Different stakes, same result: Dodgers lose again to playoff-nemesis Padres
The stakes were different. But the scene felt the same.
Just like last October, when their record-breaking season ended after just four playoff games, the Dodgers struggled in all areas on Friday night at Petco Park.
They couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position.
They got a choppy outing from their starting pitcher.
And in their first meeting since last year’s National League Division Series, they were foiled by the San Diego Padres once again, losing 5-2 in the opening game of a highly-anticipated weekend series before a raucous crowd of 45,116.
“We had some opportunities early,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Couldn’t capitalize.”
The same was true of the last time the Dodgers were in San Diego — when they were somber and soaked, enraged and embarrassed, humbled and hurt on the rainy night their 111-win 2022 season ended in Game 4 of the NLDS.
Six months later, the Dodgers tried not to relive their memories in the lead-up to their first renewal of the rivalry since.
They have a new-look team this year, and a reset list of expectations.
A scar will always remain from their NLDS failure last fall. But by now, the wound has scabbed over. The sting has dissipated.
“I think we had a lot of time to think about how the season ended and what we needed to get better at,” Roberts said Friday afternoon, his team riding into town on a six-game win streak. “Right now, we feel good about how we’re playing. So I don’t know if there’s any extra motivation. I still think we’re trying to do whatever we can to win a ballgame tonight.”
However, in their first of 13 meetings with the Padres (18-15) this year, the Dodgers (19-14) couldn’t deliver.
They took a first-inning lead after Mookie Betts drew a leadoff walk, Freddie Freeman doubled and Max Muncy hit a run-scoring grounder. But they squandered a series of golden opportunities from there.
Freeman was left stranded at third in the first. Miguel Vargas got doubled off at third in the second, caught breaking toward home plate on a sharp lineout moments after hitting a triple.
And overall, on a night Padres starter Yu Darvish pitched 6 2/3-strong innings, the Dodgers went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, harkening back to their five-for-34 mark in such situations during last year’s playoff series.
“When you’re playing tight games like this, you have to find a way to scratch and claw,” Roberts said. “Tonight we didn’t do a good job.”
Clayton Kershaw, meanwhile, labored through a four-run, 4 2/3-innings start — his shortest of the season after being named pitcher of the month in April.
The left-hander battled poor command, doubling his season walk total by issuing five to the Padres’ star-studded lineup.
“That’s just unacceptable,” Kershaw said. “It’s not a good recipe to win games.”
Neither were the two home runs he yielded to Fernando Tatis Jr., who drove an elevated fastball for a solo blast in the third inning before jumping on a hanging slider for a go-ahead two-run shot in the fifth.
The latter inning would mark the end of Kershaw’s night.
Manny Machado and Juan Soto followed Tatis’ homer with a pair of singles. Ha-Seong Kim plated another run on a bases-loaded ground ball Miguel Rojas dove to knock down at shortstop, but couldn’t convert for an out.
As Kershaw walked off the mound, the Petco Park crowd was back in familiar form. On their feet. In a fever pitch. Deliriously cheering their club’s newfound supremacy in the rivalry.
“I think as a whole we know what we’re capable of, we know what kind of ballclub we have,” Roberts said pregame, when asked about the prevalence of pundits picking the Padres over the Dodgers for the division crown this season. “But if you don’t like it, you’ve got to play better. If we feel slighted, then we’ve got to play better.”
On Friday, his team couldn’t — exiting the field upon the final out as the scoreboard flashed a meme of Kershaw, with a superimposed tear running down his face.
Muncy left the game in the eighth inning with “flu-like symptoms,” Roberts said. He is questionable for Saturday. ... Prior to the game, rookie right-hander Gavin Stone was sent back to the minors, two days after he made his major league debut in a four-inning, five-run start. Reliever Wander Suero was called up in his place. ... J.D. Martinez (back) started taking swings again on Friday. Roberts said the Dodgers are hopeful he could return by Tuesday or Wednesday. ...Trayce Thompson is back at full strength after missing a couple of games with an illness. Roberts said he will start on Saturday.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.