SAN DIEGO — Juan Soto and Josh Hader absorbed most of the attention, but Brandon Drury and Josh Bell were in-season acquisitions of similar importance to the San Diego Padres — a belief further emphasized by Fernando Tatis Jr.’s ensuing suspension. Bell and Drury represented key power bats in the middle of the lineup, a key source of protection for Soto and Manny Machado. And on Wednesday, with the Padres in desperate need of a victory, their bats finally came alive.
Drury and Bell, struggling all postseason and for most of their Padres tenure, combined for five hits and drove in five runs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, keying an 8-5 come-from-behind victory over the Philadelphia Phillies to earn a split from Petco Park.
The Padres found themselves in a four-run hole midway through the second inning and clawed all the way back, an exceedingly rare triumph for this time of year. Before Wednesday, teams that trailed by four or more runs at any point in an LCS game were 12-268, which amounts to a .043 winning percentage. The Padres themselves were 1-16 in their postseason history, but they had recency on their side. They came back from down four runs during their last trip to the postseason in 2020, in Game 2 of their wild-card series against the St. Louis Cardinals. And they strung together a five-run seventh inning to overcome a three-run deficit and eliminate the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the NL Division Series four days ago.
“We’re trying to extend every at-bat,” said Padres catcher Austin Nola, who helped ignite a five-run fifth inning with a hit off his brother. “We’re trying to get to the next one. That’s kind of what we’re doing right now. Get to the next pitch, and then eventually you’re going to get to the next guy and keep this thing rolling, getting a good rally.”
Padres manager Bob Melvin made what appeared to be a small lineup change heading into Game 2, benching Wil Myers, who provided superior defense at first base, and moving Jake Cronenworth up to the cleanup spot. Drury and Bell, who had combined for a .105/.128/.184 slash line through the Padres’ first eight postseason games, would hit fifth and sixth, respectively. And they came through when the Padres most desperately needed a lift.
The Phillies had compiled four runs off Blake Snell in the most unlikely of ways, stringing together four softly hit singles, benefiting from a fly ball Soto lost in the sun and scoring another run on a sharp grounder that was booted by Drury at first base. Aaron Nola, who had yet to allow an earned run in these playoffs, was toeing the rubber. A 2-0 lead in this series — with up to three games to follow in Philadelphia — seemed well within the Phillies grasp.
Then Drury led off the bottom half and lined the second pitch he saw, a chest-high fastball, over the fence in left field.
“I was trying to get a big inning going,” Drury said during an on-field interview. “He left a fastball over the middle and I just took a good swing on it.”
On the next pitch — another fastball, this one up and in — Bell hit a towering blast out to right, cutting the Phillies’ lead in half and injecting life into a sold-out crowd of 44,607. Three innings later, in the bottom of the fifth, the Padres sent 11 batters to the plate and accumulated five runs. Three of the first four batters reached, and then Soto tied the score with an RBI double into the right-field corner. Drury came up later against Brad Hand, with the bases loaded and two outs, and smoked a two-run single to left-center. Bell followed with a run-scoring single down the right-field line. By that point, Drury and Bell had combined for as many hits through the first five innings of one game (four) as they had through the entire postseason.
“Those guys are here for a reason, and they all have track records,” Melvin said. “You look at their numbers over the course of this year, and they’re all good. Those are the guys we’re going to keep running out there.”
The Padres’ win was a by-product of so much more than just Drury and Bell. It was Snell hanging tough after a 37-pitch second inning, finding a way to record 15 outs to turn the game over to the Padres’ best high-leverage relievers. It was Soto, who had been hitting the ball hard all month but didn’t have much to show for it, atoning for a missed fly ball with a key hit. It was Machado clobbering a 424-foot home run in the seventh, then starting a slick double play with the Phillies threatening and Bryce Harper up in the next half-inning. And, most memorably, it was Nola conquering his younger brother.
The Padres had one on and one out, still trailed by a couple of runs, and Austin Nola faced an 0-2 count against Aaron Nola, with their parents nervously watching from the stands.
“I feel like every time I face my brother I’m 0-2,” Austin Nola said. “He’s always ahead of me, and I’m always fighting back just trying to get some barrels somewhere.”
This time, Austin — in the first sibling matchup of pitcher versus batter in postseason history — executed a perfect run-and-hit. Ha-Seong Kim took off for second base in an attempted steal, Phillies second baseman Jean Segura shifted over to cover and Austin lined a base hit through a vacated right side, allowing Kim to score all the way from first and ultimately igniting a major rally.
The Padres avoided what would have felt like a major deficit and now they’ll have one of their aces, Joe Musgrove, lined up for Game 3 in Philadelphia on Friday.
“We knew what we had to do,” Machado said in Spanish. “We had to win this game no matter what.”