The closest thing to a playoff atmosphere in an empty stadium in September unfolded at Petco Park on Monday night. As a layer of haze hovered over the vacant ballpark, the two best teams in the National League, separated by 2½ games in the standings, began a marquee three-game series with a pitcher’s duel, a heated exchange of words, and a late-game flop.
In the end, the Dodgers, even after a dominant start from their ace, were outclassed in a 7-2 loss to the sizzling San Diego Padres.
The difference was the seventh inning. The Dodgers (33-15) fell apart and the Padres capitalized on their miscues to break open a tie game with five runs. With the win, the Padres cut the Dodgers’ lead in the National League West and for the No. 1 seed in the NL to 1½ games. They have won 21 of 26 games and eight straight. The Dodgers have dropped five of their last eight.
The Dodgers’ trouble in the seventh inning started when Wil Myers lined a leadoff single against Clayton Kershaw. One out later, Kershaw, who had been cruising, yielded a single to Jurickson Profar. The sequence prompted manager Dave Roberts to pull Kershaw — not before a conversation on the mound — and insert Pedro Báez.
Kershaw threw 99 pitches — 73 for strikes — in his 6-1/3 innings. He compiled no walks, nine strikeouts, and 21 swing-and-misses. Eighteen of the whiffs were on sliders. His fastball averaged a promising 92 mph. But Roberts chose Báez to escape the jam.
“I didn’t want to come out,” Kershaw said. “You don’t really ever want to come out, especially with two guys on base. It’s not to say you don’t have faith in your bullpen because our bullpen’s done a great job. You just want to be out there. You want to get the guys out and [I] felt like I could do it.”
Jorge Oña greeted Báez with a flare double down the left-field line to give San Diego the lead. Next, Greg Garcia hit a ground ball to Max Muncy at first base. Across the diamond, Profar sprinted home and stopped halfway when he saw Muncy look his way. When Muncy walked toward first base, Profar dashed home. Muncy, a few feet from a sure out at first base, fired home. Profar slid in headfirst safely.
Trent Grisham followed with another ground ball to Muncy, who threw to second base to start an inning-ending double play. Instead, the ball bounced off shortstop Chris Taylor’s glove and into left field, allowing Oña to score. The Padres (32-17) tacked on two more runs against Blake Treinen and didn’t look back.
“We just kind of fell apart there in the seventh inning,” Roberts said.
Winning the division might not have much — if any — impact on the two teams’ playoff prospects. Barring a collapse, whichever club finishes second in the division would earn the No. 4 seed in the National League — the best placement available for a team that doesn’t win one of the NL’s three divisions — and still play at home in the first round if Major League Baseball follows through with its postseason plan.
As a result, both teams will likely face a team that finished the regular season with a record around .500 in the first round; the difference between the fifth-place Miami Marlins and the eighth-place San Francisco Giants entering Monday was 1½ games. Regardless of where they finish, the teams would meet in the second round, likely at a neutral site in Texas, if they advance that far.
But winning the division is still a goal. For the Dodgers, it means exerting their dominance another year. For San Diego, it means finally beating the bully on the block. The Padres, who have already clinched their first winning record since 2010, haven’t won the division since 2006. That was two uniform redesigns ago.
“It’s a big series,” Roberts said before the game.
It seemed bigger for the Padres than for the Dodgers on Monday. The difference in intensity was apparent in the sixth inning when Grisham delivered the breakthrough against Kershaw — a leadoff solo home run.
Grisham admired his work. He stared into the excited Padres dugout before taking a step, flipped his bat, and looked back at the mound as he jogged to first base. At the end of his trot, the Dodgers dugout expressed its displeasure with his bravado. Grisham barked back and jumped on home plate with two feet.
Roberts said he “took exception” to Grisham “overstaying” at home plate against Kershaw, “who’s got the respect of everyone in the big leagues.” Kershaw declined to offer his opinion.
“I’m not going to worry about their team,” he said. “Let him do what he wants.”
Justin Turner completed his usual pregame routine before Monday’s game, including taking batting practice on the field, and is expected to come off the injured list Tuesday. Roberts said Turner would return as the team’s designated hitter if he’s activated. Turner (hamstring) hasn’t played since Aug. 28. …Roberts reiterated that he’s confident Dustin May will start in Wednesday’s series finale. May’s season briefly appeared in jeopardy when he took a comebacker off his left foot last Thursday, but tests revealed no structural damage.