'This is what I dreamed of': One win from NLCS, $300 million 3B Manny Machado has Padres ready to party

SAN DIEGO — Manny Machado stood in front of his locker in the corner of the San Diego Padres clubhouse Friday night, soaking it all in, vowing never, ever, to forget this moment. 

“This is why I signed here,’’ he said.

“This is what I dreamed of when I decided to come over. 

“This is everything I’ve always wanted.’’ 

Machado, the Padres’ six-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove third baseman, breaks into a slow, expansive grin, momentarily looks awa, and nods his head. 

“Anytime you sign long-term with an organization,’’ he said, “you have a vision of bringing a championship, especially to one that’s never won. Being here today, and seeing how the fans interacted with us and giving us the energy, it’s a long time coming.’’ 

The Padres, with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3, are one just one win away from pulling off one of the greatest upsets in postseason history

They finished 22 games behind the Dodgers in the regular season, losing 14 of 19 games against their National League West rival.  But now, the Padres have a 2-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-five NL Division Series. 

The Padres would become the first team since the 1906 Chicago White Sox to win a postseason series against an opponent that won at least 22 more games in the regular season.

“Man, you’re blowing my mind with that history,’’ Machado said, tapping a reporter on his shoulder. “That’s unreal.’’ 

Manny Machado and Wil Myers embrace after the Padres' win in Game 3.

It was the first time since Oct. 10, 1998, that the Padres even won a postseason home game in front of their own fans. That’s 5,853 days ago for those counting back home. 

“Damn, I wasn’t even in high school then,’’ Machado said. “Middle school? Wait, I wasn’t even in middle school. I don’t know where I was.’’ 

He was six years old. 

“Wow!’’ Machado said, laughing aloud. “That’s hard to believe. That’s a long, long time ago.’’ 

Well, it wasn’t that long ago when Machado and Bryce Harper were the most coveted free agents in baseball after the 2018 season. Machado was heavily courted by the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees, before signing a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. 

The deal raised plenty of eyebrows. 

The Padres had just finished last in the NL West, going 66-96, finishing 25 ½ games behind the Dodgers. They managed only a four-game improvement in Machado’s first season with a 70-92 record, this time finishing 36 games behind the Dodgers. 

It was their ninth consecutive losing season, and their 14th without a playoff appearance. 

Still, Machado insisted he wasn’t coming to "America’s Finest City" just for a fat paycheck. He had faith in the organization. He trusted that ownership would spend. He believed the front office was committed to winning. Never, he said, did he waver in his belief that he made the right decision to come to San Diego. 

“I knew we had the potential to do this,’’ Machado said. “Now, look at us. We’re playing good baseball at the right time, and against a team that was the best in baseball all year. Hopefully, we’re the last one standing. 

“It ain’t going to be easy.’’ 

What Machado has done isn't lost on his teammates.

“This means so much to all of us,’’ says Padres hometown hero Joe Musgrove, who will start Saturday night, “but more so to Manny than anyone knows. I’m sure there’s a lot of things he’s done along the way that impacted the direction of the organization, as far as management and players.’’ 

If not for Machado, who should finish in the top three of the National League MVP race, maybe they don’t acquire starters Mike Clevinger, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in a four-month period in 2020. Or trade for Musgrove a year later, and sign him to a five-year, $100 million deal this summer. Maybe they don’t sign Fernando Tatis to a 14-year, $340 million contract in 2021. Or they don’t trade their prized prospects for Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury at the trade deadline this summer. 

“The team that we have and is getting this done right now,’’ Musgrove said, “he’s a big part of recruiting a lot of those guys, and offering a lot of input. I’m sure he feels a big part responsibility for helping us get here.’’ 

You take away Machado, and his .298 batting average, 32 homers, 102 RBI and 100 runs, and the Padres are sitting home on their couch right now, watching the Dodgers steamroll their way through October. 

“For Manny to stick with it, and literally put all of us on his back for 95% of the season,’’ said Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth, “has meant everything to everybody in this clubhouse.’’ 

When you have the chance to reach the NLCS for the first time since 1998, while ruining the Dodgers’ season at the same time, it just could be the greatest moment in the city’s sports history. 

“It’s really cool, especially finally getting to this point,’’ Padres outfielder Wil Myers said. “Obviously had some tough seasons here in San Diego, definitely lost a decent amount of games to the Dodgers, but I think this series can really cap that off to where those other games didn't mean anything. 

“If we can come away with this win here, I think that'll put all that to bed. This is a great time for San Diego.’’ 

If the Padres thought the environment was insane Friday night, can you imagine what one more victory will do? 

“That was surreal,’’ said Padres center fielder Trent Grisham, who hit his third homer of the postseason. “I mean, to see the city come together and cheer us on like that was nuts. That was the craziest game I've ever been a part of. 

“We'll see what happens [Saturday], but that was unbelievable.’’ 

Said Machado, who lives across the bridge in Coronado: “The city has been waiting for this a long time. They’re excited, as they should be. 

“It’s a beautiful thing.’’ 

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