NEW YORK — San Diego Padres starter Joe Musgrove knew Sunday was the biggest start of his life and felt sick to his stomach all day.
The stakes were high. A winner-takes-all playoff final in front of a hostile New York crowd at Citi Field. San Diego needed a strong start from right-hander after the team struggled in Game 2 against the New York Mets.
As Musgrove contemplated the five-year, $100 million contract the Padres offered him in August, he felt the weight of his team’s season fall on his shoulders.
But as the first pitch got closer and Musgrove warmed up in the bullpen at Citi Field, he brushed off Padres catcher Austin Nola to talk about the night ahead of them.
“I’m going to have the best start of my life,” Musgrove told Nola.
His premonition came true, as Musgrove went seven innings, allowing just one hit and one walk and striking out five batters, propelling the Padres to a 6-0 victory and earning a ticket to the series. the National League Division and a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the process, Musgrove made history, becoming the first pitcher in major league history to pitch seven shutout innings and allow one hit in a winner-takes-all postseason game.
Throughout the night, Musgrove relied on his fastball, cutter, curveball and slider to completely dominate the Mets lineup, striking out the first 12 batters of the game, good for the longest game offer. perfect in Padres playoff history. The Mets struggled to build offensive momentum against the Padres, with first baseman Pete Alonso scoring the Mets’ only hit of the night in the fifth inning.
“You could see the determination in [Musgrove’s] face and the demeanor he had,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “He was on a mission today.”
A bizarre moment came late in the sixth inning when Mets manager Buck Showalter requested a substance check on Musgrove as footage circulated online of the Padres starter’s ear appearing to glow. The referees then dug their fingers in and around Musgrove’s ear, but found nothing that violated the rules.
Mets fans at Citi Field followed the inspections with loud boos aimed at Musgrove, with chants of “cheating” echoing throughout the stadium.
“We didn’t find anything,” said referee Alfonso Marquez.
Melvin took issue with the Mets asking to check Musgrove for foreign substances.
“The problem I have is that Joe Musgrove is a man of character,” Melvin said. “Questioning his character is the part that troubles me and I’m here to tell everyone that Joe Musgrove is above the board like any pitcher I know, any player that I know, and unfortunately the reception he received after that was not justified.”
After substance check, Musgrove punched Mets catcher Tomas Nido and gestured toward the New York dugout, sliding under his nose. Musgrove said the Mets’ foreign substance check was “desperate” and the team’s “last ditch attempt to get me out of the game.”
“It almost started a fire under me,” Musgrove said.
Showalter said the team was aware of the information — including Musgrove’s increased turnover rate — that led him to ask referees to check for foreign substances. According to Baseball Savant, all of Musgrove’s throws on Sunday night exceeded his season’s rotations-per-minute average.
“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’m going to 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 appearance in the Divisional Series 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 ranked baseball’s best offense in 2022, scoring 847 points, while San Diego ranked 13th among all teams, scoring 705 points. The Dodgers also had the lowest team ERA in baseball while the Padres ranked 11th.
Sunday’s win also ensures the Padres will play their first home playoff game with fans at Petco Park since 2006.
“It’s one of the best feelings tonight,” Melvin said. “We talked about it at batting meetings today. There’s a lot at stake here and there’s a lot to be motivated and inspired by. One of them is to bring this thing back to San Diego and give them some post-season experience.”
With Musgrove pitching exceptionally well in the biggest game of his career, Mets starter Chris Bassitt had little room for error, but the Padres offense took advantage of every opportunity they gained early in the game.
San Diego’s offense came gradually throughout the night. Nola started the count 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 wildcard games with two home runs — singled out a clean line to center field, scoring Kim.
Bassitt left the game after four innings, allowing three runs on three hits, three walks and two strikeouts.
“I was just fighting,” Bassitt said. “Looking back to starting Atlanta, I don’t know how many runs they scored on steps, then tonight I know they scored two guys on steps. Not too proud of that.”
The Mets bullpen didn’t fare much better. Third baseman Manny Machado added in the fifth inning with a line single from reliever David Peterson to right field, scoring outfielder Jurickson Profar to make it 4-0. In the eighth, outfielder Juan Soto added a singular cushion to Edwin Diaz’s left field, scoring Kim and Grisham. The Padres’ six points proved to be more than enough to clinch a ticket to the Division Series.
The stakes are high for the Padres, who made blockbuster moves at the trade deadline for superstar outfielder Soto and reliever Josh Hader. San Diego also faced fallout after the 80-game suspension in August of superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
The Padres have made large financial investments in Tatis, Soto, Machado, Yu Darvish, Wil Myers and Blake Snell, expecting to challenge for a World Series title.
Sunday’s win brings San Diego one step closer.
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