LOS ANGELES -- The Padres have played this game against the Dodgers before -- a back-and-forth slugfest, two NL West heavyweights trading punches deep into the Los Angeles night.
All too often, they’ve found themselves on the wrong end of it. But when they needed it most -- when they absolutely had to have it -- the Padres found a way in an instant classic at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night.
Now they’re headed back to San Diego with a split -- and this National League Division Series just got awfully interesting.
The Padres evened the NLDS at one game apiece with a 5-3 victory in Los Angeles. After an off-day, the series will shift to San Diego for the first home playoff games before fans at Petco Park in 16 years. After a win like this -- over this particular opponent -- suddenly anything feels possible.
“It’s playoff baseball,” said Padres third baseman Manny Machado. “This is what we play for all year.”
And this was playoff baseball at its finest, a game featuring absolutely everything. An early-inning home-run barrage. Some middle-innings defensive wizardry. Late-inning drama, in which the Padres bullpen again proved its mettle.
It even brought some comic relief in the bottom of the eighth inning, when a goose landed on the outfield grass and had to be ushered off the field by stadium staff.
“I guess,” Machado mused, “it was good luck for us.”
“It was back-and-forth all night,” said second baseman Jake Cronenworth. “Baserunners -- they were getting out of jams, we were getting out of jams. Just to tack on those runs at the end of the game -- it was huge.”
Now the series is tied, but history says the Padres might actually hold an edge. In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format (excluding the 2020 series played at neutral sites), there have been 39 previous instances of teams splitting the first two games. In those 39 series, the club heading home for Games 3 and 4 went on to advance 26 times (67%).
“One-one going back home,” Machado said. “So that’s huge.”
It was Machado who opened the scoring with a solo homer in the first, and he tacked on an RBI double in the third. But the game was tied at 3 after three innings, with Padres starter Yu Darvish having allowed a trio of solo home runs.
Darvish settled in to complete five innings, with the help of an excellent throw from catcher Austin Nola to nail Mookie Betts stealing in the fifth. The Padres took the lead in the sixth on Jurickson Profar’s RBI single, but failed to tack on. Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol made an outstanding play to nail Wil Myers at the plate on Trent Grisham’s squeeze attempt, before center fielder Cody Bellinger backtracked to rob Nola of extra bases at the wall.
It set up a fateful bottom of the sixth inning, the decisive moment of the game -- and, depending on the next few days, perhaps the series. Manager Bob Melvin stuck with Darvish, who put men on the corners with nobody out. Enter Robert Suarez, who pulled a miraculous escape act, striking out Justin Turner before getting Gavin Lux to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
Suarez escaped another jam in the seventh, getting Will Smith to fly to center with the bases loaded to end the threat. An unheralded 31-year-old rookie who spent the past five seasons in Japan, Suarez has now become the Padres’ go-to setup man, and he hasn’t allowed a run since August.
“He did an incredible job for us,” said Cronenworth, who started that double play.
“Difference in the game right there,” said Machado.
“The silent assassin over there, man,” said Joe Musgrove (the San Diego kid, now presumably assured a hometown playoff start in Game 4). “The guy doesn't really talk, he's super quiet, he's always very stoic. But he's a competitor, man, you can see it when he's on the mound.”
Cronenworth’s eighth-inning moonshot doubled the lead, and Hader slammed the door. The Padres lost all six series to the Dodgers during the regular season -- usually featuring games like this one. Those series suddenly feel like they mean very little.
“During the season, we played a lot of close games like that, and it seemed like we were always losing those games,” Profar said. “Tonight, it feels good that we won -- and it gives us confidence going back home.”
A week after the Padres wrapped up their regular season at Petco Park before flying to New York for the Wild Card Series, they boarded their bus back. They’re still alive -- and in stunningly good shape.
An enraptured fanbase awaits them. Should be quite a weekend in the East Village.
“It’s going to be wild,” said Juan Soto. “I’ve never played a postseason game there. But I bet it’s going to be pretty loud.”