The second contest in the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres was one of the best baseball games played this season. LA's 6-5 win was a brilliant display of the game at its finest. The result gave the boys in blue a 2-0 lead in the series, but the winding road it took to get there cemented the Padres and Dodgers as Major League Baseball's sexiest rivalry.
Sure, the Red Sox and Yankees have more history, as do the Cubs and Cardinals and countless other matchups. But the Dodgers and Padres are both among the most talented teams in the game, have World Series aspirations, are littered with individual superstars and, best of all, they really don't like each other. All the elements are there for a competitive, lasting rivalry in which each game actually means something.
On Wednesday night, the Dodgers got the best of the young Padres but the game proved San Diego isn't far from being on equal footing. Despite losing their top two starting pitchers to injury, the Padres have battled hard and nearly secured a win over Clayton Kershaw & Co. in Game 2. The fact that they're even competing shows how far San Diego has come, and how much potential the team has moving forward.
The Padres jumped out to a 1-0 lead thanks to a booming double from Wil Myers in the second inning. The Dodgers answered in the third by scoring three runs off San Diego's Zach Davies and added another in the bottom of the fourth on a big home run by Cody Bellinger.
The score remained 4-1 until Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer took Kershaw deep in back-to-back at-bats in the top of the sixth to cut the lead to one.
Machado's home run brought the Padres back to life and he was clearly fired up given his emphatic bat toss that sent some old-school hearts aflutter:
The Padres came to bat in the top of the 7th still trailing 4-3 and managed to get a runner on when Trent Grisham was hit by a pitch from Brusdar Graterol. That brought MLB's brightest young superstar, Fernando Tatis Jr. to the plate representing to go-ahead run. Grisham advanced to second on a balk and on the next pitch, this happened:
That was so good it deserves another look:
One more foot and that's a dramatic two-run home run to give the Padres a 5-4 lead. Instead, Cody Bellinger robbed Tatis with the best catch of the 2020 season so far.
Graterol, who was apparently thrilled the absolute missile he surrendered went 407 feet instead of 408, flipped out in celebration. He threw his glove and hat, then waved goodbye to the Padres dugout and blew kisses at them. That obviously didn't sit well with San Diego. Here are a few videos showing what went down:
And here's a bit more:
Guys, this isn't fake tough guy stuff, these two teams legitimately don't like each other. Remember, a few weeks ago this happened after Grisham took Kershaw deep in San Diego:
The Dodgers flipped out after his reaction to his home run, as manager Dave Roberts and the rest of the team's bench screamed at Grisham while he rounded the bases. Grisham talked back as he passed the third base dugout during his trot:
Now back to Wednesday night. After Bellinger robbed Tatis with his otherworldly catch, the Dodgers tacked on two runs in the bottom of the 7th to take a 6-3 lead. The air felt like it was out of the balloon for the young Padres at that point.
Not so fast.
In the top of the 9th, Roberts brought Kenley Jansen in to finish things off, but he ran into some trouble. With one out, Jake Cronenworth singled and scored on a Mitch Moreland double. Austin Nola popped out to put San Diego down to its last out, but Grisham (yeah, him again) singled to right center, scoring Moreland and cutting the lead to 6-5.
That forced Roberts to pull Jansen in favor of Joe Kelly. In two tense at-bats that lasted a total of 14 pitches, Kelly walked Tatis, then Machado. That brought Eric Hosmer up with the bases loaded. After a five-pitch battle, Kelly got Hosmer to ground out to second ending the threat.
The finish was a white-knuckler for fans of both teams -- and baseball fans of all stripes. It was truly a phenomenal game that went right down to the wire and in which neither team felt comfortable. Big players made huge plays and there was true postseason tension throughout. It was exactly what we expect from playoff baseball.
The Dodgers now have a commanding 2-0 lead in the series and, frankly, the Padres don't have any viable starting pitchers left to challenge them. It would take a legitimate miracle for San Diego to come back. Stranger things have happened, but it's going to take a run of good luck the likes we've rarely seen.
All that said, there's great news on the horizon. Given the Padres' farm system depth and youth, they're only going to get better moving forward. They'll be back here next year, hopefully with the front-end of their rotation healthy. The Dodgers, meanwhile, aren't going anywhere. Both teams will be contending for World Series berths for the foreseeable future.
I'll leave you with this incredibly exciting thought: these two teams set up 7.5 miles from each other in spring training and will play 19 times during the regular season in 2021.
Buckle up baseball fans, this rivalry is only going to get better.