The most exciting series of the young baseball season, a three-day prizefight between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres that exceeded the sky-high expectations, ended Sunday the way the first two games went.
There was a fierce energy inside Petco Park. Emotions were expressed unfiltered. Suspense hung on almost every pitch. The difference Sunday was that the Padres, not the Dodgers, made the plays to ultimately squeak out a 5-2 win, avoid a sweep and snap the Dodgers’ eight-game winning streak.
“It felt like a playoff series,” Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor said. “Every game was close and high energy. The fans were into it. I expect all of our series against them are going to be similar to this.”
The three-run margin Sunday stemmed from a mistake in the eighth inning.
Two batters later, Dennis Santana was summoned to face Fernando Tatis Jr. Santana had struck out Tatis with the bases loaded to end in the 10th inning and keep the Dodgers alive Friday. On Sunday, he walked him.
Two batters after that, Eric Hosmer smacked a go-ahead, two-out RBI single. Tommy Pham then cracked a two-run double down the left-field line for insurance.
Manager Dave Roberts said he chose Santana in that spot — against the middle of the Padres’ lineup in a tie game — because he was staying away from a few relievers. Blake Treinen and Corey Knebel, two usual options in high-leverage situations, were unavailable.
Blake Snell, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays over the offseason, took the mound for the Padres in his first game against the Dodgers since he was pulled from Game 6 of the World Series.
Taylor smashed a two-run home run 443 feet — the longest Dodgers home run this season — off Snell for the game’s first two runs, but the Dodgers mustered nothing else. Snell threw 95 pitches in five innings, forcing the Padres to go to the bullpen in the sixth, but the Dodgers didn’t capitalize.
Padres pitchers retired 14 straight batters before Zach McKinstry lined a single in the eighth inning. They finished one for 25 with 13 strikeouts after Taylor’s home run as frustration with home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi’s strike zone mounted for both clubs four days after Cuzzi irked the Dodgers and Colorado Rockies on Wednesday.
“Just don’t really care to talk about it,” Roberts said. “I think it was consistent for both sides, however you want to take that.”
On the other side, Trevor Bauer limited the Padres to one run and three hits across six innings in his fourth Dodgers start.
“I wasn’t particularly sharp,” Bauer said. “Thought my velocity was pretty good. Probably the best it’s been for a whole game, so that was encouraging. It was fine. A little more of a battle.”
The Dodgers shuffled their roster a bit ahead of the game, placing second baseman Gavin Lux on the 10-day injured list with a right wrist injury, activating reliever Brusdar Graterol, recalling infielder Sheldon Neuse, and optioning left-hander Alex Vesia to the alternate training site.
Reliever Ashton Godeau was put on outright waivers to make room on the 40-man roster. He was then claimed by the Colorado Rockies.
Lux’s stint on the injured list is retroactive to April 16. Roberts said he expects Lux to return when he’s eligible for activation April 26. Lux hasn’t played since Wednesday. He was in Thursday’s lineup but was scratched just before first pitch. Roberts said the injury only affects Lux’s hitting; he was on the field before Sunday’s game taking groundballs.
Graterol, 22, began the season on the injured list for COVID-19-related reasons. He reported to spring training on time and was available for the duration, but was behind schedule. He spent the last month building up arm strength and was thrown into the fire immediately Sunday.
The right-hander was summoned in the seventh inning to relieve Bauer and face Manny Machado. The last time Graterol faced the Padres was during the NLDS in October. His outing ended with Cody Bellinger robbing a home run from Tatis, a pumped Graterol spiking his glove, and Machado taking exception. The Padres third baseman screamed at Graterol, who responded by blowing him kisses.
Sunday’s meeting was less emotional. Graterol touched 101 mph, but Machado smacked a single to left field for the third time. He took second base on a passed ball and scored on Hosmer’s double down the left-field line to tie the score, 2-2.
The Dodgers’ bats, meanwhile, went silent over the final eight innings — too long to keep the Padres down and bust out the brooms. They remain undefeated in series this season and still own the best record in the majors, but this weekend perhaps proved that their stiffest competition is just two hours south.
Ultimately, it made for an exciting weekend in April. For three days, Petco Park was the center of the baseball universe. It will be Dodger Stadium’s turn for four days starting Thursday after a two-game stop in Seattle.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.