The Padres dropped the opener of the first National League Championship Series to be hosted at Petco Park, falling 2-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday.
After handcuffing the Padres for eight innings, the Phillies gave them a gift in the bottom of the ninth, muffing a possible double play grounder from Juan Soto that could have ended the game. But with two on, the Friars couldn’t convert the opportunity, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
The unlikely match-up of wild-card teams – both dispatched favored foes in their respective Division Series – also represents their return to the NLCS spotlight after long absences, especially for the Padres.
San Diego hasn’t been in the NLCS since 1998, when the Padres still played at Qualcomm Stadium, and beat the Atlanta Braves to make it to the World Series (they were swept by the New York Yankees). The Phillies last made an appearance in 2010, losing to the eventual WS-champion San Francisco Giants.
Both starters felt the urgency in what quickly developed into a pitchers’ duel.
Yu Darvish, 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his three playoff starts, struck out seven, but fellow right-hander Zack Wheeler topped him, pitching a no-hitter through four-plus innings.
Manager Bob Melvin called Wheeler’s game “probably as good a pitching performance as we’ve seen all year.”
Still, the Padres ace, who was 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts against the Phillies in the regular season, only gave up three hits through seven innings. The problem? Two of them were home runs.
Phillies slugger Bryce Harper sent a long fly ball to left with one out in the fourth, and Jurickson Profar tracked it the whole way, but it was too high and sailed just over the fence to give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead.
There was no question, though, about Kyle Schwarber’s shot two innings later. It landed in the middle deck in right-field, 488 feet away from home plate, a record distance for Petco Park.
“That ball was hit as far as I’ve ever seen,” catcher Austin Nola said.
Meanwhile, Wheeler stymied the Padres. He walked Soto in the first, but kept the Friars off the bases until one out in the fifth, when Wil Myers singled on a line drive to center. But it came to nothing as Ha-Seong Kim popped out and Trent Grisham struck out swinging.
Wheeler, now 1-1 in three postseason starts, left after the seventh having struck out eight, and reliever Seranthony Dominguez picked up where he left off with a 1-2-3 eighth, including two strike outs, of Myers and Grisham.
The Phillies turned to Jose Alvarado to close it out and Nola quickly grounded out to third. Jurickson Profar then drew a walk, but Soto hit a grounder to third, where shortstop Bryson Stott was playing due to the shift, and he couldn’t make the play, throwing wide of second and giving the Padres runners on first and second with Manny Machado coming up.
That set off a buzz for the crowd of 44,826, which hadn’t had much to cheer about, but the potential rally fell short, as Machado hit an easy fly ball to right and Josh Bell struck out swinging.
Machado said later of the team’s lone hit, “one on our side, you can’t win like that, that’s for sure.”
Melvin said the Padres know what has to happen Wednesday.
“They don’t need a message,” the skipper said. “They know we need to come out and take at least one of these at home. Tomorrow’s a big game for us.”
If the regular season offers any clues– and it surely didn’t in the Division Series against the Dodgers – the Padres went 3-4 against Philadelphia with three of the losses at Petco.
Blake Snell (8-10 in regular season) goes to the mound for Game 2, taking on Aaron Nola (11-13 in 2022), yes, Austin’s brother. The game, airing on Fox, has an early start, 1:35 p.m.