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Commentary: The View from the North: Of course, Dodgers-Giants had to come down to one last game

Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
 2021-10-14
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Dodgers' Will Smith rounds the bases after a two-run home run during the eighth inning in Game 4 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

All tied up.

Two wins apiece in the series.

One hundred and nine wins each on the season.

And one game to decide it all . The most epic game in the 132-year history between the two teams.

Dodgers versus Giants in San Francisco on an October Thursday night, for the right to advance to the National League Championship Series to face the Atlanta Braves . You might want to clear your calendars.

The Dodgers forced a deciding game, with a decisive 7-2 victory in Game 4 .

“This is what baseball wants,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “All the other series are done, so we're going to be the only show in town.

“If you have a pulse or you're a sports fan you better be watching Dodgers-Giants. It's going to be a great one."

Of course, it had to be this way. The drama of the rivalry dictated it. The narrative of this season demanded it. This series was destined to go the distance; the Giants and Dodgers will use every inning available.

And now, deliciously and improbably, in the 21st year of the 21st century, we will witness the biggest matchup between these teams that have been fierce rivals since the 1800s.

What game has ever been bigger between the Dodgers and the Giants? You could argue Game 157 at the Polo Grounds in 1951 or Game 165 at Dodger Stadium in 1962. Those teams have become mythical, loaded with legends, dripping in lore. But they were regular-season games, played to decide which team advanced directly to the World Series.

Thursday’s victory will win a playoff series. And it will knock their bitter rival out of the postseason.

“We’ve both been playing meaningful games for awhile now,” Buster Posey said. “Obviously this one coming up on Thursday is the most meaningful to this point. It should be fun.”

It was pretty obvious from the start of Game 4 — actually maybe from the end of Game 3 when the Dodgers realized they had just one game to save their season — that the Dodgers would be the favorites. They had to go for broke, with all their impressive muscle.

The Dodgers went to one of their best pitchers, Walker Buehler, starting on short rest. The Giants stayed with journeyman Anthony DeSclafani, who was 0-3 with a 7.33 ERA in six regular-season starts against the Dodgers this season.

The Dodgers have won five elimination games in a row, dating to last year’s NLCS, when they won three do-or-die games against Atlanta; they continued that streak with their wild-card win and Tuesday night’s Game 4.

“The thing that gives me confidence is we’ve been in this situation before,” Roberts said. “All we talk about for the last six years is preparing to win one baseball game. The magnitude of the games are certainly different ... but it still goes in line with our ideology to use 26 guys to come together to win one baseball game.”

That is the Giants’ philosophy, too. It’s how their season has been built: inning by inning, game by game, micro-focused on the process and the work. No pondering the big picture. No peeking up at the horizon.

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San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey tags out Dodgers' Gavin Lux at home during the fifth inning in Game 4 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

But the horizon has arrived, on the shores of McCovey Cove.

Someone’s beautiful season is about to end.

For much of Tuesday’s game, the matchup looked like what everyone expected when the season started. The Dodgers appeared dominant, and the Giants didn’t look like they had enough. DeSclafani got hit hard early and recorded only five outs, while giving up five hits and putting the Giants in an early hole. That was a bad omen, as the team that has scored first has won all the games.

The game taxed the Giants’ bullpen. By the third inning, the Giants were already on their fourth pitcher. By the fifth, they had used six. Altogether, Gabe Kapler used eight pitchers.

Tuesday was a cool night but lacking the whipping wind and wild gusts of Game 3. The ballpark didn’t play as small as it sometimes does, but Mookie Betts hit a ball out to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead.

Still, somehow that didn’t feel like enough. Everyone has learned not to be fooled by the Giants, even if they’re having an off night. This team has surprised people all season, forcing the deepest skeptics to become believers.

Kris Bryant was a bit of a skeptic when he came to San Francisco early in the season, wearing a Cubs uniform.

“You see some guys have big games and you’re like, ‘Who are you?’ ” Bryant remembered. “I mean really young guys that just burst on the scene.”

Then he joined the team midseason and now calls it “unique.”

“Certain guys that maybe some people have never heard of doing unbelievable things this year,” Bryant said. “And then older guys too. It’s a really unique combo when you have veterans doing well and younger, newer guys doing well, too.”

As the season went on, the Dodgers, too, learned to respect their opponent. They went from not worried to aware to fighting for their competitive lives over the course of six months. So even though the Dodgers looked like they were dominating the game on Tuesday night, they knew they weren’t out of the woods. The Giants have fought back and found a way to win too many times this season.

The Giants didn’t do it in Game 4. Which means nothing for this team with a short memory.

So on to Game 5. The Giants are going to have to fight and claw in the 24th meeting of the season between the historic rivals.

“Because of the familiarity, we think alike,” Roberts said. “We know each other's playbook, so now it’s just old school: We're going to run the ball to the right and you're going to have to stop us. Like Vince Lombardi. We know what we do, they know what we do, we know who they want to have the baseball in Game 5, they know who we want and the matchups that we're trying to get.

“Now it's about going out there and executing. And the best team wins.”

One more game. Only the biggest game in the rivalry’s history.

Ann Killion is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times .

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