NEW YORK — San Diego Padres starter Joe Musgrove knew Sunday was the biggest start of his life and felt sick to his stomach all day.
The stakes were high. A winner-takes-all playoff final pitching in front of a hostile New York crowd at Citi Field. San Diego needed a strong start from the right after the team struggled in Game 2 against the New York Mets.
As Musgrove contemplated the five-year, $100 million contract the Padres awarded him in August, he felt the weight of his team’s season fall on his shoulders.
But as the first pitch approached and Musgrove warmed up in the Citi Field bullpen, he sidestepped a Padre catcher. Austin How to talk about the night before them.
“I’m going to have the best start of my life,” Musgrove told Nola.
His premonition came true when Musgrove went seven innings, allowing just one hit and one walk and striking out five batters, propelling the Padres to a 6-0 victory and punching a ticket to the National League Division Series and a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. Dodgers. In the process, Musgrove made history, becoming the first pitcher in major league history to throw seven shutout innings and allow one hit in a winner-takes-all postseason game.
Throughout the evening, Musgrove relied on his fastball, cutter, curveball and slider to completely dominate the Mets’ lineup, retiring the first 12 batters of the game, good for the longest perfect-game bid in Padres postseason history. The Mets struggled to get any offensive momentum against the Padres, with a first baseman Pete Alonso tallying the only Mets hit of the evening in the fifth inning.
“You could see the resolution [Musgrove’s] face and the demeanor he had,” Pastor-manager Bob Melvin said. “He was on a mission today.”
A strange moment came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Mets manager Buck Showalter called for a substance check on Musgrove as pictures circulated online of the Padres starter’s ear appearing to glow. Umpires later dug their fingers in and around Musgrove’s ear but did not find anything that violated the rules.
Mets fans at Citi Field followed the inspections with loud boos directed at Musgrove, with chants of “cheater” echoing throughout the stadium.
“We found nothing,” referee Alfonso Marquez said.
Melvin argued with the Mets asking to check Musgrove for foreign substances.
“The problem I have is that Joe Musgrove is a man of character,” Melvin said. “Questioning his character, that’s the part I have a problem with and I’m here to tell everybody that Joe Musgrove is as over the board as any pitcher that I know, any player that I know, and unfortunately the reception that he received after that was not guaranteed.”
After the sobriety test, Musgrove struck out a Mets catcher Thomas Nest and gestured to the New York dugout, gliding under his nose. Musgrove said the Mets’ foreign substance control was “desperate” and the team’s “last ditch attempt to get me out of the game.”
“It pretty much just lit a fire under me,” Musgrove said.
Showalter said the team knew information — including Musgrove’s increased spin rate — that led him to ask the umpires to check for foreign substances. According to Baseball Savant, all of Musgrove’s pitches Sunday night exceeded his season average in rotations per minute.
“I’m charged with doing what’s best for the New York Mets,” Showalter said. “If it makes me look however it makes me look or whatever, I’ll do it every time and live with the consequences. I’m not here to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
The Padres will be making their second appearance in the division series since 2006, with the only other appearance coming in 2020 when they lost to the eventual World Series champion Dodgers.
Los Angeles went 14-5 against the Padres in the regular season. The Dodgers ranked as the top offense in baseball in 2022, scoring 847 runs, while San Diego ranked 13th among all teams, scoring 705 runs. The Dodgers also had the lowest team ERA in baseball while the Padres ranked 11th.
Sunday’s win also guarantees the Padres will play their first playoff home game with fans at Petco Park since 2006.
“It’s one of the best feelings about tonight,” Melvin said. “We talked about it in the hitters’ meetings today. There’s a lot on the line here and there’s a lot of reasons to be motivated and inspired. One of them is bringing this thing to San Diego and giving them postseason experience.”
With Musgrove pitching exceptionally well in the biggest game of his career, a Mets starter Chris Bassitt had little room for error, but the priest’s offense took advantage of every opportunity it gained early in the game.
San Diego’s offense came gradually throughout the evening. Nola started the tally in the second inning with a single to left field that scored a first baseman Josh Bell and shortstop Ha-Seong Kim. In the fourth inning, Padres outfielder Trent Grisham — who had led the Padres’ offense in the previous wild-card games with two home runs — singled on a sharp line drive to center field, scoring Kim.
Bassitt left the game after four innings, allowing three runs on three hits, three walks and two strikeouts.
“I just beat myself up,” Bassitt said. “Looking back at Atlanta’s start, I’m not sure how many runs they scored on a walk, and then tonight I know they scored two guys on a walk. Not too proud of that.”
The Mets’ bullpen didn’t fare much better. Third baseman Manny Machado added in the fifth inning by hitting a line-drive single off a reliever David Peterson to right field, scoring outfielder Jurickson Profar to make the score 4-0. In the eighth, an outfielder Juan Soto added some cushion with a single to left field away Edwin Diaz, winning Kim and Grisham. The Padres’ six runs proved to be more than enough to punch a ticket to the division series.
The stakes are high for the Padres, who made blockbuster moves at the trade deadline for superstar outfielder Soto and a reliever. Josh Hader. San Diego also dealt with the fallout from the 80-game suspension in August of superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Sunday’s win moves San Diego one step closer.