On the night of the franchise’s first home playoff game in front of a crowd in 16 years, San Diego Padres fans were treated to another sight that felt almost as rare.
In a 2-1 win in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Friday, the Padres conquered the Dodgers in a way they’ve seldom done in recent years, quieting the majors’ best regular-season offense again to take a two games to one series lead and put the Dodgers’ 2022 campaign on the brink.
If the Dodgers’ Game 2 defeat was a warning sign, their performance at a sold-out and amped-up Petco Park was a flashing red alarm.
Their pitching plan was tenuous, requiring five relievers following Tony Gonsolin’s ineffective start.
Their defense was shaky, with more miscues putting their pitchers under stress repeatedly throughout the night.
But, most of all, in what feels like the most surprising, but also painfully expected shortcoming of their division series so far, the Dodgers’ star-studded lineup has been nothing short of a dud, managing just six hits against Blake Snell and four relievers while also going hitless with runners in scoring position for a second straight game.
Game 4 will be back at Petco Park at 6:37 p.m. Saturday night.
And if the Dodgers don’t win, their historic 111-win season will come to a shocking, abrupt end.
The Dodgers’ troubles Friday began from the very start.
They were frustrated at the plate early on by both Snell and home plate umpire Mark Carlson. Then they squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the third.
They got little help from Gonsolin, who gave up the game’s opening run during a shaky 31-pitch first inning, then was pulled following consecutive singles with one out in the second.
And while Andrew Heaney stranded both of the runners he inherited in the second, then two more in the third after Trea Turner dropped a shallow flare that he probably should have left for Chris Taylor, the Padres had all the momentum.
Then Trent Grisham brought the house down.
On his first pitch of the fourth inning, Heaney threw a fastball that couldn’t have been more down the middle if he tried.
Grisham, the once-slumping center fielder who has suddenly come alive offensively in the postseason, took a batting practice swing, launching the ball several rows deep into the right-field stands.
It only made the score 2-0.
But it made the deficit feel far more insurmountable — especially as the Dodgers continued to struggle at the plate.
The fifth inning perhaps best summed up the team’s hitting woes in this series.
After a bloop single from Trayce Thompson and a poorly-fielded double by Austin Barnes put runners on second and third with no outs for the top of the Dodgers’ order. It should have been the recipe for a big inning. It could have been the moment that swung the game.
Instead, after a Mookie Betts sacrifice fly scored Thompson and advanced Barnes to third, the Dodgers faltered again. Turner fell into a 1-and-2 hole, then chased a fastball off the plate for a pop up in foul ground. Freeman swung at the first pitch, but got jammed with an inside fastball, sending a routine grounder to third to end the inning.
When the Dodgers wasted another opportunity in the sixth, finally chasing Snell from the game on a Max Muncy double but stranding him there as well, it matched an ignominious season-long stat, dropping them to 0 for their last 19 with runners in scoring position going back to Game 1 (a mark they’d only previously eclipsed in mid-June and late September).
What’s worse: The rest of the night, they didn’t even get a runner past first base.
In the top of the seventh, they went down in order, including on a called third strike against pinch-hitter Gavin Lux that appeared to be off the plate.
In the top of the eighth, Turner led off with an infield single, but didn’t attempt a steal of second base while the following three hitters were retired by set-up man Robert Suarez.
And then in the ninth, the bottom of their lineup went quietly against closer Josh Hader, turning Saturday’s contest into a win-or-go-home contest for the winningest team in Dodgers history.
The blame for this predicament can be directed many ways.
Betts, Freeman and Turner went two for 10 on Friday and are batting a combined .235 in the series.
Justin Turner is one for 10 this week, leading a group of underperformers near the bottom of the lineup.
The entire team still hasn’t adjusted against the Padres bullpen, which has now thrown 13 scoreless innings in this series.
The Dodgers pitching and defense hasn’t been spotless either, though they have limited the Padres to just 10 runs in three games.
Together, it has created a situation that seemed far-fetched at the beginning of the week.
The Dodgers are trailing a Padres team that they dominated in the regular season, that they’ve dominated in recent seasons, that they’ve dominated for most of the rivalry’s six-decade history.
Now, they must go into survival mode. Otherwise, their season will last just one more day.