Padres clinch first playoff berth in 14 years

September 21st, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- After 14 years without postseason baseball in San Diego -- an agonizing era defined by endless talk of a bright future that sometimes felt too distant to grasp -- the wait is over. The bright future is the present.

The Padres are headed back to the playoffs.

With a wild 7-4, 11-inning victory over Seattle on Sunday afternoon, the Friars secured their spot at the table. Now, they’re coming for the big cake.

“You’ve seen what we can do,” said star shortstop , the longstanding beacon of that bright future. “Everybody knows what we can do on this team. I know we ain’t settling just for this step. We’re going for way more.”

On the heels of nine straight losing seasons, the Padres overhauled their roster during the winter. They entered the year thinking they'd built a team capable of knocking on the playoff door.

Then they started playing, and they didn't merely knock on the door. They kicked it down.

There will be no talk of the Padres sneaking in under a revised playoff format in 2020. They own the National League's second-best record and are legitimate World Series contenders. San Diego will likely open the postseason hosting a Wild Card Series as the No. 4 seed in the NL. As things stand, they would face the Marlins.

“We’ve got other goals,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “This is baby step one.”

"Our mindset is still further on in the road," Manny Machado said Friday night. "This is a moment we're going to enjoy. ... But after that day’s done, move forward and continue going. Because our goal isn't reached yet."

Fittingly, , the longest tenured Padre, hit a three-run homer on Sunday afternoon. Fittingly, , the longest tenured Padres pitcher, worked six dominant innings.

The Mariners rallied to tie the game in the eighth and 10th innings, but San Diego’s three-run 11th was too much. When closer Trevor Rosenthal blew a high fastball past Phillip Ervin to end the game, the party was on.

Greg Garcia, who grew up a die-hard Padres fan in El Cajon, Calif., hopped the dugout railing and skipped to the mound, the first to join the celebration.

Myers, who endured five straight losing seasons after his 2014 arrival, was the first player to pick up his postseason swag. He grabbed a “Postseason 2020” hat, turned it backwards and broke into a wide grin.

As the party spilled into the Padres’ clubhouse, Tatis salsa-ed. Then he did a split. 

“For today and for the next couple hours, we’re going to enjoy it,” Tingler said. “We’re going to enjoy every freaking moment of it. ... We hope to make it a special run. We will play a brand of ball that makes this city proud.”

The celebration is not what it could have been, of course. A playoff-starved city has been deprived of its chance to fully embrace the 2020 Padres due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Players and coaches have spoken longingly about what this season could’ve been like in front of a bustling Petco Park.

“Bringing playoff baseball back to San Diego, I just get emotional,” Tatis said. “I’ve seen all those fans out there cheering for us. This is all for them.”

Even without those fans, the Padres brought their own electricity. With a captivating brand of baseball -- reliant on speed and power, velocity and finesse, and swagger most of all -- the Padres are 34-20, trailing only the Dodgers for the best record in the NL.

After years of rebuilding, they'd eyed 2020 as the year they'd break through. They’ve accomplished that breakthrough. Now, they want to make clinching a habit.

“Hopefully [we] have a couple more celebrations like this,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer -- who laid out a vision for precisely this type of turnaround when he signed a then-franchise-record contract in February 2018.

When Dave Roberts -- yes, current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts -- grounded out to end the Padres' 2006 NL Division Series against the Cardinals, it certainly didn't feel like the beginning of a 14-year wait.

The Padres had a strong nucleus and were coming off consecutive division titles. A year later, they made a run at three straight, falling one game short and into a one-game playoff with the Rockies in Colorado. Matt Holliday may not have touched home plate, but it didn't matter. The Padres were denied a trip back to the postseason.

They came close three years later, too, holding a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL West in late August before a brutal 10-game losing streak opened the door for the Giants.

It was the start of a dreary decade in San Diego. The Padres wouldn't post a winning record again until 2020. But it's a new decade, a new roster and a new era. They even have the sparkling new uniforms to prove it.

"This is our decade," general partner Peter Seidler said a million years ago, back in February.

And it just might be.