SAN DIEGO — One-hundred and eleven wins, melted away in five short nights. The Los Angeles Dodgers, going, going, one reliever at a time toward gone in the seventh inning as the San Diego Padres strung together the rally of their lives.
The Dodgers didn’t know what hit them in a mustard-colored Padres lightning strike Saturday night, and it might take them all winter to figure it out.
With five sudden runs in the bottom of the seventh, the Padres delivered a 5-3 knockout punch. The Dodgers go home, and the Padres advance to a most unexpected National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, who eliminated the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves in the other N.L. division series earlier on Saturday. The Phillies and the Padres will start the N.L.C.S. in San Diego on Tuesday.
“Shock factor, very high,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “Disappointment, very high.
That the Dodgers were eliminated in a division series is an absolutely staggering development. Only three teams in history won more games than the 111 the Dodgers won this season: The 1906 Chicago Cubs (116-36), the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46) and the 1998 New York Yankees (114-48).
So many of their nights this summer ended with a handshake line and the anticipation of what was to come.
Four games into their postseason, they suddenly were speaking of their summer in the past tense.
“It’s hard,” the All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “This was a really good team. A really, really good team. October baseball can be brutal.”
As the Padres jubilantly swarmed out of their dugout to begin a raucous celebration after closer Josh Hader struck out the side in the ninth inning, the entire 619 area code seemed to lift off into orbit. A Dodgers team that started the night certain it would push this series back to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Sunday evening instead failed to punch through Petco Park’s wall of sound over two evenings and 18 innings of deafening roars of “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!”
When it was over, the Dodgers slowly emptied from their dugout into the quiet of their clubhouse and a heartfelt talk from Roberts. Their ace, Clayton Kershaw, was one of the last to leave. Second baseman Max Muncy was the last, standing alone for several minutes in the empty dugout gazing out at the thundering scene on the field.
Manny Machado stood by the pitcher’s mound shouting and flapping his arms wildly, exhorting the crowd to raise its decibel level even higher. Pitcher Blake Snell raced around the infield holding aloft a plastic, life-size goose, a nod to the fowl that landed on the field in Los Angeles in Game 2. Though that goose was captured by the grounds crew and, according to the Dodgers, released into the wild, the Padres adopted it in spirit as a good-luck charm.
It wasn’t the World Series, but the Padres’ ambush of their fierce rivals up the freeway ranks as one of the greatest postseason upsets in baseball history. During the regular season, the Dodgers were 22 games better than the Padres in the standings, 111 victories to 89. The only time a team beat an opponent that was more than 22 wins better was in the 1906 World Series, when the 93-win Chicago White Sox knocked off the 116-win Chicago Cubs. That difference was 23 games.
“When you don’t win the World Series, it doesn’t matter if you won 80 games or 120 games,” Freeman said. “It’s just a disappointment.”
Kershaw echoed the disappointment, noting “that’s what makes winning so great, and makes losing so bad. Part of being in the postseason is it’s just abrupt. It ends when you don’t expect it to.”
The Dodgers had set a franchise record for wins and winning percentage. They finished with the best run differential in the majors — the number of runs a team scores minus the number of runs it allows. Their plus-334 outpaced the Yankees (plus-240) in the American League and Atlanta (plus-180) in the National League.
But in four games against San Diego, the clutch hits rarely dropped and the season-long joyride ran out of gas. When Freeman doubled home two runs in the third inning Saturday night, it snapped a Dodgers’ streak of 0-for-20 with runners in scoring position in this division series. So many chances, so many blown opportunities. Everyone from Roberts to Freeman and beyond in the Dodgers clubhouse agreed: The bats needed to wake up. And they did not.
“I’m sure there’s a three-game span during the regular season that we didn’t do well, either,” Freeman said. “It’s just unfortunate that it happened to us in October.”
It was a night of big surprises. The teams waited out a 31-minute rain delay to begin, an incredibly rare occurrence in San Diego. Then, just after the Padres’ five-run outburst in the seventh, the skies opened up again and the Dodgers batted in a steady rain in the eighth. By then, the largest postseason crowd in Petco Park history, 45,139, had reignited. They were loud early, but the Dodgers’ 3-0 lead lulled them into a wary trance for much of the game before the Padres’ rally in the seventh brought more deafening chants of “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.” that greeted each Padre hitter as he stepped into the batter’s box.
As San Diego Manager Bob Melvin said after Game 3, it was as if the title-starved fans of this city were willing the hits and runs themselves.
The Padres’ seventh inning stretch run came suddenly and without warning. The Dodgers held a 3-0 lead and the Padres, through the first six innings had mustered just four hits and had advanced just two runners as far as second base. Tyler Anderson, a Los Angeles left-hander making only the second postseason start of his career, shut them out on two hits over five innings. Chris Martin got Roberts’s crew through the sixth.
But then Tommy Kahnle issued a leadoff walk to start the seventh, Trent Grisham, Austin Nola, Ha-Seong Kim and Juan Soto followed with four consecutive singles and, suddenly, the game’s direction changed sharply. The Padres chewed through three relievers in the seventh — Kahnle, Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia — in sending 10 hitters to the plate.
“One of the craziest innings of baseball I’ve ever seen,” said the Padres starter Joe Musgrove, who allowed two runs and six hits over six innings. “Once we got Anderson out of the game, we knew we had a good chance to chip away at their bullpen. Those guys have been used up the last couple of days. We’ve seen them a couple of times.”
Cronenworth’s two-run, two-out single proved the difference in the game. It came after the lefty Vesia replaced the right-handed Almonte with a 1 and 0 count. Roberts said Almonte was supposed to throw over to first to buy Vesia more time to warm up. Cronenworth, who said he had never faced a pitching change in the middle of an at-bat, used the time to walk back to the dugout and soak up intelligence on Vesia. It worked.
Then the reliever Robert Suarez continued his domination of the Dodgers this series with a 1-2-3 eighth inning. Sensing the kill, the crowd roared louder.
And when Hader closed it out in the ninth, the Padres punched their ticket to their first N.L.C.S. since 1998, when they beat Atlanta to advance to only the second World Series in their history. There, they were swept by the Yankees, one of the three teams in history to win more games than this year’s Dodgers.
The Padres wanted no part of going back to Los Angeles on Sunday. For one thing, they knew Julio Urias, ace for the Dodgers, would be waiting. Mostly, though, they wanted to give their fans a party in Petco Park.
“As much as we know there’s a lot of baseball ahead of us and more games to be played, this is something that needs to be celebrated,” Musgrove said. “Because for a long time those guys up north have been beating us down and knocking us out of playoff contention and taken the division from us every year.
“So these fans deserve to celebrate tonight as a moment of the changing of the tides, hopefully.”
On the other side, the lockers were empty and a season that nearly was for the ages instead was finished. As pitcher Dustin May headed for the door, he stopped long enough to give Kershaw a farewell tap on the shoulder.
Kershaw looked up, smiled warmly and said, “See ya, brother.”
After this night, there would be no more baseball for the Dodgers. There would only be winter.