LOS ANGELES – Well, maybe this is really a rivalry, after all.
The San Diego Padres, believing all season they can play with the powerful Los Angeles Dodgers, finally proved it Wednesday night, knocking off the Dodgers with a 5-3 victory in front of a stunned sellout crowd of 53,122 at Dodger Stadium.
The National League Division Series is tied at 1-game apiece, but the next two games are in San Diego, with the Padres playing in front of their own fans in a postseason game for the first time since 2006. They plan to make it a weekend they’ll cherish forever.
The Padres aren’t getting too giddy, and know they still have to beat the Dodgers twice in the next three games, but, oh man, they can’t help it.
They can smell it.
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They can feel it.
This is finally the time the Padres slay the dragon up north, the mighty Dodgers.
The Padres now have home-field advantage, they have the pitching matchups they want with starters Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove pitching Friday and Saturday, and, oh, has their bullpen ever stepped up.
The Padres’ pen has been unconscious, pitching 9⅓ shutout innings in this series.
The Dodgers may have won 22 more games than the Padres this season, beaten them 15 times in their 21 head-to-head matchups – and are 24-6 against them in their last 30 games dating back to last year.
But all that matters now is that they’re all tied up, with a best-of-three series now deciding who will advance to play for the National League pennant.
“This is what it’s all about,’’ Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “We worked hard all year to get to this point. Here we are.’’
Buckle up, and get ready, because this series is looking to be a doozy.
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These two teams traded punches for five innings, with the game tied at 3-apiece, and Dodgers three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and Padres ace Yu Darvish lasting five innings apiece.
“It was a grind,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Kershaw, “across the board for him.’’
Manny Machado, who was heavily booed every time he stepped to the plate, single-handedly tormented Kershaw, homering in the first inning and hitting a run-scoring double into left field in the third inning.
Machado tormented the Dodgers in the field, too, with two dazzling plays. He robbed Trea Turner of an extra-base hit by snaring a line drive in the first inning, and then pulled off an encore in the firth inning by going to his left, grabbing the sharp grounder, spinning, and throwing out Turner at first.
The long ball haunted Darvish with Freddie Freeman homering in the first inning, Max Muncy in the second inning and Turner in the third inning.
The Padres took advantage of a rare error by the Dodgers to break the tie in the sixth when Turner booted a potential double-play grounder by Wil Myers, advancing Jake Cronenworth to second base. Left fielder Jurickson Profar made the Dodgers pay with a sharp single to right field, his fifth RBI of the postseason, for a 4-3 Padres lead.
The Padres tried their best to return the favor with second baseman Cronenworth unable to come up with Will Smith’s routine ground ball. Muncy followed with a single over the head of right fielder Juan Soto. It should have been runners on second and third, but Smith got a late break, and Muncy wound up only at first base.
It proved costly.
The Padres pulled Darvish, and brought in Robert Suarez. He struck out Justin Turner for the first out, and Gavin Lux followed by hitting a double-play grounder started by Cronenworth, preserving the Padres’ 4-3 lead.
And just like that, Darvish had as many postseason victories in one week as he’s produced in his career, spanning seven starts, including his ugly debacle in the 2017 World Series with the Dodgers when he went 0-2 with a 21.60 ERA.
“He definitely uses that as motivation,’’ Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla said.
Now, he has stepped up to become the Padres’ ace, shutting down the New York Mets in the wild-card series last week by permitting just one run in seven innings, and getting the victory Wednesday night, permitting seven hits and three runs in five innings
Darvish was 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA this season, yielding 148 hits in 194⅔ innings, and pitching at least six innings in 23 consecutive starts.
“He’s been unbelievable,’’ Niebla said. “He’s the most interesting pitcher man I ever met. He’s just so in-depth what he thinks about. He studies hitters more than anybody I know. And he watches a ton of video, sometimes I have to take it away from him.’’
Darvish will be back to studying video again for his next start.
Perhaps, it will be Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
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