SAN DIEGO -- The Padres have won games and series against the rival Dodgers over the past decade, but nothing quite like this.
Three games in San Diego this week, three statement Padres victories, three nights of raucous sellout crowds at Petco Park, eager to put a stamp on what has quickly become one of baseball’s best rivalries.
The nature of that rivalry -- tilted heavily in the Dodgers' favor for so long -- seems to be changing quite a bit.
The Padres capped their first sweep of the Dodgers since April 15-17, 2013, with a 5-3 victory on Wednesday night. San Diego has won seven of eight against Los Angeles for the first time since '07. Here’s the anatomy of that sweep:
Manny did it all
The ball found Manny Machado. Of course it did.
With one out and two men aboard in the ninth inning, Albert Pujols hit a missile to the right of the Padres’ third baseman. Machado snared the ball and made an off-balance throw to second baseman Jake Cronenworth, doubling up Will Smith for a game-ending double play.
It was the Padres’ series. It was Machado’s series.
“That’s a bad man,” San Diego manager Jayce Tingler said. “Just an absolute bad man.”
Machado’s first-inning homer in Monday's series opener set the tone, and he tacked on another first-inning blast on Wednesday, his fifth in 25 career at-bats against Dodgers right-hander Trevor Bauer. Machado is red-hot at the plate, but he also made a huge impact defensively.
Machado was everywhere, making a handful of brilliant plays at third base -- and another handful in short right field. In the eighth, he came inches from tracking down a Max Muncy fly ball at the right-field warning track.
“It’s basically playing with four outfielders,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said.
For all of Machado’s highlight-reel contributions this week, his biggest impact Wednesday came on a slow chopper to third off his bat in the eighth. Turner hesitated, turning to look at second, before firing to first. Machado, busting it down the line, beat Turner’s throw by a step.
Not exactly in line with the Manny Machado narrative.
“I’m going to say something now for the people that want to dog him on not hustling,” Padres starter Joe Musgrove said. “The guy knows. His baseball IQ is off the charts. He knows how hard he needs to go down the line, and the guy plays every single day. … You see it tonight, hit a one-hopper to third base and got his [butt] down the line.”
The little things
Machado’s hustle play put two men aboard with no outs in the eighth, and it sparked quite an inning. The Dodgers called on left-hander Victor González to face left-handed-hitting Eric Hosmer, who dropped a beautiful bunt up the first-base line -- his first sacrifice bunt in more than six years.
After an intentional walk to Wil Myers, Trent Grisham plated the go-ahead run by working a bases-loaded walk. Victor Caratini followed with a sacrifice fly. A workmanlike rally, and suddenly, the Padres led, 5-3.
“The eighth inning was awesome,” Tingler said. “It doesn’t happen unless Hoz moves those guys. They’re just guys playing together. They’re giving each other up for the best of the team. It’s a blast to be around.”
Suffice it to say, when the Padres and Dodgers have met in the recent past, the Padres generally haven’t been the fundamentally sound team executing all the little things. But they were this week.
“We got outplayed,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
Added Bauer: “They came to play, and we didn’t.”
Running on empty
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Padres’ sweep -- and their current seven-game winning streak -- is that they’re still playing their best baseball at the end of a stretch of 33 games in 34 days.
“It’s a well-deserved off-day [on Thursday], that’s for sure,” Tingler said. “You get to enjoy this one, because of the off-day, maybe a couple hours more.”
The nature of that grueling schedule was never on display more than Tuesday night, when the beleaguered San Diego bullpen asked for nine huge outs from unheralded rookies Nabil Crismatt and Mason Thompson.
No team in the National League has needed more innings out of its relief corps than San Diego. The bullpen still ranks second in the Majors with a 2.80 ERA. Closer Mark Melancon, proving to be one of the offseason’s shrewdest signings, worked a scoreless ninth on Wednesday for his MLB-high 23rd save.
Petco Park was rockin’
In 27 innings against the Dodgers, the Padres never trailed. The ballpark -- a party atmosphere from the start -- responded in kind.
“Outside of the World Series, that’s the most energy I’ve ever played in,” said Musgrove, who won a championship with Houston in 2017. “Any time those Dodger fans get going, our fans silenced ‘em and drowned ‘em out. It’s so special to be able to have a full crowd again and 100-percent capacity, because these fans have been showing up for us.”
It’s been a week since Petco Park opened to capacity, and the Padres have won all seven games since.
There’s still a long way to go in the NL West race, and the Padres -- even after this cathartic sweep -- trail the Dodgers by a half-game and are 4 1/2 back of the first-place Giants. It’ll be another two months until the Padres face either of their two primary division rivals. (They welcome the Dodgers back to Petco Park on Aug. 24.) In the meantime, they’ve got ground to make up.
“We believe we can beat anybody,” Tingler said. “We believe when we’re playing our game, we’ll match up with anyone.”
And after the past three nights -- three nights that felt so utterly different from anything we’ve seen in this rivalry over the past decade -- who could argue?