We can say this with confidence: Dodgers-Padres did not disappoint.
It was the most widely anticipated matchup in baseball this season, built up so much over these past six months that there was no way these games between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres could possibly live up to the hype.
And then the first matchup far exceeded expectations.
Friday night’s matchup, the first of 19 regular-season games between two teams separated by 120 miles, felt like a postseason game, when every pitch matters and every move is closely examined, but in April. The Padres received approval to allow more fans into Petco Park heading into this weekend series, and a crowd of 15,250 provided a soundtrack of racketing ThunderStix and “Beat L.A.!” chants that created a palpable intensity for the duration of a heated, back-and-forth matchup that spilled into extra innings and lasted nearly five hours.
There were jaw-dropping home runs and head-scratching errors. Surprising contributions and mystifying decisions. A fan running onto the field, a near brawl and 17 pitchers. Most of all, there were dramatic swings, particularly in the eighth and ninth, which saw the Padres tie the game, the Dodgers retake the lead and the Padres tie it again while down to their last out.
The Dodgers finally pulled away with a five-run 12th inning that gave them an 11-6 victory and seven consecutive wins. Their first runs in that half-inning came on a leadoff home run by Corey Seager. Their last? A fly ball by David Price, a starter turned reliever, that was caught by Joe Musgrove — who threw a no-hitter seven days earlier — and came against Jake Cronenworth, the second baseman who was used in emergency relief.
“It was like a playoff game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It really was.”
Yep, Game 1 was everything we wanted it to be.
Here’s what else we learned:
Not just any series: Players hardly ever make too much of a regular-season series, no matter the opponent, because the season is too long to put too much into any one game. It’s not healthy. And so Seager’s bland response when asked about facing the Padres — “I think it’s just another division series. All division series are important.” — was predictable.
Then it was the fourth inning and Padres manager Jayce Tingler was calling on his No. 7 hitter to bunt two runners over and pinch-hitting in the No. 9 spot. Then it was the seventh inning and both teams had combined for five errors. Then it was the eighth inning of a tied game and Roberts was asking Jansen for four outs. Then it was the 10th and Dodgers reliever Dennis Santana was going absolutely ballistic after getting out of a jam.
Machado through clenched teeth: Manny Machado, whose signing two years ago signaled a new era in San Diego, did everything for the Padres. He notched two singles, stole two bases, made a fabulous play on a hard grounder and came up big in the ninth. Machado worked a six-pitch walk with two outs and nobody on against Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen, whose stuff looked electric once again, and seemed to be nursing some back soreness as he jogged to first base. He then stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch that didn’t stray too far and came around to score on Eric Hosmer’s tying single.
Padres manager Jayce Tingler said Machado had tightness in his lower back during the at-bat, then some shoulder discomfort after his stolen base. But Machado was determined to play through it. “He was not gonna let me take him out,” Tingler said.
The Dodgers’ absurd depth: On a night when the Dodgers were without three every-day players — including Cody Bellinger, who was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his left fibula — it was Luke Raley and Zach McKinstry who stepped up. Raley crushed his first career home run in the fifth, a 434-foot shot that tied the game at 1. McKinstry, who entered with a .974 OPS, drove in runs in the eighth and the 12th.
The 2016 draft is proving to be an epic one for the Dodgers. Will Smith is already one of the game’s best catchers. Gavin Lux is a budding superstar. Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin were two of the game’s best rookies last season. McKinstry has been a revelation. And Raley might be on his way.
Tatis’ up-and-down return: A lot of questions surrounded the health of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s left shoulder heading into this series. He had suffered a subluxation only 10 days earlier, his third issue with that shoulder in a span of 23 days. And there were concerns about whether he could manage it for a full season and whether doing so might affect him as a player, particularly with his mechanics at the plate.
Fernando Tatis Jr. hits a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth to put San Diego ahead.
His return provided both concern and optimism. The optimism came on a 410-foot home run to straightaway center field off Walker Buehler, which saw Tatis keep both hands on the bat in his follow-through, an adjustment the Padres would like to see him make in an effort to preserve his shoulder. The concern came defensively, with two errors — an errant throw to second in the sixth and a botched double-play ball in the 12th — to give him seven in six games.
Unhittable no more: Dodgers reliever Corey Knebel and Padres closer Mark Melancon combined for 1 hit, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts and zero runs in 11 1/3 innings heading into this series, then both got hit around in the late innings.
When Padres right fielder Wil Myers came to bat in the bottom of the eighth, with one on and one out and the Padres trailing by two runs, opponents were 0-for-12 with six strikeouts in at-bats that finished with Knebel’s curveball. But Myers got one out over the plate and dropped a single into right-center, then Jurickson Profar got one on the outer half and poked a tying double down the left-field line.
When Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner came to bat in the top of the ninth, opponents were 1-for-13 when facing two strikes against Melancon. But Turner, who declared during spring training that the Dodgers vs. Padres games would feel like “19 World Series games,” got a 2-2 cutter out over the plate and lined it to center field, giving the Dodgers their second lead of the night.
“That was a very good game,” said Price, who pitched the last two innings and worked out of a tough jam in the 11th. “Neither team wanted to lose that game.”