“Keep the Faith” has been a Padres slogan that dates back virtually to the franchise’s 1969 major league debut, when fans watched the first ballclub finish 41 games out of first place.
A decade passed before Padres fans saw the team finish a season with a winning record.
Postseason success has been all too infrequent through the years, but the 2022 team was bidding to join the 1984 and 1998 Padres ballclubs that reached the World Series.
With so much on the line, thousands of fans attended Petco Park watch parties the past three days to share the experience of being there for the team, even if the team itself was 2,400 miles away in Philadelphia.
An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 fans were at Petco on Friday and Saturday nights for Games 3 and 4 of the National League Championship Series. There were perhaps 8,000 people in the seats Sunday afternoon for Game 5.
“I’m not a fanatic, but I am a fan,” said Chula Vista’s Tim Hagel, who wore a giant batting helmet on his head as he encouraged fans on the field level. “Rise up. C’mon, let’s go.”
Their faith was tested throughout the weekend.
Losses Friday and Saturday made Sunday a must-win game if the Padres were going to extend the NLCS, bringing it back to San Diego on Monday for Game 6.
Fans chanted and cheered throughout the contest, their voices building toward a roar during a back and forth game.
They particularly enjoyed seeing themselves on the video board dancing to music, trading high-fives and waving foam fingers while willing the team to a win.
Those gathered got a good laugh in the seventh inning when the video board showed a man wearing a T-shirt that read: “Pretend I’m a goose.”
He made it more convincing by flapping his arms.
Hope ran high when the Padres rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the late innings.
A chant of “Let’s go, Padres” began right before Jake Cronenworth’s single to center field leading off the seventh.
It gave way to cheers when Cronenworth moved to second base on a wild pitch by reliever Seranthony Dominguez, and the crowd erupted when teammate Josh Bell doubled to tie the game 2-2.
The fans kicked it up another notch when pinch runner Jose Azocar was wild pitched to third and then home, giving the Padres their first lead at 3-2.
“It’s been up and down, but the pitching has been very good this season,” Crown Point’s Bill Darnell said as the Padres clung to the lead. “When they put it together, it was fantastic.
“We’ve got to win.”
Darnell was more desperate than most in the stands.
After all, he had tickets to Game 5 of the 1998 World Series, which ended in four games with a Yankees sweep.
He also had tickets to Monday’s Game 6 of the NLCS.
The Padres grounds crew was working on the field — smoothing and watering the infield — as things unfolded.
“There will be a tomorrow,” a hopeful Darnell said.
Yes, there will, although it will be the first day of the offseason for the Padres.
Darnell and the other Friar Faithful had their hearts broken when Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning.
That delivered a 4-3 win that clinched the World Series berth for the Phillies.
The Padres put one more message on the giant video board as fans filed out: Thank You, Friar Faithful.
Point Loma’s Boz Renteria, who enjoyed a day at the ballpark with his mom, lingered on the Terrace Level afterwards.
“It was a great game until the end,” said Renteria, who was wearing the jersey of long-ago Padres catcher Benito Santiago. “I knew it was coming. I could see the writing on the wall, because I played baseball for 18 years.
“I saw it right in front of me. That’s it. That’s where it ends.”
Renteria was nonetheless impressed with the team’s performance this season.
“This has been a great year,” he said. “I thought we’d be good, but not this good.”
How disappointing is such an abrupt ending?
“Pretty bad,” said Renteria, who was hopeful the Padres would avoid a sweep in Philadelphia and get the NLCS back to San Diego.
“That’s all I wanted,” he said. “One more home game.”
Not until next year. Opening day is March 30.
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