Padres Vanquish Dragon: Finally Beating L.A., Friars Break Dodger Hearts, Head to NLCS 

National League MLB Petco
National League MLB Petco
Ha-Seong Kim watches the action as he scores the go-ahead run in the Padres’ series clincher against the Dodgers. Photo credit: Screen shot, FS1

The Padres completed a stunning reversal against the Dodgers Saturday, winning their Division Series in four games thanks to a 5-3 victory at an overjoyed Petco Park.

The underdog Padres dispatched their second 100-win team in a row on the strength of a five-run seventh inning, capped by a two-RBI single by Jake Cronenworth. They now move on to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 1998, when they won to move on to the World Series.

The NLCS starts Tuesday in San Diego against the Phillies, just as unlikely an NLCS team.

But the Friars also cast off the Dodgers, winners of 111 games – the most in Major League Baseball this year – a team that won 14 of the teams’ 19 regular-season meetings in 2022 and in decisive fashion.

“It’s what we’ve been working for all year, (to) go out there and beat the best team in baseball,” Manny Machado told Bally Sports San Diego in the midst of his teammates’ clubhouse celebration.

But the NL West division winners’ mighty bats were often silenced in the best-of-five series, thanks to hot hands in the Padres bullpen. Unexpected production from the bottom of the batting order, especially Trent Grisham and Austin Nola, did the rest as the momentum from their wild-card series win over the New York Mets carried over to the Dodgers series.

The Padres, despite their Game 1 loss to L.A., seemed to cruise at times in the next two games as the Dodgers went 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position.

Saturday, however, was a struggle, from the elements – the game started 30 minutes late due to rain – to the Dodgers’ early lead.

L.A. got to Joe Musgrove first, triumphant in the decisive game in the Mets series, on a third inning Freddie Freeman double to drive in Mookie Betts, who had walked, and Trea Turner, whose hard double past Manny Machado sent the right fielder to third.

Meanwhile, Dodger starter Tyler Anderson kept the Padres in check, retiring nine straight batters through the fifth.

The bullpen, perfect in the series, gave up its first run of the four games in the seventh, as the Dodger lead grew to 3-0. Steven Wilson loaded the bases and gave up a sacrifice fly to Will Smith to score Betts, who had walked. But Tim Hill contained the damage, striking out Max Muncy and retiring Justin Turner on a ground ball to short.

The Padres were not so kind to the Dodger bullpen in the bottom of the inning, jumping all over three Dodger relievers and sending 10 men to the plate. Jurickson Profar started it all with a lead-off walk and Grisham and Nola came through again with singles to keep the rally going. They all crossed the plate to tie the game.

Yency Almonte struck out Machado, though, and induced Brandon Drury to foul out to Freeman. But Dodger manager Dave Roberts lifted him for Alex Vesia in the middle of Cronenworth’s at-bat, with the second baseman ahead 1-0 and men on first and third.

But not for long, as Juan Soto, whose single drove in Nola, stole second – he stopped running and side-skipped to the bag without drawing a throw from Smith, the Dodgers catcher. That made him the insurance run, as Cronenworth came through, sending a single to center to score Kim, then Soto.

The Dodgers offered no challenge after that as Robert Suarez retired the side 1-2-3 in the eighth and Josh Hader posted his third save in four games, striking out Betts, Trea Turner and Freeman to overwhelming cries of “Beat L.A!” by the crowd of 45,139 in Petco Park.

Two months ago in an interview during an ESPN broadcast of a San Diego 4-0 loss to L.A., Padres owner Peter Seidler said this of the Dodgers – “They’re the dragon up the freeway that we’re trying to slay.”

As of Saturday, mission accomplished. The players, like Machado, clearly felt the L.A. burden too and invested considerable time after the win doing a circuit around the field to celebrate with the Friar Faithful.

“Since I was a little kid, we’ve been getting beat up by the Dodgers,” lifelong Padre fan Musgrove, an El Cajon native, told FS1. “He called the series win “a really good feeling that’s only going to get better.”

“It seems like (the Dodgers) always get the good side of the games,” Profar told Bally Sports. “(But) finally we did it.”

The Friars will face the Phillies in a match-up of teams that reached the playoffs as wild cards. And suddenly, they will have home-field advantage, as they won 89 games in the regular season as compared to Philadelphia’s 87 victories.

The NLCS begins Tuesday and continues Wednesday in San Diego before moving east Friday through Sunday.

The Phillies eliminated the Atlanta Braves Saturday in Game 4 of their NL Division Series, leaving the Houston Astros as the only 100-win team remaining in the playoffs, with 106 victories. Houston finished off Seattle Saturday, sweeping the Mariners in a series capped by an 18-inning 1-0 Astros win.