SAN DIEGO — It’s midnight in San Diego. The streets are soaked with euphoria, the air filled with the aroma of revenge, and fans are turning the Gaslamp Quarter into a mosh pit.
Inside Petco Park, where the San Diego Padres pulled off one of the greatest postseason upsets in baseball history, knocking off their hated rivals up north, the Los Angeles Dodgers, is the party epicenter.
This is where Padres third baseman Manny Machado is shirtless, smoking a cigar, gulping beer sprayed in his face, and yelling, “Who’s your daddy now?”
This is where shortstop Ha-Seong Kim is a one-man dance machine, with his teammates encircling him, watching him gyrate on the floor, throwing his hands into the air, and singing as loud as he possibly can over blaring music.
This is where pitcher Joe Musgrove, who grew up in San Diego, cheering on the Padres as a little kid, is not wearing goggles, but actual sunglasses, not because the lights are bright, but to make sure no one sees his reddened eyes from the sheer emotion.
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And this is where first baseman Wil Myers, who has been with the Padres longer than anyone in the room for seven years, is running outside of the ballpark, high-fiving fans, and ending up behind a bar in the Gaslamp, buying shots for everyone.
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It was that kind of Saturday night in San Diego, with fans screaming, horns honking, music blaring, until the coffee shops opened Sunday morning.
“The best feeling ever,’’ says Padres closer Josh Hader, who recorded the final out, striking out the side in the ninth inning. “I think I blacked out.”
Hey, when you beat the team that has bullied you for half a century, knocking off the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, 3 games to 1, for the first time in franchise history, you have every right to celebrate like you’re on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.
“We’ve been in this since February,” Musgrove said. “They’ve (fans) been in it since the 60’s. I feel for them. I’ve been one of those fans for a long time, watching the Dodgers run past us every year, stomping all over us all season long.
“As much as we know there’s a lot of baseball ahead of us, this is something that needs to be celebrated because for a long time those guys up North have beaten us down and knocked us out of playoff contention every year.
“These fans deserve the celebration as a moment of changing of the tide, hopefully.’’
San Diego, the sleepy city in Southern California that’s penned in by Los Angeles to the north, Mexico to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the desert to the east, has morphed into baseball paradise.
The Padres, the small-market team with big-market conviction, are now just four victories away from a chance to win their first World Series championship in the 54-year history of the franchise.
The Padres know they still have a huge challenge ahead of them, with the Philadelphia Phillies coming to town to open the National League Championship Series beginning Tuesday with Game 1 (8:03 p.m. ET, FOX) at Petco Park. But for now, a hangover has never felt so good.
“There’s no better feeling than this, man,’’ Machado said. “We’re here. We beat one of the best teams in baseball. We beat the Mets.
“We’re on our way to something special here, something that San Diego has never seen.”
That, of course, is that World Series championship.
“I think it’s about time that we start talking about San Diego as a sport town,” former Padres Cy Young winner Jake Peavy said. “We lost the Chargers. This is the only game in town. The Padre fans are absolutely showing out, from Del Mar on down.
“It feels good. It feels electric. … San Diego is a major player. Major market. Major fan base.”
The Padres may be only the 21st-largest market in America, but they have the fifth-biggest payroll, two $300 million players (Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.) a potential $500 million player (Juan Soto), a Cy Young winner (Blake Snell) a three-time Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year Award winner (Josh Hader), a five-time All-Star (Yu Darvish) and a World Series champion (Musgrove).
“We are not,” Padres owner Peter Seidler says, “a small-market franchise.”
After sending the Dodgers and their massive payroll home for the winter, and facing another big-market team in the Phillies, no one may look at the Padres the same way ever again.
“All of those years, all of those 100-plus losses I’ve probably had against the Dodgers,” Myers said, “I don’t care about anymore. All of those losses don’t matter. This makes it all worth it. Look at us now.
“Just look at us.”
The Padres and Phillies weren’t even supposed to be here. The Padres finished second in their division. The Phillies finished third. The Padres were the fifth seed. The Phillies were the sixth and lowest seed.
But all that matters is that they’re a combined 10-3 in the postseason, going through two rounds of playoffs, and now meeting for the right to win the pennant.
The storylines will be rich:
Padres catcher Austin Nola is facing little brother and Phillies ace Aaron Nola.
Bryce Harper is going against Machado, the two coveted free agents of four years ago, with the West Coast outfielder ending up back East, the East Coast third baseman ending up in the West, and the two signing for $630 million.
Phillies great Larry Bowa can talk about being the only man who once managed the Phillies and Padres, and getting fired from both.
Phillies infield coach Bobby Dickerson was a Padres coach last year, and Phillies reliever Brad Hand was a Padres closer.
And, there will be the food debate between the famous fish tacos in San Diego and the celebrated cheesesteak sandwiches in Philadelphia.
“This,” says Musgrove, “is everything I could have imagined. To grow up a Padres fan, to see my dad and my family celebrating in the stands after we won, is a dream.
“I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
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