NEW YORK – With a magnificent performance on a memorable night in Padres history, Joe Musgrove brought this one home for San Diego and really stuck it to the New York Mets.
The big right-hander brushed off chants of “Cheater!” after a bizarre spot check by umpires on the mound, pitching his hometown Padres into the next round of the playoffs with seven innings of one-hit ball in a 6-0 victory over the listless Mets.
“You could see the resolve in his face and the demeanor he had,” San Diego manager Bob Melvin said. “He was on a mission today.”
Trent Grisham hit an RBI single and made a terrific catch in center field that helped the Padres take the best-of-three National League wild-card series 2-1. Austin Nola and Juan Soto each had a two-run single.
San Diego advanced to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Dodgers in a best-of-five Division Series beginning Tuesday – ensuring the Padres will play in front of their home fans in the postseason for the first time in 16 years when they return to Petco Park for Game 3.
“Can’t wait to get back there. They deserve it,” Melvin said.
It was the fifth time the Padres won a playoff series – and they took this one without star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., sidelined all season by a wrist injury and PED suspension.
They won a first-round matchup against St. Louis in their own ballpark with no fans permitted after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before being swept in the Division Series by the eventual World Series champion Dodgers.
For the Mets, a scintillating season ended with a whimper at home in front of empty seats. Baseball’s biggest spenders won 101 games – second-most in franchise history – but were unable to hold off Atlanta in the NL East after sitting atop the division for all but six days.
Relegated to the wild-card round, New York never fully recovered. Max Scherzer got rocked in Game 1 and, after the Mets won Game 2 behind Jacob deGrom to stave off elimination, they mustered almost nothing against Musgrove and finished with one lonely hit.
No. 3 starter Chris Bassitt lasted just four innings, giving up three runs and three hits with three costly walks to batters near the bottom of the order.
Pete Alonso‘s leadoff single in the fifth and Starling Marte‘s walk to start the seventh were the only baserunners permitted by Musgrove in his first postseason start. He was 0-5 with a 6.33 ERA in five previous starts against the Mets.
Robert Suarez and Josh Hader finished up with perfect relief. After the final out, Padres players and coaches gathered for happy hugs and handshakes on the field as a small but vocal throng of San Diego fans dressed in brown and yellow cheered and chanted “Beat LA! Beat LA!” behind the team’s dugout.
Then the Padres took the party inside their clubhouse – dancing and dousing each other with booze in a loud, raucous celebration.
“They flat-out beat us,” Alonso said.
Musgrove grew up a Padres fan in the San Diego suburbs and pitched the franchise’s first no-hitter last year in his second start with the team.
He was working on a one-hitter and warming up for the sixth inning Sunday when Mets manager Buck Showalter came out of the dugout and spoke to first base umpire Alfonso Marquez.
“All Buck requested was for us to check for an illegal substance,” Marquez said.
The six umps huddled and then went to the mound. Marquez, the crew chief, felt Musgrove’s glove, cap – even his ears – searching for any unauthorized sticky substances.
“I’ve seen him do it before, checking the pitcher,” Musgrove said, referring to Showalter. “I get it, dude. They’re on their last leg, they’re desperate, they’re doing everything they can to get me out of the game.”
Marquez said the umpires “found nothing.”
Musgrove was allowed to continue, and he worked a 1-2-3 sixth punctuated by a pointed gesture toward the New York dugout.
“It motivated me a little bit, man. It fired me up,” he said.
The spin rate was up on all six of Musgrove’s pitches Sunday.
“I love him as a pitcher, always have,” Showalter said. “I feel kind of bad about it, but it won’t cast anything. He’s too good a pitcher, and they’re too good – without getting into a lot of things, the spin rates and different things that I’m sure you’re all aware of when you see something that jumps out at you. I get a lot of information in the dugout that – we certainly weren’t having much luck the way it was going, that’s for sure.
“I’m charged with doing what’s best for the New York Mets. If it makes me look however it makes me look or whatever, I’m going to do it every time and live with the consequences. I’m not here to not hurt somebody’s feelings. I’m going to do what’s best for our players and the New York Mets. I felt like that was best for us right now. There’s some pretty obvious reasons why it was necessary.”
Fans yelled “Cheater!” at Musgrove, a member of the 2017 Houston Astros World Series champions that were found by Major League Baseball to have stolen signs illegally to help their hitters.
“I guarantee Musgrove has Red Hot on his ears,” Milwaukee outfielder Andrew McCutchen tweeted. “Pitchers use it as mechanism to stay locked in during games. It burns like crazy and IDK why some guys thinks it helps them but in no way is it `sticky.’ Buck is smart tho. Could be trying to just throw him off.”
Musgrove has said he feels uncomfortable wearing his Astros championship ring after their cheating scandal rocked the sport. He said he wants “one that feels earned” with the Padres.
“Joe Musgrove is a man of character,” Melvin said. “Questioning his character to me, that’s the part I have a problem with, and I’m here to tell everybody that Joe Musgrove is as above board as any pitcher I know, any player I know, and unfortunately that happened to him because the reception that he got after that was not warranted.”
THINKING OF MR. PADRE
During batting practice, San Diego second baseman Jake Cronenworth wore an old-school Tony Gwynn No. 19 uniform T-shirt, a giveaway at Petco Park one day this season.
Cronenworth figured this was a night to salute the late Padres Hall of Famer.
“I brought it with me for a reason, so I decided I’d wear it,” he said. “Tony was one of the best, so give us some support from up above.”
Padres: All-Star 3B Manny Machado, who had an RBI single, limped back to the dugout after striking out in the ninth and appeared to be favoring his right leg. He remained in the game and said afterward he was fine.
San Diego went 5-14 against the first-place Dodgers this season and finished 22 games behind them in the NL West.
New York begins its spring training schedule next year with split-squad games Feb. 25 against Miami and Houston. The regular-season opener is March 30 at Miami.