The Dodgers and Padres converged on San Diego on Friday for the first postseason game at Petco Park—with fans—since October 5, 2006.
Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts was the leadoff hitter for the Padres in that game, but the organization looked a lot different back then than it does now.
San Diego used to be a small-market team with a paltry payroll. But that all changed in 2019 when they signed former Dodgers' shortstop Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract.
The team promised to spend and build around him. They went from the seventh lowest payroll ($104M) in 2018, to the fifth highest payroll in 2022 ($237.7M). Pointing to the Dodgers perpetually high payroll was no longer an excuse and the Padres were built to beat their neighbors to the north now, and in the near future.
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That was more than evident in the Padres 2-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS that saw San Diego take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
"We just tried to come out here and win a game," said Padres' manager Bob Melvin. "We feel good about where we are. We've had some games where we relied on our pitching [like tonight]."
The Padres made starting pitching a point of emphasis after the Machado signing, and acquired all five members of their 2022 starting rotation via trade. A trade also landed superstar Juan Soto at the deadline this year, and bolstered an already good bullpen with All-Star closer Josh Hader. All of those aforementioned acquisitions are why the Padres are one win away from advancing to the NLCS, something the 2006 team was unable to do.
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"Everybody felt what it felt for the fans out there," said Melvin about the Padres first ever postseason win at Petco Park with fans in attendance. "They were rocking and ready to go the entire game. Being able to reward them not only with a win but in the fashion that we did it, where it comes down to the last pitch and they're a big part of it, I think was kind of apropos the way the game ended with them on their feet the entire game."
Baseball itself looks a lot different than it did in 2006. Launch angle, defensive shifts, and sabermetrics now dominant the game. The term "bullpen" has now become a verb, and a starting pitcher lasting seven or more innings is as rare as a Tyrannosaurus Rex walking through the Gaslamp.
That was the case with both starting pitchers on Friday night, ironically a rematch of both Games 2 and 6 of the 2020 World Series. Similar to those games, Dodgers' starter Tony Gonsolin only lasted one and one-third innings.
"I just wasn't throwing strikes," said Gonsolin matter-of-factly after the loss. "I fell behind a lot of guys and got into a lot of 3-2 counts. I walked a few people, didn't execute pitches, and they got the best of me."
Gonsolin acted as the opener, and faced just nine batters before giving way to left-hander Andrew Heaney. Heaney pitched well in his first ever action in the postseason, outside of an elevated first-pitch fastball he threw to Trent Grisham.
"I knew my role was going to be long relief early in the game, so I was prepared for that," said Heaney. "I was fortunate to get out of that second inning unscathed. But that first-pitch heater to Grisham was just too much plate and he put a great swing on it."
Heaney lasted longer than any other Dodgers' pitcher, throwing three innings before Yency Almonte entered with one out in the fifth. Then it was San Diego native Alex Vesia who walked two hitters before giving way to Evan Phillips who retired the next four batters he faced before Tommy Kahnle threw a perfect inning of relief in the eighth.
"It was all hands on deck," said Roberts of his bullpen. "As far as run prevention, I thought we pitched pretty well."
If the Dodgers want to extend this series and go back to the friendly confines of Dodger Stadium for Game 5, they'll need Game 4 starter Tyler Anderson to pitch deep into the game on Saturday.
"The whole reason I wanted to come to the Dodgers is be on a team that wins and have a chance to be in this situation and be in the postseason," said Anderson who gets the ball in Game 4 with his team's back against the wall. "It's kind of just bearing that fruit for what you have hoped for all year and get a chance to go out and help our team try to do something to win."
In the end, the Padres prevailed because of their bullpen, and the Dodgers inability to hit with runners in scoring position. San Diego's bullpen has a streak going of 15 consecutive scoreless innings through the first three games of this series.
"Obviously pitching was unbelievable tonight, but pretty much inspired the whole game," said Melvin. "We have a good bullpen. I think anytime you hold a lineup like that down like we have here, that's hard to do. But we feel like it's a really deep bullpen, a lot of power arms pitching well toward the end of the season, into the postseason, inspired even a little bit more so. You're seeing a lot of hundred-mile-an-hour pitches from us. I think three guys threw a hundred today for us. It doesn't happen often. When you're locating, it's tough to square those guys up."
Either the Padres bullpen is perfection personified at preventing runs, or the Dodgers hitters have helped them by failing to record the big hit when the opportunity prevents itself.
Since Gavin Lux's double in the third inning of Game 1, the Dodgers have gone 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position, their longest such streak since 1981. They've also left a total of 23 men on base in the series.
"They're pitching good right now and we're not hitting," said Dodgers' first baseman Freddie Freeman frankly. "We got to hit tomorrow. Unfortunately, this happens sometimes in baseball. We're not getting the hits when we need to. We're still getting the opportunities so I think that's a positive, but we have to hit tomorrow."
Roberts believes his team is being "hyperaggressive" in situations with runners in scoring position.
"I think that we're being hyperaggressive early in counts and not staying on the ball," said Roberts about his team's inability to hit with runners in scoring position. "They're getting us with spin. They're getting us on the outside part of the plate. We're not given really any opportunities to make mistakes, and that's more specific to their pen."
San Diego had no such problems. Jake Cronenworth laced a two-out RBI single to left field in the Padres second at-bat with a runner in scoring position to give San Diego the early 1-0 lead.
Trent Grisham continued his hot streak with his third homer of the postseason. Grisham batted just .184 during the regular season, but is hitting a scorching-hot .438 thus far in the playoffs.
The Dodgers scored their first run of the series after the third inning when Mookie Betts hit a sacrifice fly to right field in the top of the fifth. However, for what seems like the hundredth time in the series, they stranded the runner at third base with one out.
"We're getting guys on, but we're not able to drive them in. That's my bad. I have to get that run in with less than two outs and a runner on third, just like Mookie [Betts] did," said Trea Turner, who grounded out to third base in the top of the fifth inning with the tying run at third base. "That's the difference in the ballgame."
Snell's overwhelming slider and fastball gave the Dodgers fits for most of the night, accounting for six strikeouts in five and one-third innings.
"I liked how many strikes I was throwing first pitch," said Snell about his start. "I think I just focused on each pitch in the moment and not trying to think too far ahead or psych myself out on what I needed to do, just each pitch, make the good pitch, and I trusted that the outcome would be really good. I think I just kept it pretty simple."
For all their collective talent, depth, and franchise record 111 wins, the mighty Dodgers seem pedestrian at-best against the Padres. Before the series began, the players preached that their regular season dominance over the division rival meant nothing. It appears they were right.
"It was a very good regular season, but as we said before, none of that matters," concluded Roberts. "We're in a five-game series against a very good ballclub that we're familiar with, and the team that plays the best baseball is going to win the series. And up to this point, they've played better than we have."
The Dodgers will have to play better on Saturday, or else this could be the biggest postseason collapse since the 116-win Mariners lost in the ALCS to the New York Yankees in five games in 2001.
At least that team won a postseason series.
Game 4 is Saturday night at 6:37PM PT on FS1.