SAN DIEGO – With a called third strike, a San Diego tailgate parking lot erupted with the joy only a long road home can bring.
Nine pitchers starting with 36-year-old reliever Craig Stammen combined to shut down the St. Louis Cardinals Friday night at Petco Park for a 4-0 win, delivering the Padres the team’s first playoff series win in more than two decades.
Although not allowed in the ballpark amid an ongoing pandemic, fans still gathered downtown to wave flags, to honk car horns, to cheer loud enough to be heard from blocks away as they willed their beloved Friars on to the National League Division Series.
“To me, this is a top three sports moment in San Diego history,” one fan said. “You can really feel the emotion of a city rise right now.”
In the NLDS, which starts Tuesday at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas, they’ll meet a familiar foe: the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of six out of 10 against the Padres during a pandemic-shortened regular season. It is a best-of-five series with the winner advancing to play for the National League crown against either the Atlanta Braves or Miami Marlins.
But Friday was about San Diego, a night for celebrating a breakout team with a roster coming of age — including bat-flipping, burgeoning superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. — to go boldly into a playoff run after having not advanced to the postseason at all since 2006.
“I’ve lived in San Diego my entire life and we finally got what we’ve been looking forward to,” another fan said, adding that, “The Dodgers better be ready.”