Padres well positioned for win-or-go-home Game 3

October 9th, 2022

NEW YORK -- The trumpets blared early at Citi Field on Saturday night. The bullpen gates opened for Mets closer Edwin Díaz after the sixth inning. And when Díaz escaped trouble in the top of the seventh, the Padres had a decision to make.

Trailing by a run, manager Bob Melvin could’ve asked high-leverage relievers and to cover the next couple of innings. But that choice came with an inherent risk. If the Padres couldn’t make up that deficit, they’d have burned two of their best relievers for a second straight night – in a losing cause, no less – putting their Game 3 status in jeopardy.

Instead, Melvin tried to make do with the rest of his bullpen -- with and in the game’s decisive moments. That plan unraveled quickly, and the Mets broke Game 2 of the Wild Card Series open with a four-run seventh inning.

And suddenly, with their 7-3 loss to the Mets on Saturday night, the Padres' season hangs in the balance. They’re one win from a trip to Los Angeles for the NL Division Series. They’re one loss from the end.

“It’s Game 165 tomorrow,” said Padres third baseman Manny Machado. “Just go out there and play baseball. We’ve been working since Spring Training to get here. It’s going to come down to one last game.”

Melvin’s moves did not pay off in the short term. But there might be a long-term payoff. The Padres will have on the mound for Sunday’s decisive Game 3. They’ll also have García and Suarez rested and raring to go as the bridge to closer , who has yet to be used in this series.

“Tomorrow,” Melvin said, “he’s going to be in this game.”

The Mets, meanwhile, are theoretically in the same position as the Padres, one win from a flight to Los Angeles. But they used Díaz to record five outs, then pushed Adam Ottavino and Seth Lugo harder than they would've liked. They won Saturday night -- which was their only goal. But the Padres hope it came at a cost.

“We’ll feel good,” Melvin said. “Obviously we’d have liked to have done a little better tonight. It was a close game there in the middle innings and got away from us in the seventh. We put some really good at-bats together in the ninth to put some pitches on some of their guys.

“But, look, it’s winner-take-all tomorrow, and I think they’ll probably extend their guys even though they pitched some today.”

Of course, Melvin’s late-game quandary could’ve been avoided, had the Padres not fallen behind against Mets ace Jacob deGrom. They’d undoubtedly have burned through all of their best relievers in a tie game (or with the lead).

But left-hander struggled, putting the bullpen in a bind. He needed 90 pitches to complete just 3 1/3 innings of two-run ball. Snell set a franchise postseason record with six walks. He was squeezed a bit in the fourth inning, but he also did himself no favors with his inability to find the strike zone.

“Pretty frustrated with my release point on the fastball,” Snell said. “I just couldn’t find it for whatever reason. … It was just a tough, tough night.”

Twice, the Padres tied the game after Snell had allowed a run -- on Trent Grisham’s solo homer in the third and Jurickson Profar’s RBI single in the fifth. Grisham’s home run made him just the third Padre to homer in consecutive postseason games (joining Ken Caminiti in 1996 and Jim Leyritz, who homered in three straight, in '98).

But Snell was chased in the fourth, and Pete Alonso’s go-ahead solo homer off Nick Martinez put the Mets on top for good in the fifth. The Padres had their chances. They put men on the corners with one out in the fifth, but deGrom whiffed Machado and Josh Bell. Then, with Díaz in the game in the seventh, Juan Soto grounded out with the tying run on second.

If there’s anything the Padres can take solace in, it’s this: They forced Díaz to throw 28 pitches and Ottavino, the Mets’ No. 2 bullpen weapon, to throw an additional 30, as they brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth. The Mets had their backs against the wall, and Buck Showalter managed like it.

“We have to get this one under our belt,” Showalter said when asked of his decision to use Díaz so aggressively.

Now, the Padres must turn the page. And quickly. On Sunday, they’ll play the third winner-take-all postseason game in franchise history. Musgrove, their $100 million man, gets the ball first. Behind him, the Padres can line up García and Suarez as the bridge to Hader.

The Padres did not want to be playing a Game 3 at all. But if they have to, these are the circumstances they’d prefer.

“If there’s one thing this group has done all year, it’s bounce back after a loss,” said second baseman Jake Cronenworth. “We’ve got Joe going for us tomorrow. I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse would want anybody else.”