At long last! Padres stun Dodgers, reach NLCS

Five-run rally in seventh sends San Diego past West rivals

October 16th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- They've waited a long, long time for this particular moment of catharsis in San Diego:

The playoffs. The Dodgers. A packed house at Petco Park with everything on the line.

The Padres sure did make it dramatic, didn't they?

“At some point we had to beat this team in a big moment,” said , the longest-tenured Padre. “This is what we wanted.”

After a furious seventh-inning rally that shook Southern California, the Padres are on their way to the National League Championship Series. The Dodgers -- the 111-win juggernaut Dodgers -- are headed home, victims of one of the most monumental upsets in postseason history.

’s two-out, two-strike, two-run single was the difference in a 5-3 Padres victory in Game 4 of the NL Division Series on Saturday night -- the finishing touch on a wild five-run rally.

"We were down 3-0,” said . “But in that dugout, we felt like we were going to come back at any moment.”

Now the Padres are headed to their first NLCS in 24 years, where they’ll meet the Phillies beginning Tuesday night at Petco Park. But first, they had some celebrating to do.

For the third consecutive weekend, the Padres liquefied a clubhouse carpet with champagne and light beer. They did it when they clinched their spot in the postseason, and they did it again when they beat the Mets. Those celebrations were tame compared to this one.

This was the Dodgers.

“I’ll tell you what, eight years being here, the ups and the downs, I’ve lost a lot of games to that team up there,” Myers said. “This one right here makes it all worth it.”

The Padres have finished behind the Dodgers in the standings in each of the last 12 years. In 2022, they lost all six series against L.A. and finished a whopping 22 games back. Only one team in playoff history had ever won a postseason series against a team it trailed by as much in the standings -- the 1906 White Sox over the Cubs.

For much of their 5 1/2-decade existence, the Padres have lived in the Dodgers’ shadow. But they built a contender in 2022, and at the Trade Deadline, they made a series of moves -- with precisely this matchup in mind. They’d have to overtake their rivals at some point. It was then that chairman Peter Seidler proclaimed the Dodgers “that dragon up the freeway we’re trying to slay.”

“The Dodgers, they set such a high bar,” said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. “We understand there’s a few more steps we’re going to have to take. But most likely, if we were going to get to where we wanted to get to, it was going to have to go through the Dodgers.”

And it wouldn’t come easy. The Padres lost Game 1. They were on the ropes and survived Game 2. At some point along the way, a goose landed in the Dodger Stadium outfield, and they claimed it was good luck. Maybe it was? In Game 3, Petco Park’s first postseason game before fans in 16 years, the Padres eked out a one-run victory.

Then, on Saturday, they found themselves in danger of heading back to Los Angeles for a decisive Game 5 with a beaten down pitching staff. They trailed by three runs in the seventh inning, when Tim Hill escaped a jam, and the ballpark began to buzz.

Trailing by three, put the Padres on the board with an RBI single off Freddie Freeman’s glove at first base. , who had squared to bunt earlier in the at-bat, cut the deficit to one with an RBI double. That’s when manager Bob Melvin knew.

“He wanted to bunt,” Melvin said. “I didn’t want him to bunt. We’re trying to string together an inning. Once he hit that ball down the line, it felt like we were going to get it done.”

tied it with a laser-beam single to right. Then came the drama. Machado struck out. Brandon Drury popped out. The game was in Cronenworth’s hands with two outs. The Dodgers planned to use Alex Vesia, but only called for him after Yency Almonte had thrown a pitch -- an apparent miscommunication.

With two strikes, Soto trotted to second base, putting two men in scoring position. Then Vesia hung a slider, Cronenworth punched it to center, and Petco Park whipped into a full-on frenzy.

“This place was insane the last two days,” Cronenworth said.

“These are the two loudest games I’ve ever played,” Myers said. “The crowd brought it.”

The rest felt like a formality. The back end of the Padres’ bullpen has been that good this postseason. pitched a 1-2-3 eighth. did the same in the ninth.

And how’s this for an ending? Hader struck out Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freeman in order. (Remember, it was Freeman, then with Atlanta, who ended Hader’s season with Milwaukee last year, with a game-winning home run.)

“They’ve had our number for a long time, obviously,” Hader said. “But to be able to do it when it matters -- that’s more special.”

When the clubhouse celebration ended, players spilled onto the field to join their families. Some remained for hours after the final out. sprayed a few dedicated fans with champagne. Myers took a detour to high-five the entire contingent that had gathered outside the player parking lot. Car horns blared. The Gaslamp raged well into the night.

A party befitting a dragon-slaying.