SAN DIEGO -- It wasn’t quite the statement the Padres hoped to deliver this weekend. But the statement they made on Sunday afternoon was emphatic, nonetheless.
The Dodgers took the first two games of this highly anticipated slugfest between National League heavyweights -- two gut-wrenching San Diego losses, decided by razor-thin margins. The Padres wouldn't be kept down so easily.
On Sunday afternoon at Petco Park, San Diego punched back. Eric Hosmer hit a tying double in the seventh inning and a go-ahead single in the eighth as the Padres rallied from a two-run deficit for a 5-2 victory they desperately needed.
“We keep fighting; we keep battling. We knew at some point it was going to turn,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler.
After their two losses this weekend -- one a 12-inning instant classic, the other decided on Mookie Betts’ ridiculous diving catch for the final out -- the Padres insisted they weren’t pressing any panic buttons. Sure enough, after their victory Sunday, they did their best to downplay the nature of a series in mid-April.
But this clearly wasn’t just any series in mid-April. The Dodgers won the World Series last October, beating the Padres in the playoffs on their way. The Padres proceeded to win the offseason, making move after move aimed at dethroning the Dodgers in the NL West.
On top of that, there’s clear animosity between the two sides, as evidenced by a benches-clearing incidents in each of the first two games.
“It certainly has created a rivalry,” Hosmer said. “I don’t know if I could have said that my first couple years here, but there certainly is a rivalry now. … It’s just the start of it. It’s going to be fun all year getting to play those guys, and if we get to where we want to go, we understand it’s going to go through them. We welcome the challenge.”
Hosmer was up to the challenge. He hit a game-tying single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday night. On Sunday, he delivered again. The Padres trailed 2-1 in the seventh when Manny Machado led off with a single and took second base on a passed ball. Hosmer lined a double into the left-field corner to tie the game.
An inning later, Hosmer came to the plate again in the game’s decisive moment. With two outs and two men aboard, he smacked a single up the middle, putting the Padres in front. With men in scoring position this season, Hosmer is batting .455.
“Hoz is, in my opinion, as good as anybody in the game in those moments,” Tingler said. “A big part of it is that he wants those at-bats. He wants those moments.”
Now, Snell said, it’s time to move past that Game 6 narrative and begin scripting his 2021 story.
“I’m happy to get this start out of the way, so I don’t have to see Game 6 37,000 times a day,” Snell quipped. “I’m kind of over that.”
That being said, Snell has been awfully vocal about the Dodgers since he arrived in San Diego via trade. In his first media session of the spring, Snell said he wanted to make a start in every series the Padres played against Los Angeles this season. Now that he’s played the first of those series -- and recorded his first start -- he says he’s already learned to love the rivalry.
“I just like playing against the best,” Snell said. “I feel like it’s the only chance you can really see what’s inside, see what you’ve got and see how good you really are. When I get to face really good teams that can hit, it’s something I really look forward to.”
The Dodgers certainly qualify as that. But the Padres spent the offseason building one of the sport’s most fearsome pitching staffs. Snell and Yu Darvish -- perennial Cy Young Award candidates acquired on the very same day -- held L.A. hitters in check for most of the weekend, and the San Diego bullpen did its part, too, save for a late blowup on Friday night, when they ran out of arms.
“I think they’ve looked at us and want to kind of take us down in the National League West,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “They can pitch, and there’s a lot of talent over there.”
Statement made. Sixteen more of these heavyweight bouts left to go.
Sixteen more, at least.