Column: Padres’ Joe Musgrove can solidify San Diego hometown hero status in Game 4 of NLDS

Padres right-hander Joe Musgrove pitches against the San Francisco Giants on Oct. 3, 2022.
San Diego-area native Joe Musgrove, pictured Oct. 3, will start Game 4 of the NLDS on Saturday night and can help oust the Dodgers and lift the Padres into their first NLCS since 1998.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

They blew up a piece of Joe Musgrove’s childhood a couple of years ago. Qualcomm Stadium was the old home of the hometown team in a town that lives to despise the Dodgers.

In San Diego, Musgrove is as authentic as it gets. The first time Musgrove went to see the Dodgers play his Padres there, he got in a fight and got kicked out of the stadium. He was not yet old enough to drive.

He is the people’s choice. He is not blessed with the outrageous skill of Manny Machado or the prodigious talent of Juan Soto, but he is one of their own.


On Saturday night, Musgrove can lead the Padres and their fans to a promised land. If the Padres win, they vanquish the mighty Dodgers and advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 1998.

Musgrove was 5 then. On Saturday, he is scheduled to be the starting pitcher.

“I know the fans are all extremely excited about this,” he said before the Padres beat the Dodgers 2-1 in Game 3 of the NL Division Series on Friday night. “As a team, we’re definitely at the maximum level of excitement.

The Dodgers do little on offense and lose 2-1 to the Padres on Friday in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. They must win two in a row to advance to the NLCS.

Oct. 14, 2022

“The energy is going to be high, and I’m excited that I get the opportunity to somewhat decide our fate one way or another.”

Of course, if the Padres had lost Friday, he would have been pitching to keep alive a magical season and the hopes of a championship-starved city.

Here, his home is your home. Last year, on the night he threw the first no-hitter in the history of a franchise born in 1969, the neighbors rushed over to the family home to celebrate.

“And then,” Musgrove’s sister Terra told Annie Heilbrunn of the San Diego Union-Tribune, “we had three guys who had just moved into the neighborhood — I had never met them — who came over in their Padres jerseys and brought some beer and were just celebrating and screaming with us.”

The Padres' Joe Musgrove, right, shakes hands with teammate Jurickson Profar after Musgrove's no-hitter April 9, 2021.
The Padres’ Joe Musgrove, right, shakes hands with teammate Jurickson Profar after Musgrove pitched a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers on April 9, 2021.
(Richard W. Rodriguez / Associated Press)

The party continued the next morning at Caffe Adesso, the drive-through coffee house the family owns in Alpine, along Interstate 8, about 30 miles east of Petco Park. The menu features the No. 44, what Musgrove drinks: a cold brew with vanilla cream. On Instagram, you can see when Musgrove cookies and other Padres baked goods are available.

On that day after the no-hitter, fans drove through from first light, celebrating and honking and ordering a No. 44. Musgrove’s first-grade teacher even showed up.

“His dream at age 6 was to be a pro ballplayer,” Lisa Castillo, who taught him at Flying Hills Elementary School, told the Union-Tribune. “I still have goosebumps.”

That brings us back to the fight Musgrove got into at Qualcomm Stadium. He did not get into a fight with a Dodgers fan, and he did not even get into a fight during the game. The incident took place before the game, when Musgrove and another young fan battled for a ball hit by Phil Nevin during batting practice.

Nevin, now the Angels’ manager, laughed heartily about that.


“It would have been a lot better if it was during the game,” Nevin said, “not a BP home run.”

As Musgrove told the story Friday, his parents had shepherded everyone into the stadium, then went back to the car and left him and his friend in the outfield. The Nevin ball flew toward them, then landed in a cup holder.

“Me and this other kid are staring at it from side to side,” Musgrove said, “and we’re both waiting for someone to make the first move.”

Andrew Heaney got out of a few jams against the San Diego Padres, but the home run he gave up to Trent Grisham overshadowed his NLDS Game 3 effort.

Oct. 14, 2022

Both made their move. Musgrove got there first. The other kid tried to grab the ball out of Musgrove’s hand.

“I punched the kid,” Musgrove said, “and I kind of looked at him like, oh, my gosh, what did I just do?”

A security guard kicked out Musgrove, who sheepishly got back inside with his parents.

Nevin played for the Padres from 1999 to 2005, for the final seasons of Qualcomm Stadium and the first two of Petco Park. His phone blew up Friday, with friends sharing text messages and screen shots as soon as Musgrove told his story in a pregame news conference.


“I don’t know Joe,” Nevin said, “but I’m a big fan. I love the story. He’s a San Diego guy, and I’m really pulling for him in the playoffs.”

Musgrove is a guy for which all of San Diego can pull, and his story might even pull a heartstring or two among Dodgers fans. But consider this: Remember Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, when the Houston Astros pummeled Clayton Kershaw in part because they knew what pitches were coming? Kershaw threw 39 sliders; the Astros swung and missed at one.

You know who the winning pitcher was that night? Musgrove.