SAN DIEGO — The Padres are one win away from killing that dragon on the freeway — and they might not even have to go back Interstate 5 to do so.
Petco Park’s first playoff game in front of fans in 16 years brought the goods. San Diego filled the court before the first pitch, golden towels waving and a cacophony of noise from the start.
The Padres responded with a narrow 2-1 win in Friday’s Game 3 against the Dodgers. They now lead the National League Division Series by the 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’ll come tomorrow,” said Juan Soto. “We won’t make it easy for ourselves because we’re in the lead. We have to get it done. A lot of people in this clubhouse are hungry to go out and beat these guys.”
“One win away,” said Padre’s third baseman Manny Machado. “But they’re a good ball club over there. They’ll bring everything with them tomorrow. We just have to get out there and mind our business. We have Big Game Joe on the hill.”
If Friday night was any indication, they also have quite a home field advantage. 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 2020 season curtailed by the pandemic. But they had never won a playoff game in front of the fans at Petco Park. Those fans were suitably rabid on Friday.
“That was probably the best crowd I’ve ever pitched in front of,” said Game 3 starter Blake Snell. “The energy was electric all along.”
Snell was making his first postseason start against the Dodgers since his infamous quick hook in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series. He was mostly sharp, only allowing one run 5 1/3 innings. Snell struck six and worked his way around a lot of traffic.
When Max Muncy doubled with an out in the sixth, Snell’s night was over and he walked out to a standing ovation. Unlike that start in Game 6 of the World Series, his bullpen finished the job. The San Diego Relief Corps continued their dominant run with 3 2/3 frames scoreless and has not conceded a Dodgers run in 12 2/3 innings of the series.
“All these guys were amazing,” said Soto. “I think this is one of the biggest bullpens I’ve ever seen. … They show it.”
With a bullpen like this, the Padres feel very confident taking an early lead. On Friday night, they immediately jumped to the top. Jake Cronenworth’s RBI single gave San Diego a 1-0 advantage in the first inning. Trent Grisham’s solo shot – his third home run after the season – doubled that lead in the fourth. It turned out to be crucial.
Grisham, who finished the regular season with the lowest batting average of any qualifier, is in the midst of one of the best postseasons in Padres history. His three home runs are already one short of Jim Leyritz’s franchise playoff record.
“I really kind of feel like myself again,” Grisham said.
A half-inning later, the Dodgers scored their only run on Mookie Bett’s sacrificial fly. After that they threatened but failed to score and ended the night 0-9 with men in goal position. With every act of escape, Petco Park got a little busier.
And when Josh Hader blew a 99-mph fastball past Trayce Thompson to end it, the court erupted.
“That crowd was incredible,” Machado said. “It was fun – many years to wait.”
Amazingly, the Padres are in control of the NLDS. In the history of best-of-five postseason series, teams with a 2-1 lead have won series 67 of 93 times (72%). In the Division Series, with the current 2-2-1 format, teams playing 2-1 and playing Game 4 at 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, they’ll have pulled off one of the sport’s truly monumental upsets. The Dodgers won 22 more games than the Padres in the regular season. Not since the White Sox in 1906 has a team won a postseason series against a team that was that many games ahead of them overall.
“It’s been a very good regular season, but like we said, none of that matters,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “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.
“So far they have played better than us.”
It’s a stark reversal from the regular season — and really from the last decade. The Dodgers won all six previous series this year. They have finished ahead of San Diego overall in every season since 2010. At Trade Deadline, the Padres overhauled their roster with that exact series in mind; They had to overtake their rivals at some point.
At the time, Chairman Peter Seidler proclaimed that the Dodgers were “the dragon on the freeway that we’re trying to kill.”
And here they sit, a win away from killing it.