SAN DIEGO -- The Padres intended to make a statement this week when the seven-time reigning National League West champion Dodgers came to town. On Monday night, they delivered it:
The race for the 2020 NL West title is on.
The Friars have already assured themselves of their first winning season in 10 years. They'll soon lock up their first trip to the playoffs in 14. Why not get a little bit greedy?
San Diego opened its biggest series in a decade with an emphatic 7-2 victory, its eighth straight, trimming L.A.'s division lead to 1 1/2 games. With 11 games remaining, the Padres find themselves within striking distance of ending the Dodgers’ longstanding reign atop the West.
“We're playing really good ball right now, and we always look forward to playing our rivals right up the street,” said center fielder Trent Grisham, whose solo shot in the sixth tied the game at 1. “Plus, they're just a good team. So of course we're looking forward to it. Of course we're amped.”
No one was more amped than Grisham. After he connected on a 2-1 fastball from Clayton Kershaw, he turned emphatically toward the Padres’ dugout before watching the ball sail into the right-field seats.
The Dodgers’ bench responded to Grisham’s reaction by chirping at him as he rounded third base. Grisham chirped back. After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he “took exception” to Grisham lingering for so long at the plate against a pitcher of Kershaw’s caliber.
The sequence was more or less what you’d expect from two division rivals vying for the top spot in the National League.
“I was just turning around and celebrating a big moment in the game in a big series against a Hall of Fame pitcher,” Grisham said. “It was emotional, it was fun, it got us going.”
Did it ever. Grisham’s homer tied the game at 1 and got Padres right-hander Dinelson Lamet off the hook. Lamet was brilliant again, using the same weapon he always uses -- a near-unhittable slider. For the second consecutive start, Lamet racked up 11 punchouts. He’s the first Padres pitcher to do that since Jake Peavy in his NL Cy Young Award-winning 2007 campaign.
The 11th of those strikeouts was especially filthy. With Lamet’s final pitch of the night, he threw a slider to the lefty-hitting Edwin Ríos. The pitch started on the inside corner, and Ríos began to swing, before it darted down and in and hit the top of his left foot. Ríos couldn’t check his swing.
Lamet finished with seven innings of one-run ball, allowing only three hits as he lowered his ERA to 2.12. He’s the first pitcher to strike out at least 10 Dodgers this season, and he moved into a tie with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer for the NL strikeout lead.
"He just continues to get better," said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. "... For the last couple outings, he's been as good as anybody in the league. We've got a lot of confidence and a lot of faith when he takes the ball on the mound."
In the bottom half of the seventh inning, the Padres executed the type of relentless rally that the Dodgers have exacted on them so many times over the past decade. Jorge Oña, an unheralded bench piece, put San Diego on top with a bloop double. Max Muncy committed two pivotal blunders. Jurickson Profar raced home and avoided a tag with a mind-bending slide on one of those blunders.
When it was over, San Diego had scored five times and had a 6-1 lead. Wil Myers tacked on a homer in the eighth. The Padres poured it on in a way they rarely have against their primary NL West rivals, delivering the first blow in a week that should go a long way toward deciding the division title and the NL’s top overall seed.
“Good way to start a series, for sure,” said Tingler.