SAN DIEGO — The Padres are one win away from slaying that dragon on the freeway — and they might not even need to drive back up Interstate 5 to do it.
Petco Park’s first playoff game in front of fans in 16 years brought the goods. San Diego packed the place well before the first pitch, golden towels waving and a cacophony of noise from the start.
The priests responded with edge of your seat 2-1 win in Friday’s Game 3 against the Dodgers. They now lead the National League Division Series by that same total and can earn their first trip to the NL Championship Series since 1998 with a win in Game 4 on Saturday night.
“We will come tomorrow,” Juan Soto said “We will not rest because we have the lead. We have to do it. A lot of people in this clubhouse, they’re hungry to go out there and beat those guys.”
“One win away,” the Padres’ third baseman said Manny Machado. “But they’re a good ball club over there. They will bring everything tomorrow. We just have to go out there and take care of our business. We have big game Joe on the mound.”
If Friday night was any indication, they’ll have quite the home advantage as well. The 45,137 in attendance marked the largest crowd at Petco Park for a postseason game.
The Padres won two playoff games in the East Village in the midst of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But they never won a playoff game in front of fans at Petco Park. Those fans were suitably furious on Friday.
“It was probably the best crowd I’ve ever thrown before,” the Game 3 starter said. Blake Snell. “The energy was electric the whole time.”
Snell made his first postseason start against the Dodgers since his infamous fast hook in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series. He was mostly sharp, allowing just one run over 5 1/3 innings. Snell struck out six and worked around a lot of traffic.
When Max Muncy doubled with one out in the sixth, Snell’s night was done, and he walked out to a standing ovation. Unlike that start in Game 6 of the World Series, his bullpen got the job done. The San Diego relief corps continued its dominant run with 3 2/3 scoreless frames and has not allowed a Dodgers run in 12 2/3 innings this series.
“All those guys were incredible,” Soto said. “I think this is one of the coolest bullpens I’ve ever seen. … They show it.”
With a bullpen like this, the Padres feel awfully confident when they get an early lead. On Friday evening, they immediately jumped on top. Jake CronenworthSan Diego’s RBI single gave it a 1-0 advantage in the first inning. Trent Grisham‘s solo shot — his postseason-leading third home run — doubled that lead in the fourth. It turned out to be decisive.
Grisham, who finished the regular season with the lowest batting average among all qualifiers, is in the midst of one of the best postseasons in Padres history. His three home runs are already one shy of Jim Leyritz’s franchise playoff record.
“I’m really feeling myself again,” Grisham said.
A half inning later, the Dodgers scored their only run on Mookie Betts’ sacrifice fly. They threatened after that but would not score, finishing the night 0-for-9 with men in scoring position. With each escapist act, Petco Park grew a little crazier.
And when Josh Hader blasted a 99 mph fastball past Trayce Thompson to end it, the place erupted.
“This crowd was unbelievable,” Machado said. “It’s been fun — many years in the making.”
Amazingly, the pastors find themselves in control of the NLDS. In the history of best-of-five postseason series, teams holding a 2-1 lead have gone on to win the series 67 of 93 times (72%). In a Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams up 2-1 and playing Game 4 in their home stadiums advanced 21 out of 26 times (81%). In 15 of those cases, the series ended in Game 4.
If the Padres can finish it off, they will have pulled off one of the sport’s truly monumental upsets. The Dodgers won 22 more games than the Padres during the regular season. No team has won a postseason series against a team as many games above them in the standings since the 1906 White Sox.
“It was a very good regular season, but like we said before, none of that matters,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We’re in a five-game series against a very good ball club that we’re familiar with, and the team that plays the best baseball is going to win the series.
“Up to this point, they’ve played better than us.”
It’s a stark reversal from the regular season — and, really, the past decade. The Dodgers have won all six previous series this year. They’ve finished ahead of San Diego in the standings in every season since 2010. At the Trade Deadline, the Padres revised their roster with just this streak in mind; they had to overtake their rivals at some point.
It was then that president Peter Seidler proclaimed that the Dodgers are “the dragon on the highway that we are trying to kill.”
And there they sit, one win away from killing it.