Season stokes fire for Padres-Dodgers on first postseason meeting

The Padres celebrate a 7-2 win over the Dodgers on Sept. 14 at Petco Park.
The Padres celebrate a 7-2 win over the Dodgers on Sept. 14 at Petco Park. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called the game and series ‘a turning point’ in the rivalry.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
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You saw it, in the body language of Padres slugger Fernando Tatis Jr. and teammate Trent Grisham when they flipped bats and glared holes through teammates as home runs sailed into the night.

You heard it, as the Dodgers, a model of confident calm leading into a mid-September series opener, hugged the rail and chirped like a completely different team while roaring back to win the series.

You felt it, as Tatis bulled through Dodgers catcher Will Smith the first time they met this season to spark a chippy exchange with Justin Turner. Round 2 unfolded Aug. 11, when barreling baserunner Chris Taylor veered inside the line to shoulder Padres catcher Austin Hedges.


Even as the clubhouses tiptoe around the embers, there’s a new, real and tangible dislike between these reimagined, energized Padres and the buttoned-down, all-business Dodgers. When the teams open the NL Division Series on Tuesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, a rivalry on the rise will step out of the national shadows.

“There was some intensity in those games,” Dodgers’ Game 1 starter Walker Buehler said.

Understatement notwithstanding, Buehler scratched the surface of what anyone with eyes and ears already knew. The temperature of the season series spiked on Sept. 14 when the Padres trailed 1-0 in the sixth against mainstay Clayton Kershaw at Petco Park. Grisham brought his team to life with a tying homer, whipping his bat and staring down his dugout before beginning his trot.

The Dodgers barked at Grisham as he rounded third base. He barked back. Manager Dave Roberts pointed to a perceived lack of respect for an accomplished veteran, saying: “I don’t mind guys admiring a homer. Certainly, it’s a big game, a big hit. I just felt that to overstay at home plate, certainly against a guy like Clayton … I just took exception to that.”

Padres fans fumed at the old-school grumbling as their team continues to push boundaries and reshape thoughts about the modern game.

Superstar outfielder Mookie Betts said the loss stung like a right cross. The Dodgers responded with blows of their own, winning the final two games in the series to all but secure their eighth consecutive NL West crown.

“We’re not going to just keep getting punched in the mouth,” Betts said. “We can come back at you. Obviously, this is a new series so we have to come out with some energy, ready to go, because you know they will.”


The meaningfulness of one moment in game in one series?

“I think if you are looking for a turning point, that was probably one of them,” Roberts said. “We’ve continued to play good baseball since.”

The real meat filling the rivalry sandwich is that it is freshly competitive. The season series was tied at four until the Dodgers scooped up the final two. Five were decided by one run. Two others, by two runs.

Plays at the plate. Bat flips. Grousing and griping. The oxygen a rivalry demands.

“What this game deserves, wants, needs is a little bit of passion, a little bit of energy,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “I’d definitely say with the Dodgers and ourselves, but you look around baseball, it’s Oakland and Houston, Atlanta and Miami, Yankees-Rays, that’s well-documented. I think it’s great for the game.

“… You’ve got men playing the game and competing hard, emotions are high, things are at stake.”

The Dodgers, shown during an NLDS workout Monday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, face the Padres on Tuesday.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts talks with Justin Turner, left, and Max Muncy during an NLDS workout Monday in Arlington, Texas.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

One reason the Dodgers surely are annoyed with the Padres is that they can’t simply be dismissed, as in so many seasons past. They’ve grown into a legitimate threat, far more than a speed bump on the leisurely Sunday drive to NL West titles.


The possibility of the Padres adding to the Dodgers’ hyper-scrutinized chase of a World Series title that dates to the year 32-year-old Kershaw was born, would burn like hot sauce under an eyelid. The well-worn narrative says the Dodgers dominate in the regular season, but wilt at the finish line.

The Padres’ pitching merry-go-round could unravel, especially when facing the best, winningest offense in baseball during a five-game series without any off days to breathe. That only increases expectations shouldered by the Dodgers since they clearly hold the upper hand with Buehler, Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and others healthy and rested.

As of Monday afternoon, the status of Padres starters Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet remained as securely guarded as the entrance to Fort Knox. Against the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Series, starters Chris Paddack and normally reliable Zach Davies failed to reach the fourth inning. Bullpen use in the series became historic.

The Dodgers hope the format will grind on the Padres.

“After getting three days off, playing five in a row, I just think the format lends itself to your entire roster,” Roberts said. “As a team and an organization that believes in depth, you’re going to have to use all 28 guys.”

The rivals bash baseballs just 123 miles apart, yet have not met in the postseason.

“This isn’t about revenge or getting somebody back at this point,” Padres right fielder Wil Myers said. “This is all about winning baseball games. For us, how we look at the other side, we don’t really want to look at the jersey, we don’t want to look at the name. This is just another team that we’re going out to play. This is the team that’s in our way.”

That’s the polished public statement, but feelings that bubbled up this season become very tough to flush. They build up like calluses.


“It’s kind of funny, but we totally keep it professional out there,” Tatis said of sharing the same hotel with the Dodgers as part of coronavirus protocols. “If we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it on the field. That’s what it’s about.”

Tatis drilled closer to the nerve: “I feel like everybody is just putting a little bit more gas in the tank.”

Myers explained the unconventional postseason run-ins.

“Usually you have your mask on, so it’s not always super easy to tell who it is,” he said. “You just say ‘hey’ and keep going. There’s not really much conversation. Both sides feel the same way. We’re here on a mission. We’re here for a job. We’re not here to socialize. … We’re ready to rock and roll.”

With these two teams, that is something everyone can agree on.