Eighteen more Dodgers-Padres games this season? Yes, please, if they’re anything like Friday’s gloriously tense, edge-of-your-seat, utterly captivating series opener at San Diego’s Petco Park. “It was like a playoff game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after his team’s 12-inning, 11-6 victory had ended in the early minutes of Saturday morning, depleting his bullpen and his bench but not his appreciation of this unexpected gem.
Eighteen more games between the best teams in the National League West, the defending World Series champion Dodgers and a Padres team that was built and bulked up to match the Dodgers’ bountiful skill and ultimately dethrone them? Bring ’em on. Keep ’em coming. The Padres have always been the weaker partner in these teams’ relationship over the decades, but this season they promise to be increasingly worthy adversaries.
“It certainly felt like a rivalry to me,” said Dodgers left fielder Luke Raley, whose first major league home run, a game-tying shot in the fifth inning, was almost lost in the crazy turns of a game that fell just short of five hours. “There was a lot of intensity in this game. It’s something I look forward to being a part of more.”
The Dodgers’ victory was madness and it was magical. It ended with Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove, who pitched a no-hitter a week ago, playing left field and Padres infielder Jake Cronenworth pitching the 12th inning. It was highlighted by Corey Seager’s two-run blast to lead off the 12th, an example of baseball’s new math in that now, with a runner placed on second to start each inning after the ninth, a leadoff batter can hit a two-run home run.
“It was like a playoff game. It was,” Roberts said. “They deployed a lot of guys. We deployed a lot of guys. The intensity was there. Man, I can look up and down my lineup card and everyone contributed. And it’s kind of like a playoff game.
“And the crowd was great. I’m just spent emotionally. Proud of everybody.”
It was an exquisite but tiny appetizer that hinted at how entertaining this season series might be and made everyone want more. The full-course meal promises to be delicious. “It’s on another level. It’s uncomparable. It’s absolutely the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Raley said of the Dodgers’ budding rivalry with the Padres.
“It’s amazing to be out there with this team and to be able to do my best to contribute to help the team win. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The first game this season between the Dodgers and Padres wasn’t April baseball as we usually see it, those dreary early-season contests with ragged performances and starting pitchers flailing through a couple of innings, the ones that make the prospect of a 162-game season almost too much to bear. Friday’s game dripped with adrenaline and was great theater, a spectacle that should have been played out without the taint of the runner-on-second gimmick.
Both teams rose above the stupidity of Major League Baseball’s latest effort to cheapen its tradition and created some drama. Dennis Santana, the sixth of seven Dodger pitchers, ended the Padres’ half of the 10th by getting Fernando Tatis Jr. to take a called third strike with the bases loaded, a predicament he had brought on by plunking pinch hitter Jorge Mateo on the leg, triggering a bullpen- and dugout-emptying socially undistanced gathering.
David Price, called upon to pitch for the second straight night, called that confrontation inarguable proof the temperature between the teams was rising. “All rivalries in baseball are really good but once you get that first bench-clearing, whatever happens, that’s when it kind of goes to that next level,” he said.
Price did his part by striking out Will Myers looking in the bottom of the 11th with Tatis on third. Price also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the Dodgers’ five-run 12th inning. “That was cool,” he said of his batting success, another example of the Dodgers’ depth and maybe the weirdest one of all.
Price was scheduled to have Friday’s game off but said he’d be willing to pitch in extra innings if needed. He was needed, and was told in the eighth inning that he should get ready if the game went past the ninth. “That was a very good game,” said Price, who pitched two hitless innings, walked one, and struck out four.
“They took the lead, we battled back, it was kind of just back and forth. Neither team wanted to lose that game. Everybody was playing extremely hard. This is a good rivalry, a fun rivalry to be a part of. Just a ton of really good players.”
In some ways it was madness: Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove, who pitched a no-hitter a week ago, ended the game as the left fielder and Padres infielder Jake Cronenworth pitched the 12th.
In some ways it was magical: The clock struck midnight and crept a few minutes past that and the Dodgers emerged with a seven-game winning streak and a win they’ll remember for a long time. “We responded, they answered back. They kept fighting, we kept fighting,” Roberts said. “I mean honestly, I can go down the list of players that really impacted this game.”
The game had nearly everything. “It really did,” Roberts said. “It’s hard for me to kind of process this right now. I’ll take the win and I’ll probably not even try to think through this game again and get ready for tomorrow.”
By “tomorrow” he meant Saturday, which was today by the time he spoke during his postgame webinar. No matter. With the Dodgers and Padres meeting again we can all look forward to the renewal of the rivalry that was forged for real Friday night.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.