Padres stymied by Phillies pitching, drop NLCS opener

October 19th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Back to reality.

The Padres eliminated the Dodgers at Petco Park over the weekend, sending San Diego into something of a city-wide party. That was, after all, the hurdle they'd been waiting to clear for the last decade.

But their reward for beating L.A. was a date with Philadelphia in the National League Championship Series -- a particularly dangerous proposition. The Phillies, like the Padres, entered the NLCS red-hot, having vanquished a rival and having set their rotation.

In Game 1 of the NLCS on Tuesday night, the Padres simply couldn't solve Zack Wheeler in a dispiriting 2-0 loss at Petco Park. Suddenly, the Padres find themselves where they've spent most of the season: in a fight for their playoff lives.

“It’s just about the mentality coming into the next day,” said second baseman . “It’s a game we need to win. You never want to go down 2-0 in a series. But I can tell you everybody in this clubhouse is going to be ready to go tomorrow.”

The Padres had to fight their way into the postseason, securing a berth on the final Sunday of the season. They went the distance in a Wild Card Series against the Mets. They dropped the opener against the Dodgers, then won three straight. 

Little has come easy for the Padres this year. Sure enough, if they're going to beat the Phillies to reach the franchise’s third World Series, they’ll have to come from behind in this series to do it.

“[Wheeler] went out there and threw a hell of a game,” said Padres third baseman . “We couldn’t string any runners together and left a couple guys on base. He was throwing strikes. He was pounding the zone. He was attacking the zone. We hit the ball, but couldn’t find the gap.”

The hard-throwing Phillies right-hander limited the Padres to just one hit across seven innings. ’ fifth-inning single was the only hit the Padres recorded all night -- though they did mount a threat in the bottom of the ninth inning against Philadelphia closer José Alvarado.

Jurickson Profar worked a one-out walk, and Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm threw errantly to second base on Juan Soto’s grounder, bringing Machado to the plate as the potential winning run. Petco Park, quiet for most of the night, stirred to life, unleashing 8 1/2 innings of pent-up energy. But Machado flied out and Josh Bell struck out, and that was that.

“We mounted a little something there in the ninth,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “We always feel good when we have a chance to win in the ninth inning. Didn't happen. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, so you want to get out there as quickly as you can.”

Good news and bad news on that front. The good news: First pitch of Game 2 is slated for 1:35 PT on Wednesday afternoon. The bad news: The Phillies send another ace to the mound -- Aaron Nola.

“You'd like to try to win that first one,” Melvin said. “If it doesn't happen, you certainly feel a little more importance on the second game. We need to come out and swing the bats a little better. It doesn't get much easier -- their guy tomorrow is pretty good, too. But we need to be better with our at-bats.”

The San Diego offense didn’t give much of a chance. Darvish was mostly sharp over seven innings of two-run ball. But he surrendered a pair of Phillies home runs -- first a Bryce Harper opposite-field shot that landed in the first row. Then a Kyle Schwarber moonshot that landed in the first row ... of the second deck in right field. It was the longest home run recorded by Statcast at Petco Park.

“The Harper home run, I don’t think that was a mistake,” Darvish said. “That was a ball outside. He was able to take the bat to it. The Schwarber home run, that’s on me. That’s my mistake. I knew he was waiting on something offspeed, and the ball kind of went into the middle there.”

Darvish kept the Phillies’ offense at bay after that. His seven innings should go a long way toward preserving the bullpen for a critical Game 2 on Wednesday.

In the history of best-of-seven postseason series, teams that have taken a 1-0 lead have gone on to win 119 of 185 times (64%). In all series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams that have dropped Game 1 at home have gone on to win just 30 of 68 times (44%).

It’s not quite the uphill climb the Padres faced last week after losing to the Dodgers on the road. There’s some leeway in a longer series, and Game 2 starter has been excellent over the past three months. But it sure doesn’t get any easier for the Padres offense, with Nola on the mound. The turnaround is a quick one, too.

“Good,” said Melvin, reminded of that fact after the game. “Let’s get out there as soon as we can.”