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'The most exciting thing I've ever been a part of': Padres-Dodgers rivalry comes to life

a group of baseball players standing on top of a grass covered field: Apr 16, 2021; San Diego, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Dennis Santana (top, left) and San Diego Padres center fielder Jorge Mateo (R) are separated after Mateo was hit by a pitch during the tenth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports © Orlando Ramirez, Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports Apr 16, 2021; San Diego, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Dennis Santana (top, left) and San Diego Padres center fielder Jorge Mateo (R) are separated after Mateo was hit by a pitch during the tenth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO – It was a sea of brown and gold Friday in the stands.

The guttural sounds of “Beat LA!" chants echoing throughout the night.

The wild cheers for the San Diego Padres and the vehement boos for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Petco Park, built 17 years ago in downtown San Diego, never looked and sounded so beautiful.

It may be mid-April, but it sure had the feel of October.

The Dodgers wound up winning a 4-hour, 57-minute classic, 11-6, in 12 innings, a game featuring everything from Padres starter Joe Musgrove playing left field, to a bench-clearing scrum, to Dodgers starter David Price getting a save, a victory and a sacrifice fly in 24 hours, to Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth striking out Dodgers star Mookie Betts.

Welcome to baseball’s newest, loudest and gnarliest rivalry.

“I was kind of thinking about that,’’ Price said, “all rivalries in baseball are really good, but once you get that first bench-clearing, whatever happens, that’s when it kind of goes to that next level.

“This is a good rivalry to be part of."

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who makes his home in San Diego, insisted before the game that there’s more to a rivalry than just geography, says that after this exhausting night, he has changed his mind.

“It felt like a rivalry tonight,’’ Roberts said. “I’m very hesitant to get ahead of things but it was like a playoff game. They deployed a lot of guys; we deployed a lot of guys. The intensity was there. A lot of energy. A lot of focus. The crowd was great. We responded. They answered back. They kept fighting. We kept fighting.

“It had everything. It was incredible. It’s kind of hard for me to process right now.

“I’m just spent emotionally.’’

The 40 players, including 17 pitchers, who played in the game, and the 15,250 in attendance shared the same sentiment.

If this is just the opening act in a 19-game set between these two teams, what could be in store for the rest of the season?

Playing with swag

San Diegans hate Los Angeles, and everything about it. They consider L.A. overcrowded, smoggy and dripping with arrogance.

“We’ve always felt overshadowed by L.A.,’’ Padres owner Ron Fowler, who has lived in San Diego since 1974, told USA TODAY Sports. “People here never wanted to become another L.A. They want to maintain the small-town feel.

“They’re the big guy. We’re the little guy.

“We don’t ever want to be like L.A.’’

If you really want to get San Diegans riled up, bring up the fact that Los Angeles also stole two of their sports franchises, with the NFL's Chargers and NBA's Clippers moving to L.A. through the years.

“The city still hasn’t gotten over that," said John Boggs, the San Diego-based agent who represented Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. “If you’re from San Diego, and especially if you’re born in San Diego, you grow up hating Los Angeles and the Dodgers.’’

This is why this series means so much to the Padres and their fans.

“Well, we have to win before you can call it a rivalry,’’ said Fowler, well aware that the Padres have never won a World Series with only six playoff appearances in 52 years. “Frankly, people are a lot more convinced we are going for it now, and these two teams are a lot closer.

“I think we’re a better team than we’ve been in a long, long time. But the Dodgers are probably as good as they’ve been in a long time, too, maybe better than ever with that starting rotation.’’

Maybe so, but the Padres certainly showed no fear, or the slightest bit of intimidation Friday.

“We have a lot of confidence,’’ Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “We’re going to play with a swag."

a baseball player pitching a ball on a field: Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. celebrate Tatis' home run against the Dodgers on Friday. © Orlando Ramirez, USA TODAY Sports Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. celebrate Tatis' home run against the Dodgers on Friday.

The Padres, with Fernando Tatis Jr. making his return, certainly gave the Dodgers fits all evening. The Padres led in the second inning, only for the Dodgers to tie in the fifth, and the Padres to take the lead again in the bottom of the inning. The Dodgers took the lead back in the sixth. The Padres tied it in the eighth. The Dodgers went ahead in the ninth, only for the Padres to tie it again with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Then, it got really wild.

There was the scoreless 10th, highlighted by Dodgers pitcher Dennis Santana hitting pinch-hitter Jorge Mateo. Mateo staring down Santana. Santana walked towards Mateo. The benches cleared. A fan ran onto the field. And order was restored with no punches, shoves or ejections.

A scoreless 11th with Price, who recorded his first career regular-season save Thursday night, coming into the game when he was told he wouldn’t be used.

And then the zany 12th with the Padres out of pitchers, and having to use Cronenworth to pitch for the first time in his major-league career with Musgrove making his debut in left field.

Dodgers outfielder Luke Raley, who hit his first career homer in the fifth inning, was asked if he had ever part part of a game so intense.

“It’s on another level,’’ Raley said. “It’s incomparable. It’s absolutely the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of.’’

Yes, quite the dramatic night in Game 1 of what Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner called, “19 World Series games.’’

“We’re going to face these guys quite a bit this season,’’ Musgrove said, “and we expect to see them late when the games matter the most. I think this is going to be a tone setter for how these series are going to (be) the rest of the season.”

Building a rivalry

This series also got a jolt with the return of Tatis, who had been out for 10 days with a partially dislocated shoulder. Although the Dodgers were not disappointed to see Tatis.

“We want to play them at their best,” Dodgers All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts said. “We want to be at our best. I think that’s what makes it fun.’’

a baseball player standing on top of a dirt field: Corey Seager and Mookie Betts react after Seager's home run in the 12th inning on Friday. © Orlando Ramirez, Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports Corey Seager and Mookie Betts react after Seager's home run in the 12th inning on Friday.

Perhaps, but there’s nothing like drama, too, with these two teams showing their disdain for one another last year.

“Having a little history with them in the postseason last year,’’ Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer said, “I think that will maybe spice things up a little bit.’’

It was last season when the Padres and Dodgers screamed at one another when Tatis slammed into Dodgers catcher Will Smith during a rundown. Later in the year, Padres outfielder Trent Grisham hit a game-tying homer off Kershaw. He stood and watched with the Dodgers screaming at him, only for Grisham to slowly stroll around the bases and stomp on home plate.

They met again in the Division Series when Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger robbed Tatis of a homer, and Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol celebrated by flinging his cap into the air like a frisbee. Manny Machado, who flipped his bat earlier in the game after a homer, screamed at Graterol. Graterol blew him a kiss. Machado yelled even more. Betts waved his hands at Machado to go away.

And now the bench-clearing incident in their first game together Friday.

“It was always a rivalry,’’ said Boggs, “but now there’s bad blood mixed in.’’

'Risk of doing nothing'

The Padres, exasperated and embarrassed watching the Dodgers win the past eight NL West Division titles, going 97-49 against the Padres since 2013, are simply tired of being bullied.

So this winter they decided to do something about it.

They went out and traded for former AL Cy Young winner Black Snell. They traded for Chicago Cubs ace Yu Darvish, who finished second in last year’s Cy Young race. They acquired Musgrove from the Pittsburgh Pirates. And they dropped $340 million on Tatis just to make sure he can terrorize the Dodgers for the next 14 years.

“The risk of doing nothing is far greater than the risk of trying to build a real team,’’ Padres chairman Peter Seidler repeatedly said after each big move this winter. “People that I care about were saying, 'You’re crazy, do you know there’s a pandemic going on?'

“But I could not be happier with where we are in every way, business-wise, baseball-wise. We’re the eighth-largest city in America. There’s nothing we can’t do.”

The Padres say that when the COVID-19 restrictions are completely lifted by next season, they envision selling 3 million tickets.

“I’ve seen those videos of 1984 and ’98 dozens of times,” said Seidler, who grew up a Dodger fan with his uncle, Peter O’Malley, owning the team. “This city was exploding when we went to the World Series those two years.’’

Certainly, the city has responded two decades later, flooding the front office with emails, letters and phone calls of gratitude. They have a season-ticket base of 15,000, and unlike the past, they hung onto their tickets instead of selling them to Dodger fans on the secondary market.

It used to be about a 50-50 mix of Dodger and Padres fans, with some nights sounding like the game was being played at Chavez Ravine, but Friday the park sounded like a legitimate Padres home game.

Petco Park is limited to 33% capacity with COVID-19 restrictions, but with the Padres giving away gold thunder sticks to fans, there were times it sounded like a full house.

The Dodgers just shrugged their shoulders, almost basking in their role as villains.

It was just how they acted this winter when they watched the Padres make all of their moves, and then countered by signing Bauer to a three-year, $102 million contract.

“I think that if you look at talent, potential,’’ Roberts said, “it could be as good as any team the Dodgers have ever fielded.”

The Padres will see the Dodgers 18 more times this season, and will be at Dodger Stadium for a four-game series next weekend. They’ve shown they can play with the big boys up north. They are built to not only win now, but really, for the next decade.

“We’re coming,’’ Machado said. “We’re definitely coming. Everyone knows we have a good team now.’’

Besides, the Dodgers can’t keep winning the division forever, right?

Through Friday, the Dodgers were 12-2, already with a 3½-game lead. They are the first team in the modern era to have seven players with an OPS of at least .950 through the first 13 games, according to STATS. And Bauer has lived up to the contract, going 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA, and 29 strikeouts in 20 innings.

“They’re the best team in baseball,’’ Hosmer said. “They’ve earned that right. We still understand there are going to be a lot of battles.’’

But the Padres will also profess that this is their moment in time.

They have the opportunity to change how they’ll forever be viewed.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The most exciting thing I've ever been a part of': Padres-Dodgers rivalry comes to life


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