Deadline duo goes back to back, fuels Padres rally in G2

October 20th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Padres general manager A.J. Preller pulled off back-to-back deals for sluggers at the Trade Deadline in early August. Those trades brought back-to-back October home runs on Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park.

Brandon Drury and Josh Bell homered on consecutive pitches from Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola in the bottom of the second inning to ignite the Padres in their 8-5 victory in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. The two solo homers cut a four-run Phillies lead in half, to 4-2, and got the lively Petco Park crowd back in full voice.

The two were central to the Padres’ decisive five-run rally in the fifth inning, too.

Drury delivered a two-run single and Bell had an RBI single as the Padres forged ahead while the 44,607 in attendance waved yellow rally flags and let out a primal scream 24 years in the making. Padres fans last witnessed an NLCS victory in San Diego in Game 3 of the 1998 NLCS against the Braves.

“We work our tails off,” Bell said. “Baseball is a tough game. For us to have some results here, have some success, is definitely fuel on the fire. Keep pushing forward. If we can continue to do that, this team is going to be right where we want it to be.”

Padres fans have been cheering Drury and Bell for only 2 1/2 months after they arrived from Cincinnati and Washington, respectively, as Preller reworked a lineup badly in need of power in the absence of shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Right fielder Juan Soto, of course, was the centerpiece of Preller’s maneuvers, coming from the Nationals in the same eight-player trade that netted Bell.

Soto had a game-tying double in the fifth-inning outburst.

None of the trio of imported sluggers has yet matched his previous level of production, but Preller didn’t bring them in simply to get to October -- he needed players to do damage in October.

“There's a lot of expectations thrown at these guys the minute they got over here,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “It's sometimes a little unfair, but here we are -- we're still playing, and these guys are coming up big like they did in today's game. It doesn't surprise me.”

Drury yanked a 93.8 mph fastball from Nola just over the short fence in the left-field corner to get the Padres on the scoreboard. The projected 348-foot drive would have been a home run in only nine MLB ballparks, per Statcast, but it certainly wasn’t a cheap hit. Drury smoked it with 108.4 mph exit velocity to end a 1-for-15 postseason skid.

The switch-hitter Bell, batting left-handed, also got a 93.8 mph fastball to pull. His second homer of this postseason had a more majestic flight beyond the right-field corner, sailing 411 feet with 110.8 mph exit velocity. He was 3-for-23 this postseason before that homer.

“They were hitting the fastball pretty well,” Nola said. “Couple missed locations. A couple decent pitches, and they were on ‘em.”

By connecting on back-to-back pitches, Drury and Bell joined a couple big names from Padres history as the only players to do so: Tony Gwynn and Greg Vaughn against David Wells in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

Overall, the Padres have hit back-to-back homers in the postseason on three previous occasions:

• Oct. 7, 2020, NLDS: Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer off the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw
• Oct. 1, 2020, NLWCS: Tatis, Machado off the Cardinals’ Giovanny Gallegos
• Oct. 17, 1998, WS: Gwynn, Vaughn off the Yankees’ Wells

The homers by Drury and Bell certainly breathed new life into a team that was staring at a possible 2-0 series deficit, but it took the fifth-inning rally to secure a split before the series shifts to Philadelphia for Games 3-5 starting Friday.

The game was even at 4-4 when Drury stepped in against lefty reliever Brad Hand with two outs and the bases loaded. Hand’s fifth slider proved to be one too many, as the first baseman banged it to center field for a 6-4 lead.

“I was trying to hit the ball hard, for sure,” Drury said. “But at the same time, I was trying to be selective because if I walk, the go-ahead run scores. So it’s, get a good pitch to hit, but find something in my zone. He left a breaking ball up, and I hit it into center field, got the job done.”

Bell then flipped to the right side to face Hand and grounded a 104.9 mph single past first base to bring home an insurance run.

“I thought it was a foul ball,” Bell said. “I thought I was a little bit late. I didn’t know where it was. But I was happy I was able to hear the crowd roar. Then I knew it was in play and it was probably time for me to start running.”

The Padres hope to hear that crowd again, if not in a Game 6 on Monday, then in the World Series.