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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The Padres catch fire at home to even series with Phillies

San Diego’s Brandon Drury gave the Padres a lead with a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth inning during Wednesday’s Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

By Tyler Kepner

It opened with a star and ended with a bell, which is how these teams like to do it. The Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres are even after two games of this best-of-seven National League Championship Series, and their similarities extend to their ballpark traditions.

When the Padres make a stellar defensive play at Petco Park, broadcaster Tony Gwynn Jr. takes a giant pole — like a fishing rod — and casts a star toward the crowd. It’s a nod to the signature call of Jerry Coleman, the old New York Yankees infielder who called Padres games for decades before his death in 2014: “Hang a star on that baby!”

Center fielder Trent Grisham got the star treatment in the first inning of Game 2 on Wednesday after charging for a diving catch of a sinking liner by J.T. Realmuto. Grisham had already struggled with the sun in the cloudless San Diego sky, but he made all three putouts in the inning.

“It was a little tricky today,” Grisham said. “The best thing we can do is just communicate with each other, know where the help’s at, and hopefully it doesn’t get away at the last second.”

In the next inning, though, the Padres’ Juan Soto was all alone in the right field corner. He lost a fly ball in the sun, helping the Phillies to a four-run inning. Only twice in their history had the Phillies lost a postseason game after leading by four runs — but this would be the third time.

The Padres chased Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola with a barrage of hits in the 37-minute bottom half of the fifth inning, including a critical one by Nola’s brother, Austin, the San Diego catcher. In the end it was 8-5 Padres, and the team’s Swingin’ Friar mascot rang the Mission Bell, out near the left field foul pole, after the last out.

“Our crowd feels like they’re in the box with us,” said Padres designated hitter Josh Bell, who was 3 for 4 with a homer. “It was a lot of fun.”

The Phillies should have fun of their own when the series shifts to Citizens Bank Park for Game 3 on Friday (7:37 p.m. ET, FS1), and it may seem familiar. The Phillies also use the star as a symbol — little blue ones dot the i on their jerseys, and the Phillie Phanatic wears a big red one on his back.

And the sound of victory in Philadelphia is also a clanging bell — specifically a Liberty Bell replica decorated with 26,000 LED lights high above center field. It rings for every Phillies home run and victory.

The teams have more substantive similarities, too. Both made the playoffs as wild-card teams with fewer than 90 victories, and both lineups revolve around a 30-year-old slugger with a contract worth at least $300 million — Bryce Harper, who homered in Game 1 for the Phillies, and Manny Machado, who connected in Game 2 for the Padres.

Both hitters are thriving in October. Harper has an extra-base hit in each of his past seven games, matching Devon White (1993) and Carlos Beltrán (2004) for the longest streak in a single postseason. Machado, likewise, has been central to the Padres’ success: he is hitting .435 in their playoff wins and .083 in their losses.

The teams’ starting pitching has played out in roughly the same way. On Tuesday, Zack Wheeler and Yu Darvish both worked seven strong innings, but the Phillies’ Wheeler was just a little bit better. On Wednesday, neither Aaron Nola nor Blake Snell made it past the fifth, but Snell was sharper.

Snell retired 11 of his last 12 batters in Game 2, weathering that wild second inning: four singles, the error by Soto, and a misplayed double play ball that put the Padres down, 4-0.

“The biggest thing is you just understand you can’t control that: The outcome is the outcome, there’s no changing it,” Snell said. “But what you do next is probably the most important because if you give up more runs in the next inning, then — floodgates, and you don’t want that. But if you keep throwing up zeros, you know you’re going to pump your team up and they’re going to find a way to get back in the game.”

Homers by Brandon Drury and Bell opened the Padres’ half of the second, and their third run scored on a hit-and-run single by Austin Nola — off his brother — that scored Ha-Seong Kim all the way from first base.

“It’s bittersweet,” said A.J. Nola, the players’ father. “All I could see was Ha-Seong Kim screaming around the bases. I wanted it to be close. I was thrilled when they tied it up. Unfortunately, Aaron left those two-out runners on base.”

Left-hander Brad Hand replaced Aaron Nola with the score tied, and the outcome was disastrous. After hitting a batter, Hand hung a slider to Drury, who drove it to center for a go-ahead, two-run single, and one to Bell, who lashed it to right to make it 7-4.

That three-run lead would be the final margin of victory — after solo homers by Machado and the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins — and the Padres earned their first win in an NLCS game since 1998, when they won the pennant but lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

The Phillies’ last World Series appearance, naturally, also ended in defeat to the Yankees. If the Yankees survive Houston in their American League Championship Series, then, they will meet a familiar foe.

By winning Wednesday, the Padres assured that there will be no clear favorite the rest of the way — just two well-matched teams facing the same challenge.

“You definitely don’t want to go to Philly down 0-2,” Snell said. “You know their fans are going to be good. They’re going to bring it. When you’re up two games, there’s a lot more comfort. You want to have it tied going there — or have the lead going there — because now they have to think a little bit more, they’re more nervous, they’re playing on their heels. That stuff is real. To tie it back up the way we did, that’s big, and that’s good momentum for us.”

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