Literally speaking, the Padres did not have to win Wednesday night.
But they had to win.
And they did, in the kind of back and forth, back and forth, back and forth thriller that makes the postseason a mental grind and churns every internal organ.
“It’s playoff baseball,” Manny Machado said afterward. “Playing a good team out there. … You’ve got to be locked in. And exciting. This is what we play for all year.”
At the end of three hours, 34 minutes of a game that tied or a batter form being tied most of the night, the Padres’ 5-3 victory over the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium sent the series to Petco Park with the teams tied at a game apiece. (Box score.)
Game 3 is scheduled for 5:37 p.m. Friday with Game 4 at 6:37 p.m. Saturday.
“Going 1-1, going back home,” Machado said. “So that’s huge.”
Certainly, an unlikely climb would have been required had the Padres lost.
Major League Baseball began playing best-of-five postseason series in 1969. There have been 144 such series completed, and 76 of the 86 times a team has won the first two games, that team has won the series.
The Padres would have been trying to become the 11th team to defy the odds — and been attempting to do so against a team that won 111 games in the regular season (more than all but four teams in history) and entered Wednesday having beaten the Padres 15 times in 20 meetings in 2022.
The Padres held three one-run leads Wednesday. The Dodgers came back twice to tie the game.
They threatened to do so twice after the Padres took their 4-3 lead in the sixth.
But reliever Robert Suarez quelled both threats, one in the sixth inning in relief of Yu Darvish and the other of his own making in the seventh.
Nick Martinez got the first two outs in the eighth before allowing a single, and Josh Hader earned the save by recording the final four outs in his first appearance longer than one inning since the 2020 postseason.
“There was a lot of drama,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “We take a lead. All of a sudden they come right back. It seemed like it went back and forth the entire game, and then certainly now you have two out, nobody on in the ninth, and (Freddie) Freeman hits an 0-2 pitch that’s up around his chin that I don’t know how he even gets to, and then all of a sudden you are one pitch away from being in trouble again. It’s probably as back and forth a game as you are going to see. A lot of drama to it. Fun win.”
Jake Cronenworth’s solo homer in the eighth made it 5-3, the first time the game had more than a one-run differential.
There were four solo home runs and six total runs scored in the first three innings.
The Padres went up 1-0 on Manny Machado’s homer in the top of the first. The Dodgers tied the game in bottom of the first on Freeman’s homer and went ahead in the second on Max Muncy’s homer. The Padres scored twice in the top of the third on three hits and a groundout, including an RBI double by Machado. The Dodgers tied the game 3-3 on Trea Turner’s solo homer in the bottom of the inning.
The fourth inning was the first without a run being scored by either team.
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw extended that to the fifth, retiring six straight at what turned out to be the end of his night.
Darvish walked Mookie Betts to start the bottom of the fifth before Austin Nola nailed Betts attempting to steal with a perfect throw to the bag. Turner hit a hard grounder that Machado knocked down at third base and threw across the diamond for the out before Freeman flied out to center field.
An error helped the Padres to a run in the sixth, and two magnificent defensive plays kept them from scoring more.
Brandon Drury greeted reliever Brusdar Graterol with a single flared to center field, and Cronenworth replaced him on first after his grounder forced Drury out at second. Wil Myers followed with a grounder to Turner at shortstop. With Cronenworth sprinting toward second, Turner tried to rush and had the ball go off his glove and roll away from him.
Jurickson Profar followed with a single lined to right field that scored Cronenworth and moved Myers to third.
Trent Grisham followed with a bunt to the left side, and Myers took off for home on a safety squeeze. Graterol bounded off the mound, picked up the ball with his bare hand and threw low and right in front of the plate, where catcher Will Smith easily tagged out Myers.
The next batter, Nola, lined an 0-2 pitch to the track in center field that turned Cody Bellinger around three times on his way to making the catch to prevent two runs from scoring and end the inning.
Melvin sent out Darvish to pitch the sixth, and a single by Smith that Cronenworth probably should have made a play on and single off the wall by Muncy put runners at the corners with no outs. Melvin then turned to Suarez, who struck out Justin Turner and got Gavin Lux on a double play started by Cronenworth.
After Yency Almonte struck out Ha-Seong Kim, Soto and Machado in the top of the seventh, the Dodgers had Suarez facing danger again in the bottom of the inning.
Bellinger lined a one-out single to left field and went to third base on a double by Betts that simply kept tailing away from Grisham as he sprinted toward the gap in left field and dove. Grisham did not make the catch, but his glove nicked the ball and slowed it enough that Profar, who was backing up on the play could get and prevent Bellinger from scoring.
Turner grounded out to Machado, freezing the runners, and Smith lined out to Grisham to end the inning.
“I think that was a big difference of the game right there,” Machado said. “I think they come across or even score one, I think the game changes big-time. He was able to put that stop to it. Not only did he do it once, but he did it twice.”
After Gavin Lux’s two-out single off Martinez, manager Bob Melvin walked to the mound and made the move he said he might at some point by calling for Hader.
The lefty walked Trayce Thompson before getting pinch-hitter Austin Barnes on a fly ball to center field. Facing the top of the Dodgers order in the ninth, he got Betts on a pop-up, struck out Trea Turner and gave up a double to Freeman before Smith flied out to Soto in right field.
The Padres’ bullpen has not allowed a run in 9 1/3 innings in the series. Outside of the four runs allowed by Adrian Morejon without recordin gan out in the seventh inning of Saturday’s Game 2 loss in the wild-card series against the Mets, Padres relievers have allowed one run in 17 2/3 postseason innings.
“I mean, those guys have been really good,” Darvish said. “It’s just enjoyable to watch them.”