The secret behind the Padres’ turnaround? Manager Bob Melvin ripping them
Bob Melvin is about as mild-mannered as big league managers come, a 19-year veteran whose style has always leaned more toward the even-keeled, professorial Gil Hodges than the volcanic Billy Martin.
So when the San Diego Padres field boss aired out his players in the clubhouse and then ripped them to the media after a lackluster 4-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 15, it caught his club by surprise.
“It’s interesting, because you don’t see it much,” Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth said with a laugh, when asked what it’s like when Melvin gets mad. “I think it was the right time and place to kind of light a fire under everybody, and it seemed to work. If he needs to get mad again, I wouldn’t be mad.”
There has been no need for such managerial outbursts this past week, not with the Padres pushing the 111-win Dodgers to the brink of elimination in the NL Division Series. San Diego held a two-games-to-one advantage in the best-of-five series entering Game 4 in Petco Park Saturday night.
The Dodgers’ offense continued to scuffle against the San Diego Padres in L.A.’s 2-1 loss in Game 3 of the NLDS, and now the 111-win team’s season is at stake.
But the Padres might not be alive and in position to win their first World Series title in franchise history if not for Melvin’s timely tongue-lashing one month ago.
Melvin’s ire wasn’t sparked so much by the fact that the Padres had lost for the fourth time in five games and were clinging to a wild-card spot when they were blanked by the Diamondbacks in Chase Field that night.
It was the way they lost, getting shut out by a pitcher (Drey Jameson) making his major league debut, mustering only three hits in the game and going down in order in six of nine innings.
“Very frustrating,” Melvin said after the game. “Didn’t even feel like we put up a fight. Can’t play that way, especially this time of year. … The way we’re going about it right now does not look good to me.”
His message to the team behind closed doors was apparently just as pointed.
“He got on us there in Arizona,” first baseman Wil Myers said. “I won’t go into the details of what he said, but it was a really great speech, one that got us very motivated. And since that speech, I feel like we’ve played our best baseball.”
The Padres held a players-only meeting led by veteran third baseman and NL most valuable player candidate Manny Machado the next day. They banged out 17 hits, including four home runs, in a 12-3 victory that night.
The Dodgers’ World Series hopes were dashed Saturday night in a season-ending loss to the Padres in Game 4 of the National League Division Series in San Diego.
They closed out the series with 2-0 and 6-1 wins over Arizona — it didn’t hurt that the Padres had their top three starters, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish, lined up for those games — the beginning of a three-week stretch in which they finished the season with 11 wins in 18 games.
“Manny has done a great job leading this team, and with what he said following what Bob said that day, it was really good,” Myers said. “Hearing it from a guy like that, who’s an MVP candidate, means a lot more.”
San Diego scored 82 runs, an average of 4.6 per game, and hit 20 homers and 34 doubles during those final 18 games. Their pitchers combined for a 2.68 ERA and gave up 52 runs, an average of 2.9 per game.
The Padres clinched a playoff spot Oct. 3, with two games left in the regular season, and traveled to New York, where they beat the 101-win Mets in a three-game NL wild-card series.
“Yeah, I think we all wish it would have come earlier, but I think it was with 18 games left when we got our butts kicked in Arizona,” Cronenworth said when asked to pinpoint the moment this group came together in the clubhouse. “Bob got mad for the first time.
“We played the next three nights like they were our last games of the year, and we kind of rolled from there into that series against the Mets on a high. I would like to say we came together as a group more in New York, but I really think it was that Friday night in Arizona.”
After dominating baseball with an 111-win season, the Dodgers are on the verge of seeing their magic season turn into a playoff nightmare against the Padres.
Machado and right fielder Juan Soto, the team’s two superstars, led the charge. Machado batted .303 (20 for 66) with a .900 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, four homers and 12 RBIs and Soto hit .302 (19 for 63) with a .937 OPS, three homers and nine RBIs in the final 18 games.
Darvish, Snell and Musgrove pitched well, and roles continued to solidify in a bullpen led by closer Josh Hader and setup man Robert Suarez that has been dominant in the playoffs, entering Saturday night’s game with a 16-inning scoreless streak dating to last Sunday’s wild-card clincher in New York.
But players are also quick to point out the role that Melvin, in his first year with the Padres after spending the previous 11 years in Oakland, played in the team’s mid-September surge.
“What a beautiful thing,” Snell said of Melvin’s desert storm. “Bob is a smart man. That’s all I know. That’s a smart man. He knows what he’s doing. He’s been around for a long time. When he voiced his frustration with us, I think it really helped us and brought us closer together as a team.”
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