Padres eliminate Mets, secure NLDS date with rival Dodgers

NEW YORK — San Diego Padres starter Joe Musgrove knew Sunday was the greatest start of his life, and he felt sick all day.

The stakes were high. A winner-takes-all playoff final played in front of a hostile New York crowd at Citi Field. San Diego needed a strong start from the right after the team struggled in Game 2 against the New York Mets.

As Musgrove reflected on the $100 million, five-year contract the Padres awarded him with in August, he felt the burden of his team’s season fall on his shoulders.

But as the first pitch neared and Musgrove warmed up in the Citi Field bullpen, he pulled Padres catcher Austin Nola aside to talk about the night ahead.

“I’m going to have the best start of my life,” Musgrove told Nola.

His premonition came true as Musgrove played seven innings, conceding just one hit and one walk and hitting five batsmen, propelling the Padres to a 6-0 win and potting a ticket to the National League Division Series and a matchup against Los Angeles Dodger . In the process, Musgrove made history, becoming the first pitcher in major league history to throw seven shutout innings and concede a hit in a postseason game where the winner took it all.

Throughout the evening, Musgrove relied on his fastball, cutter, curveball and slider to completely dominate the Mets lineup and eliminated the first 12 batters of the game, good for the longest perfect game bid in postseason history the Padres. The Mets struggled to build offensive momentum against the Padres, with first baseman Pete Alonso scoring the only Mets hit of the night in the fifth inning.

“You could see the determination in it [Musgrove’s] face and the behavior he had,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “He was on a mission today.”

A curious moment occurred at the end of the sixth inning when Mets manager Buck Showalter requested a substance check from Musgrove, as pictures circulated online showing the Padres starter’s ear appearing to be glistening. The referees then dug their fingers in and around Musgrove’s ear, but found nothing that broke the rules.

Mets fans at Citi Field watched the inspections with loud boos aimed at Musgrove, with “cheater” chants echoing through the stadium.

“We didn’t find anything,” said referee Alfonso Marquez.

Melvin took issue with the Mets asking that Musgrove be screened for foreign matter.

“The problem I have is that Joe Musgrove is a man of character,” Melvin said. “Challenging his character, that’s the part I have a problem with and I’m here to tell everyone that like every pitcher I know, Joe Musgrove is overboard, every player I know and unfortunately the reception he received afterwards was not justified. “

After the substance check, Musgrove punched Mets catcher Tomas Nido and pointed at the New York dugout, wiping under his nose. Musgrove said the Mets’ foreign check was “desperate” and the team’s “last-ditch effort to take me out of the game.”

“It almost just lit a fire under me,” Musgrove said.

Showalter said the team was privy to information – including an increased spin rate from Musgrove – that led to him asking the umpires to check for foreign matter. All of Musgrove’s pitches Sunday night beat his season RPM average, according to Baseball Savant.

“I’m charged with doing what’s best for the New York Mets,” Showalter said. “If it makes me look like it makes me look or whatever, I’ll do it every time and live with the consequences. I’m not here to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

The Padres will be making their second Division Series appearance since 2006, with the only other appearance coming in 2020 when they lost to eventual World Series Champion Dodgers.

Los Angeles went 14-5 against the Padres in the regular season. The Dodgers were baseball’s top offensive line in 2022 with 847 runs, while San Diego ranked 13th among all teams with 705 runs. The Dodgers also had the lowest team ERA in baseball while the Padres were 11th.

Sunday’s win also guarantees the Padres will play their first home playoff game with fans at Petco Park since 2006.

“It’s one of the best feelings of the night,” Melvin said. “We talked about this at the Hitters meetings today. The stakes are high and there are many reasons to be motivated and inspired. One of them is bringing this thing back to San Diego and giving them a postseason experience.”

With Musgrove playing exceptionally well in the biggest game of his career, Mets starter Chris Bassitt had little room for error, but the Padres offense capitalized on every opportunity it earned early in the game.

San Diego’s offense came gradually as the evening progressed. Nola started the tally in the second inning with a single to left field that scored first baseman Josh Bell and shortstop Ha-Seong Kim. In the fourth inning, Padres outfielder Trent Grisham — who led the Padres offense in previous wild card games with two homers — hit midfield on a sharp line and scored Kim.

Bassitt left the game after four innings, allowing three runs with three hits, three walks, and two strikeouts.

“I was just hitting myself,” Bassitt said. “Looking back at the Atlanta start I’m not sure how many runs they scored in the walk and then I know they scored two guys in the walk tonight. I’m not particularly proud of that.”

The Mets’ bullpen didn’t fare much better. Third baseman Manny Machado added in the fifth inning by hitting a line-drive single-off release David Peterson into right field and outfielder Jurickson Profar scored for a 4-0. In the eighth game, outfielder Juan Soto added some cushion by hitting left field ahead of Edwin Diaz and hitting Kim and Grisham. The Padres’ six runs proved more than enough to earn a Division Series ticket.

The stakes are high for the Padres, who made blockbuster moves at the close for superstar outfielder Soto and reliever Josh Hader. San Diego also dealt with the aftermath of August’s 80-game suspension of superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

The Padres have made significant financial investments in Tatis, Soto, Machado, Yu Darvish, Wil Myers and Blake Snell in anticipation of a World Series title contender.

Sunday’s victory brings San Diego one step closer. Padres eliminate Mets, secure NLDS date with rival Dodgers

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