July 20, 2024

SEOUL — An international phenomenon that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Korean television drama “Crash Landing on You” tells the story of a successful businesswoman who gets blown off course while paragliding above Seoul and finds herself stranded on the wrong side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. There, she encounters a captain in the North Korean army. A decidedly fictional romance develops.

That the two actors who portrayed these characters — Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin — eventually married each other only added to the show’s fairytale-like quality. That Son and Hyun attended Thursday night’s game at Gocheok Sky Dome only amplified the sometimes-surreal nature of Major League Baseball’s World Tour Seoul Series.

With the celebrity couple sitting near home plate — and with similarly prominent actors Lee Dong-wook and Gong Yoo, of “Squid Game” fame, perched directly behind them wearing Ha-Seong Kim jerseys — the San Diego Padres outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers 15-11 to record the highest-scoring contest ever between the teams, secure a split of a historic two-game series and conclude an unforgettable visit to the other side of the world.

“It was really a good trip and a fun trip,” Kim, a local hero, said through interpreter David Lee. “I think it gave me memories that will last forever.”

How could the Padres shortstop and his teammates forget what unfolded here? There was a false bomb threat and a faulty glove that helped shift the momentum in Wednesday’s sloppy season opener. There were the major-league debuts of Jackson Merrill and Yuki Matsui. There was the seismic news that the Dodgers had fired the longtime interpreter for $700 million man Shohei Ohtani amid a federal investigation of a Southern California bookmaking operation.

And in the ensuing chaos, there was a wild, back-and-forth game that gave the Padres their first win of 2024.

“I’m really proud of this group, the way we did it,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Complete identity game. A lot of courage, a lot of toughness, a lot of fight. To have that kind of game, especially after coming back from a tough one (Wednesday) … and keep going when they kept coming back at us like a heavyweight fight — winning feels good. It does.”

The Padres spoiled the long-awaited introduction of $325 million pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, scoring five runs in the first inning as the Dodgers right-hander battled his command and threw 43 pitches. He would not throw another in what went down as an impressive demonstration of how to handle a formidable, unfamiliar arm.

“I mean, there isn’t a scouting report,” Padres third baseman and current designated hitter Manny Machado said. “There’s a couple of videos of him from spring training, but it’s just a small sample size. So it was just go out there, compete … try to get on the board early. And that’s what we did.”

Meanwhile, the L.A. offense would not lay down. The Padres managed to never trail in a game that they led, at different points, 9-2, 9-6, 10-8 and 12-11. They piled up 17 hits and six walks against the Dodgers’ 16 hits and six walks. Finally, Machado provided resounding distance in the top of the ninth when he smashed a three-run homer.

“(The Dodgers), as you can see, with the lineup that they have, they just don’t give up,” said second baseman Xander Bogaerts, one of six Padres to tally multiple hits. “You know they’re going to put up runs on the board. They’re just capable of that with how deep their lineup is. Every time they responded, we responded back. That was huge.”

Jake Cronenworth, whose glove was a conspicuous culprit in the previous day’s defeat, arguably had the biggest game. The first baseman went 4-for-4 with four RBIs and a couple of nifty plays on defense; this time, his glove held together.

But the Padres also received three hits, including two run-scoring doubles, from catcher Luis Campusano. They got a pair of hits from utility player Tyler Wade, who so far has commendably filled in for Machado at third base. And they celebrated the first career hits for Merrill, who, in the first international trip of his life, became the first player younger than 21 to make his big-league debut outside of the United States or Canada.

“It was a blast,” Merrill, a budding center fielder, said after notching a single and a double that narrowly missed being a home run. “I mean, I wish we didn’t allow 11 runs; that was kind of crazy. But besides the first hit, I would’ve gone 0-for-5 with five punchouts — if we win the game, I’m OK with that.

“It doesn’t really matter what I did personally. It’s just, we won. Bottom line.”

Time will tell how the Padres translate a brief series in a foreign country. A little less than a year ago, a heralded team swept two games in the lunar atmosphere of Mexico City, described it as a potential inflection point and then slowly, painfully unraveled through the remainder of 2023. Thursday’s victory, for the second consecutive night, featured an abbreviated start on the mound; unlike Yu Darvish before him, Joe Musgrove didn’t even make it into the fourth inning.

And unlike at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú, the Padres saw a few of their opponent’s long drives — including a couple off the bat of Ohtani — die at the warning track. This sport remains heavily dependent on luck and what happens in the margins. Games can be won because of a matter of yards, feet and inches.

Amid the giddiness ahead of a long and happy flight, the Padres could at least take something from that: It was just one game, but they had repeatedly found ways to execute in their highest-scoring performance ever against the Dodgers. They will not soon forget this trip to South Korea, and they shouldn’t.

“All the hard work that we’ve done all spring training with all the little things have been paying off,” Machado said. “So, as a group, we’re going to continue to hold each other accountable to keep that level at the highest and continue doing the little things.”

(Photo of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado: Jung Yeon-Je / AFP via Getty Images)


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