SAN DIEGO – The atmosphere at Petco Park will be absolutely electric Friday night when Blake Snell and the San Diego Padres face Tony Gonsolin and the rival Los Angeles Dodgers in the first playoff game at the downtown ballpark with fans in the stands in 16 years.
The Padres put a jolt into the NL Division Series when they won 5-3 at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night to even the best-of-5 series at 1-1. That assured them of two straight home games at the park that has been hopping pretty much every night during this season of big expectations.
“Yeah, I expect it to be pretty insane, which I’m really excited about,” Snell said Thursday before the Padres had a late-afternoon workout. “I really wanted to see what postseason baseball would be here in San Diego and at Petco.”
The only way the Padres assured themselves of getting at least one home game this postseason was to beat the New York Mets on the road in the wild-card round, which they did 2-1.
“I know when we beat New York, I saw the fans were going crazy, so I’m really excited to see what they’ve got, see what they bring, and hopefully we get a couple wins and can see them go even crazier,” Snell said. “I’m definitely really excited about it.”
If the Padres beat the Dodgers on Friday night in front of a sellout crowd, hometown hero Joe Musgrove will pitch the potential clinching Game 4 on Saturday night.
Snell has pitched in the playoffs at Petco Park before, making three starts with Tampa Bay in the AL bubble following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, without fans in the stands. He faced the Dodgers twice in the World Series that year, including the ill-fated Game 6 when Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled him with the lead. The Rays lost the game and the series.
Snell moved on a few months later when he was traded to San Diego.
“This has always been one of my favorite ballparks to play in, so I cherish it a lot more being that now we’ll have fans and it’s San Diego fans and it’s in San Diego. I like that a lot more,” the left-hander said.
Snell, who won the 2018 AL Cy Young Award, has also moved on from that World Series start.
Asked what he remembered about that night, he said: “I knew that question was coming. That was inevitable. Yeah, it was one of my best starts. I’ll keep it at that. Two years ago, man. I’ve got to flip that page, read a different book, learn, get better.”
Wednesday night’s win was huge because the Dodgers have dominated the Padres going back to mid-2021, including going 14-5 this year and outscoring San Diego 109-47. The 111-win Dodgers won the NL West, finishing 22 games ahead of the Padres and earning home-field advantage through the World Series.
“It’s a different team,” Snell said about this year’s Dodgers lineup. “They’ve got Freddie Freeman, they’ve got Trea (Turner). It’s just a whole different team than two years ago. They’re a lot better, I think. They’ve gotten pieces that have made them a lot stronger hitting-wise.”
The Padres were carried offensively all year by All-Star Manny Machado. They finished 89-73 without superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who was on the cusp of returning from a broken wrist when he was suspended 80 games by MLB on Aug. 12 after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
The Padres won a home wild-card series against St. Louis in 2020, minus fans. The last time the Padres played in front of a packed Petco Park in the playoffs was 2006, when they lost both home games in the NLDS before the Cardinals finished off a 3-1 series win in St. Louis.
San Diego’s leadoff batter and left fielder that year was Dave Roberts, who’s in his seventh season helming the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have won nine straight series against the Padres. San Diego hasn’t won a playoff series in a full season since the 1998 NL Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves.
Snell can have a hand in changing that.
“There’s no better time to be great than right now,” said Snell, who was 8-10 with a 3.38 ERA in an up-and-down regular season.
Gonsolin, an All-Star who went 16-1 with a 2.14 ERA in the regular season, opposed Snell in Game 6 of the World Series two years ago. He’s not concerned about a loud crowd.
“Yeah, we’re fortunate enough to play here at Dodger Stadium, and we get 45-, 50,000 people every night when we play,” Gonsolin said during a video conference with the media. “Can’t imagine it’s any more loud than that. Yeah, I’m excited to go out there and throw strikes.”
Roberts said Gonsolin should be good for 75 pitches and that Dustin May and Andrew Heaney could follow him. Gonsolin was sidelined for much of the final 1 ½ months with a strained right forearm. He returned on Oct. 3, pitching two innings.
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