo home run to the red-hot Tatis. It was his fifth in three games, making him the first visitor in Dodger Stadium history to hit five homers in a three-game span. With his seventh home run of the season, Tatis -- who spent 10 days on the injured list with a partially separated left shoulder -- moved into a tie for first place on the MLB leaderboard.
“I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again,” Hosmer said. “I truly believe he’s the best talent in baseball. He’s the face of baseball. He showed why.”
Tatis’ theatrics are only one storyline from the sport’s most captivating rivalry of 2021. It’s been a remarkable season series, with unique drama every single night. To recap:
• Game 1 was a 12-inning thriller that saw the benches clear. Corey Seager hit a go-ahead homer in the 12th, Jake Cronenworth pitched and David Price hit an extra-innings sacrifice fly to Musgrove.
• Game 2 ended on Mookie Betts’ ridiculous game-saving diving catch in center field.
• Game 3 featured a late Padres rally in which Hosmer tied the game with a double in the seventh and won it with a single in the eighth.
• Game 4 was decided on a remarkable double play started by Cronenworth and turned by Tatis the eighth inning.
• Game 5 saw Tatis -- on the 22-year anniversary of his dad’s fabled two-slam inning at Dodger Stadium -- hit two home runs at the very same venue.
• Game 6 brought some hijinks between Tatis and Trevor Bauer, after Tatis went deep twice off the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, then mimicked his celebrations.
And now this for Game 7.
“Every game we’ve played so far has been a knock-down, dragged-out battle,” Tingler said.
Now, the rivalry goes on hiatus for a month and a half. The two clubs won’t play again until June. Then they’ll play three more in August, before six in September.
And, no, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they tacked on a few more in October, too.