The Padres are back in the NLCS for the first time in 24 years.
This was supposed to be an easy series for the Dodgers.
A walk in the park.
Big brother was going to beat little brother again, just like it had in every Dodgers-Padres series this season.
As Bill Plaschke wrote in the LA Times a week ago, "If folks in San Diego view Los Angeles as this giant mythical reptile that is casting a 130- mile shadow, folks in Los Angeles view San Diego as a quaint little lizard that harmlessly darts around the porch."
I guess it's time to fear the little lizard. Or the rally goose.
The Padres have slain the dragon and advanced to the NLCS for the first time in 24 seasons.
The Dodgers (111-51) finished the regular season 22 games ahead of San Diego (89-73). In their six matchups this regular season, Los Angeles won all six series.
But this isn't the regular season. And this playoffs has been very irregular, with all of the 100-win teams in the National League (Braves, Mets and Dodgers) eliminated and two afterthought Wild Card teams, the Phillies and Padres, now playing in the NLCS.
Similarly to 1998, the last time the team advanced this far, the Padres were overlooked heading into the playoffs and matched up against 100-win teams in Houston, then in the National League, and Atlanta. And similarly to 1998, behind timely hitting, strong starting pitching and a lockdown closer, San Diego is moving on.
Everything Saturday came down to the seventh inning. San Diego was down 3-0. Backs against the wall. Again.
And then the Padres rallied. Jurickson Profar got things started with a walk, and Trent Grisham singled to make it first and third. Austin Nola, the next hitter, chopped a ball to the right side. Freddie Freeman was there to put a glove on the ball, but it dribbled away and by the time it was fielded, there was no play to be made. The first run was in, the rally was alive, and Los Angeles was forced to turn to its bullpen, relieving Tommy Kahnle with Yency Almonte.
Ha-Seong Kim, the next hitter, slapped a ball down the left field line, just out of the reach of Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, for a double that scored Grisham to make it 3-2.
With Petco Park hopping, Juan Soto, plucked away from Washington at the trade deadline, flared a ball to right field to plate Nola and tie the game.
After outs by Manny Machado and Brandon Drury, and another pitching change, and a stolen base by Soto, Jake Cronenworth laced a ball to center to bring home Kim and Soto for the game-winning runs.
Following the game came bedlam.
Trevor Hoffman, the hall of fame closer on that 1998 team, embraced Machado, the Padres' star third baseman, in a similar way that he embraced another star third baseman 24 years ago (although there were no shirtless pose-offs this time around).
Longtime Padres fans talk about 1984 and 1998, the team's two World Series seasons, in mythical terms. Those two seasons meant everything. Other than that, there isn't a whole lot to celebrate — too many players who left town and lost seasons. But Padres fans have patiently stuck with this team, year after year. That fandom has only become more urgent with the NFL's Chargers leaving town.
Now, Padres fans have a new year to talk about — 2022, when they toppled the 111-win Dodgers. Little brother is moving on to the NLCS, with the Padres holding home-field advantage. You can bet Petco Park is going to be rocking. Some Padres fans have been waiting a lifetime for this.