LOS ANGELES — Maybe this is what it takes to make a rivalry two-sided.
San Diegans have long abhorred the Dodgers, be it the big brother/little brother syndrome, the historic difference in resources (and, let’s face it, resourcefulness) between the franchises, and not least the idea that Dodger fans keep rubbing it in by taking over Petco Park whenever the teams play each other.
(More on that subject later).
The enmity hasn’t been totally one-sided, not with Manny Machado in a Padres’ uniform – and playing MVP-caliber baseball – after a half-season in a Dodger uniform in which, as he memorably noted, he wasn’t ever going to be “Johnny Hustle.” The effort at least is there as a Padre, along with leadership and some critical hits – including a massive home run off Clayton Kershaw in the first inning Wednesday – but he will forever be booed lustily by Dodger fans every time he twitches, be it in The Ravine or in his home park.
But maybe little brother is finally throwing a scare into big brother, after the Padres evened the best-of-five National League Division Series on Wednesday night, 5-3. This is after a regular season in which the Dodgers won 14 of 19 from the Padres. And maybe that scare is amplified by the mere idea that the Padres and their 89 victories, after knocking off the New York Mets in the wild-card round last weekend, could take down the 111-victory Dodgers and effectively ruin the best regular season in the history of their franchise.
Trust me. True rivalries are, if not born, enhanced in the postseason. We see it in the NBA and the NHL, where a riveting playoff series can create emotions that last for years to come.
We’ve already seen those emotions in spots over the years of Dodger-Padre games. Remember when Andy Green wanted to pick a fight with Dave Roberts a few years ago? Heck, you can go back to the 1980s and the war of words between opposing managers Tommy Lasorda and Dick Williams, and then Lasorda’s classic rant when Kurt Bevacqua chimed in.
But the emotions are most raw when there’s really something at stake. The Padres have built toward these moments, going from a low-budget rebuild to a payroll nestled right between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in baseball’s high-rent district. General Manager A.J. Preller has assembled stars, among other moves trading for Juan Soto, Brandon Drury and Josh Hader at the deadline this year even though the Padres were hopelessly behind in the division race.
The idea was that it was all about October, and while the Dodgers might have been out of reach then, a five- or seven-game series would be a different animal. And, lo and behold.
Make no mistake, L.A. was the target. Padres controlling owner Peter Seidler – remember, the grandson of Walter O’Malley and nephew of Peter O’Malley – said it in August during an ESPN Sunday night game, calling the Dodgers “the dragon up the freeway that we’re trying to slay.”
And the idea that the Padres chose to fight the Dodgers on their terms rather than whine about the economic imbalance? That’s a sign of respect, too. Seidler, of all people, understands what has been built here over the years. So has Preller, who was a Dodger employee in the early 2000s when Dan Evans was general manager. And so has senior advisor/director of player personnel Logan White, who as Dodgers scouting director drafted – among others – Kershaw in 2006.
There are plenty of interlocking pieces between these clubs. For example, Kershaw and Padres starter Yu Darvish were teammates in L.A. (and to most Dodger fans, Darvish’s final act here in the 2017 World Series is best forgotten), they were workout partners in the Dallas area and remain friends.
It was a strange sight Wednesday afternoon, both pitchers playing long toss in the outfield before their warmups. Kershaw heaved the ball from center field toward the left field foul line, Darvish toward the right field foul line. (Both lasted five innings, and both had shaky moments.)
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These teams have been capable of gut-grinding games against each other in the past few years, and the games in this series should add to that list. The Dodgers didn’t exactly knock out the Padres after taking a 5-0 lead on Tuesday night, and the teams traded heavy blows Wednesday night.
And when the series moves to Petco Park on Friday? Let’s just say San Diego’s management is hypersensitive to the possibility that Dodger fans will flood the place, as they so often do. The Padres’ ticket-selling policy for this series restricts sales to San Diego County, as well as communities south of San Clemente in Orange County and south of Perris in Riverside County.
Will it help keep the invaders out? Probably not. The scene in the concourse two weeks ago before the final game of a three-game series at Petco Park was 50-50 Dodger fans and Padre fans.
Expect Dodger fans to pay whatever they have to on the secondary market this weekend. And expect San Diegans, and Padres executives, to grit their teeth – again – the moment the first “Let’s go Dodgers” chant breaks out.
Signs of a rivalry, right?