SAN DIEGO — Jake Cronenworth may never have to pay for a drink in San Diego again.
Cronenworth’s game-winning, two-run single off left-hander Alex Vesia capped a stunning five-run rally in the seventh inning that propelled the Padres to a wild 5-3 win over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Saturday night at Petco Park, sending San Diego to its first NL Championship Series appearance in 24 years.
Cronenworth delivered the knockout blow against the 111-win Dodgers, snapping a 3-3 tie with a two-strike, two-out single to center field that brought home the decisive runs and sparked bedlam throughout the Gaslamp Quarter.
“It was incredible just to hear the crowd go insane,” Cronenworth said. “Pure elation.”
After being shut out through the first six innings, the Padres’ offense finally began to stir in the seventh, thanks largely to the table-setting efforts of the bottom of their lineup. Jurickson Profar drew a leadoff walk and Trent Grisham singled to put runners on the corners for Austin Nola, who chopped a bouncer that deflected off the glove of first baseman Freddie Freeman for an RBI single that cut the Dodgers’ lead to 3-1.
Ha-Seong Kim followed with an RBI double before Juan Soto tied the game with another single to right field. That brought up Cronenworth, who stepped up to the plate against right-handed reliever Yency Almonte with runners on the corners and two outs. Cronenworth initially showed bunt before pulling back and taking a 97 mph fastball from Almonte for a ball.
After one pitch from Almonte, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts emerged from the dugout and made a mid-at-bat pitching change, summoning Vesia to face the left-handed-hitting Cronenworth.
“I thought they were going to bring him in earlier in the at-bat, just to start the at-bat, but I knew he wasn’t ready,” Cronenworth said. “It was kind of weird. I didn’t really know at the time. When [catcher] Will [Smith] went out to talk to Almonte, I knew they were going to bring in Vesia. I changed my approach and worked a completely different at-bat.”
Vesia inherited a 1-0 count, but he evened it to 1-1 with a fastball on the outside corner that was called a strike by home-plate umpire John Tumpane. Cronenworth fouled off another heater to get to two strikes before taking Vesia’s next pitch for a ball. Soto easily stole second on the play, shuffling into scoring position without a throw from the Dodgers.
“In that situation, most teams won’t throw down just because they don’t want the winning run to score,” Cronenworth said. “Obviously, he was trying to bait them to get them to do something, but they weren’t going to throw anyways. But yeah, getting to second was huge.”
“It’s all part of the strategy,” Soto said. “We were ready for it.”
Cronenworth came through on the next pitch, lining a hanging slider from Vesia into center to score Kim and Soto and put the Padres ahead by two. The 28-year-old infielder pumped his fist and roared after reaching second base, setting off a rocking celebration at Petco Park.
“Insanity,” starter Joe Musgrove said. “I can’t even explain it.”
Padres manager Bob Melvin said Cronenworth’s go-ahead hit was huge in more ways than one. If San Diego had failed to take the lead, Melvin could have been forced to burn many of his high-leverage relievers in a tie game, which might have left his bullpen compromised if the Dodgers rallied to force a decisive Game 5 at Dodger Stadium on Sunday.
“To be able to get the lead was huge because in a tie game, if we end up losing that game, we go to L.A. tomorrow with a really beat-up bullpen,” Melvin said.
Thanks to Cronenworth, the Padres won’t have to worry about making another trip to Los Angeles this year. They’ll instead turn their attention to the Phillies, who they’ll host in Game 1 of the NLCS on Tuesday night at Petco.
“They had our number in the regular season, but we turned it around at the end of the year,” Cronenworth said of the Dodgers. “We’re playing our best baseball right now.”