Padres’ bats come alive in Game 2 comeback win to even NLCS

SAN DIEGO — Juan Soto and Josh Hader drew the most attention, but Brandon Drury and Josh Bell were in-season acquisitions of similar importance to the San Diego Padres — a belief further reinforced by Fernando Tatis Jr.’s subsequent suspension became. Bell and Drury represented keybats in the center of the lineup, a key source of protection for Soto and Manny Machado. And on Wednesday, when the Padres were in dire need of a win, their bats finally came to life.

Drury and Bell, who struggled all postseason and most of their tenure as Padres, scored five hits and ran five runs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, earning an 8-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies to earn a split from Petco Park.

The Padres found themselves in a four-run hole midway through the second inning and rebounded all the way, an extremely rare triumph for this season. Prior to Wednesday, teams that were down four or more runs at any point in an LCS game were ranked 12-268, for a win ratio of 0.043. The Padres themselves were 1-16 in their postseason history, but they had the novelty on their side. They were coming back from four losses during their last trip into the postseason, in Game 2 of their wild card series against the St. Louis Cardinals. And they stringed together a seventh inning with five runs to overcome a three-run deficit and eliminate the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the NL Division Series four days ago.

“We’re trying to lengthen every at-bat,” said Padres catcher Austin Nola, who helped ignite a five-run fifth inning with a hit from his brother. “We’re trying to get to the next one. We’re doing that right now. Go to the next place and then eventually you’ll get to the next guy and keep this thing going and be good at rallying.”

Padres manager Bob Melvin made what appeared to be a minor lineup change in Game 2, benching Wil Myers, who offered superior defense at first base, and bringing Jake Cronenworth to the clean-up court. Drury and Bell, who combined for a .105/.128/.184 slash in the Padres’ first eight postseason games, would finish fifth and sixth, respectively. And they came through when the Padres needed a ride the most.

The Phillies had put together four runs ahead of Blake Snell in the most unlikely of ways, stringing together four soft-hit singles, benefiting from a fly ball Soto lost in the sun and scoring another run on a sharp grounder thrown by Drury on was booted from first base. Aaron Nola, yet to concede a deserved run in these playoffs, was on to the rubber. A 2-0 lead in that series — with up to three games in Philadelphia — seemed within reach for the Phillies.

Then Drury led from the bottom half and lined the second court he saw, a chest-high fastball, over the fence in left field.

“I was trying to get a big inning going,” Drury said during an on-field interview. “He dropped a fastball over center and I just made a good swing at it.”

On the next pitch — another fastball, this one up and in — Bell hit a massive blast to the right, cutting the Phillies’ lead in half and breathing life into a sold-out 44,607 crowd. Three innings later, at the bottom of the fifth, the Padres sent 11 batsmen to the plate and collected five runs. Three of the first four hitters reached, and then Soto connected the game with an RBI double in the right field corner. Drury later met Brad Hand with loaded bases and two outs and smoked a two-run single to left center. Bell followed with a run-scoring single down the right field line. At this point, Drury and Bell had combined as many hits in the first five innings of a game (four) as they had in the entire postseason.

“These guys are here for a reason, and they all have a track record,” Melvin said. “You look at their numbers throughout this year and they’re all good. These are the guys that we will continue to run out there.”

The Padres’ win was a by-product of so much more than just Drury and Bell. It was Snell who hung hard after a 37-pitch second inning and found a way to record 15 outs to hand the game to the Padres’ top high-lever relievers. It was Soto who had been hitting the ball hard all month but didn’t have much to show for it and penalized a missed flyball with a key hit. It was Machado who hit a 424-foot home run in the seventh and then started a deft doubles game with the menacing Phillies and Bryce Harper in the next half inning. And, most memorable, it was Nola who conquered his younger brother.

The Padres had an on and an out, still with a couple of runs behind, and Austin Nola was up 2-0 against Aaron Nola while her parents looked on nervously from the stands.

“I feel like every time I play my brother I’m 0-2,” said Austin Nola. “He’s always ahead of me, and I’m always fighting back and just trying to get some kegs somewhere.”

This time Austin executed a perfect run-and-hit in the first pitcher vs. batter sibling matchup in postseason history. Ha-Seong Kim started in an attempted steal to second base, Phillies second baseman Jean Segura switched to cover, and Austin lined a base hit through a free right side, giving Kim an early goal and eventually one Major could spark rally.

The Padres avoided what would have felt like a huge deficit and now one of their aces, Joe Musgrove, will appear in Game 3 in Philadelphia on Friday.

“We knew what we had to do,” Machado said in Spanish. “We absolutely had to win this game.” Padres’ bats come alive in Game 2 comeback win to even NLCS

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