NEW YORK -- Hours before first pitch at Citi Field on Friday night, Padres manager Bob Melvin sat in front of a throng of media and answered questions about his starting lineup. Why Josh Bell at cleanup? Why Trent Grisham at all? They had struggled. This was the postseason. Too much was at stake for Melvin to be wrong.
Melvin, calm as ever, responded to those questions by pointing out that, indeed, it’s the postseason -- and time for a reset. The struggles of two hitters in August and September would likely mean very little in October.
A few hours later, Bell and Grisham answered those questions better than Melvin ever could -- by homering off Max Scherzer to ignite a stunning four-homer Padres romp in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series at Citi Field.
And just like that, with their 7-1 victory over the Mets, the Padres are one win away from a trip to Los Angeles for the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.
“We got the first one out of the way,” said Manny Machado. “We beat a great guy, and we’re probably going to face another one tomorrow. Obviously, we’ve just got to continue to play our game.”
Then again, this kind of outburst hasn’t been the Padres’ game at all. They finished 21st in the Majors with 153 home runs, fewer than any other NL playoff team. The Padres couldn’t have picked a better time for a breakout. Bell, Grisham, Machado and Jurickson Profar all went deep in the first five innings, chasing Scherzer.
In the meantime, Yu Darvish worked around some early trouble for seven innings of one-run ball. Darvish only struck out four Mets, but he worked efficiently and allowed just six hits, becoming the first Padres starter to complete seven innings in a postseason game since Kevin Brown did so in Game 4 of the 1998 World Series.
“You’ve got a guy like Yu on the mound, it only takes a couple runs of run support, and he can just do his job,” said Bell, whose two-run homer in the first inning opened the scoring. “I’m happy to help.”
Only twice during the regular season had the Padres hit four home runs in a game. That they did so against Scherzer was both stunning and perhaps not stunning at all. They’ve oddly had bouts of success against some of the game’s toughest pitchers this season. (Not to mention, the last team to score seven runs off Scherzer: the Padres in July 2021, when Scherzer was still pitching for the Nationals and little-known reliever Daniel Camarena hit a grand slam that made him a San Diego legend.)
“Just watching how they were able to take swings, my fastball was running on me,” Scherzer said. “I wasn't able to command that fastball the way I usually can. That's my bread and butter to be able to set up everything else. When my fastball's flat and then running, that's usually when I get hit a lot. Obviously, tonight I got hit a lot.”
Citi Field offered quite a scene before first pitch -- a packed house full of Mets fans, waving orange towels. But Profar led off the game with a single on Scherzer’s first pitch. Then, Bell went to the opposite field on a belt-high fastball. He watched for a moment, then unleashed a two-handed bat flip as the ball landed in the left-center-field seats.
It was quite an introduction to postseason baseball for a seven-year veteran who had long been awaiting this moment.
“I felt like I was on a cloud,” Bell said.
Bell’s Padres tenure was off to a brutal start. He batted .192 and was worth negative WAR after the trade that sent him to San Diego alongside Juan Soto. But Melvin opted to start Bell over fellow newcomer Brandon Drury, citing Bell’s history of success against Scherzer.
Not only that -- Melvin batted Bell in the cleanup spot. In his first postseason game. After two dreadful months at the plate.
“There’s no anxiety coming out of that man,” Bell said of his skipper. “He trusts, one through nine. He trusts everyone in that clubhouse. For him to trust in me there, slate me behind Machado, it definitely means a lot.”
Melvin showed similar faith in Grisham, who batted just .107 after Sept. 1 but expanded the Padres’ lead to 3-0 with a no-doubter in the second. Profar put the game out of reach with a three-run blast in the fifth, and Machado followed with a solo shot later in the frame, marking the end of Scherzer’s night.
“We hit some mistakes when he made them,” Melvin said. “Which he doesn't do very often. When you get a mistake from him, you'd better take advantage.”
That’s one probable future Hall of Famer down. The Padres are facing another Saturday, with the Mets set to turn to Jacob deGrom. The Padres counter with Blake Snell.
In 2020, the only other season to feature three-game series in the Wild Card round, the winner of Game 2 won all eight of those series. So, yeah, it’s a big one Saturday night.
“Every game in a three-game series feels like it's monumental,” said Melvin. “Same approach, same kind of scheme going in, same preparation, and a pitcher that's been pitching well over the last couple months for us. So we’ll feel good.”