If you have any doubts about whether this is real – whether Monday’s Major League Baseball game means more than any year-round and whether the San Diego Padres has risen enough to become a legitimate caregiver for the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. Think of the contempt with which Trent Grisham gave way to Clayton Kershaw in the sixth inning. He offered an admiring look, a quick turn to his own dugout, a smug smile as he approached the first base, the complete dismissal of the esteemed pitcher who gave him a quick ball over the slab.
As Grisham approached his home, the Dodgers on the edge of the third-base dugout scolded him, and at that point, the Padres seemed to become much more than charming, young, harmless outsiders.
There were threats.
“I felt a little different,” Grisham said of Padres’ first win over Kershaw in 2013. “I felt more satisfied.”
The Dodgers, winners of seven consecutive NL West titles and the Padres, eliminated 14 years after their last appearance since the season, were less than three games away when the penultimate week of this regular season began. The opening of the series at Petco Park was arguably Padres’ most important game in a decade, and both teams treated it with due reverence.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts devised his beating strategy in a way he hadn’t in all season, lining up three leftists near the top as a way to lure the opposition to remove the threatening Dinelson Lamet when the squad turned for the third time. Padres manager Jesse Tingler has lined up his players so that Kershaw faces a right-handed striker in eight of the top nine places. Then the game began.
“You see Clayton has the best speed of the season. You see Lamet sitting at 98.99 for five assists. I thought both players and both dugouts had energy,” Roberts said. “You can just feel the importance of the game.”
Roberts played in San Diego, trained in San Diego and still lives in San Diego. He has spent the last five years presiding over the Dodgers, who are consistently among the greatest in the sport, leading him through two World Series and eight elimination games. Experiences have made Roberts wary of increasing the highlights of the regular season. But he acknowledged in advance – this season, with extended playoffs and a slight advantage over the home team – that this is a “big series”.
“I can’t imagine what this place would be like, in a normal year, the electricity in the stadium and almost all over town,” Tingler said three hours before the first pitch on Monday. “I wish we could try it for the next three days.”
The Paders made clear their intentions last year when they donated $ 300 million to Manny Machado and put Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Padad on their roster on opening day, avoiding the misuse of modern baseball with manipulation during service. After a 70-92 finish by a team that was clearly about to climb, Padres executive Ron Fowler said “heads will roll” if the Padres do not find themselves in conflict in 2020.
The statement was a little hard and maybe even a little wrong. The Paders were apparently at least another year old. But then they started the 2020 season with 18 wins in 30 games and their general manager AJ Preller acquired at least six players who make the difference in less than 48 hours without mortgaging a loaded farm system and everything started to feel real .
“This is their reign,” Padres third man Manny Machado told the Dodgers two days after the August 31 trading deadline. “And that’s their division, honestly. But we’re coming. We’re definitely coming.”
The Dodgers — as they are, proud as they are, accomplished as they are — can feel it. This seemed obvious at the bottom of the seventh Monday, at the end of Kershaw’s otherwise great start. Padres scored five runs in the semi-inning, which included three errors in defense and very few hard-hitting balls. Kershaw gave way to Pedro Baes with two innings, one out and his field number at 99. He could only watch Padres DH Jorge Ona score a bluper in the double. Then the Dodgers first baseman Max Muncie hesitated after applying primer and letting Erikson Profar shoot at home. Then Dodgers player Chris Taylor seems to have lost Muncy’s throw in the lights. And everything unraveled.
“We just fell apart there,” Roberts said after the game.
The Dodgers and Padres have split their eight games so far, with three resolved with three or fewer runs. They will meet twice more in the regular season and seem destined to meet again in the NL Division Series, no matter how the top of NL West is shaken.
Kershaw rejected Grisham’s home party, “I won’t worry about their team,” he said, and downplayed the potential for a budding rivalry.
“They are a great team this year,” Kershaw said. “Eventually we can see them again in the playoffs.”