How could a game with such high expectations possibly live up to its promise? I have no idea. But it did.
Arch-rivals squaring off in a postseason series for the first time. In a deciding Game 5. In front of a packed house at the game’s best ballpark. You kind of wanted it to go on forever, capturing us in some form of perpetual baseball ecstasy.
But that’s not how the game works. And for the Giants, this miraculous season ended with the most bitter taste imaginable, vanquished by the Dodgers, 2-1, on their own turf.
Fans will forever remember Cody Bellinger singling in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning off the young phenom Camilo Doval, driving in Justin Turner from second base and pointing at his own dugout in triumph as he sprinted to first, breaking the 1-1 tie.
There was a flicker of hope for the Giants in the bottom of the frame. When Lamonte Wade Jr. strode to plate after Kris Bryant reached on an error, it sure felt like some more magic was about to happen. “Late-night Lamont” had been turning in walk-off heroics all season, to a remarkable degree. But it wasn’t meant to be Thursday night. He got called out looking, on a questionable call by home plate umpire Doug Eddings. Wilmer Flores then whiffed on a really questionable check-swing (umpire Gabe Morales will never eat for free in this town) and the officiating crew had to hustle for cover as beer cans flew onto the field in protest.
A pretty ugly ending to a beautiful summer.
“It’s super tough,” said manager Gabe Kapler. “Obviously, you don’t want a game to end that way. … Obviously it’s going to be frustrating to have a game end like that, but a pretty high quality hitter at the plate can climb back into that count. There’s no guarantee of success in that at-bat. It’s just a tough way to end it.
“There are other reasons we didn’t win today’s baseball game. That was just the last call of the game.”
Asked how his players were handling the loss, Kapler grew reflective.
“I think players really care about each other…,” he said. “There are expressions of appreciation of a job well done for a very successful season that came up just a little bit short at the end. You’ve gotta tip your cap to the work that (the Dodgers) did. They beat us. “
But Kapler knows he has something special with this team.
“The trust that they showed each other was second to none,” he said. “I just respect the hell out of a team-first mentality. And I’ve never seen it like this.”
Even before the gates opened at Third and King, you could feel the anxiety in the streets as the tribes gathered. There was plenty of orange, and lots of blue, but not much merriment. It was as if everyone finally realized this dream scenario was going to end tonight. And it was going to hurt really bad for one side.
Once the action started, it was a night of tension and apprehension, interspersed with sheer joy and, finally, heartbreak. It was truly one of the better ballgames you’ll ever see. This wasn’t theater. It was opera.
Giants starter Logan Webb seemed to be the only one not sweating the magnitude of the stage. The postseason star didn’t flinch when Kapler handed him the ball. Using a tantalizing array of offspeed pitches, mixed in with some country hardball and a full variety of arm slots, Webb tortured the Dodgers for seven strong innings of four-hit ball. Let’s put it this way, Mookie Betts collected three of those hits. If the Dodgers’ right-fielder hadn’t been leading off, Webb’s miraculous performance could have been magical.
“I don’t think he could’ve pitched any better,” said Kapler, who lifted him for pinch-hitter Alex Dickerson in the eighth inning. “I still think Logan pitched excellent … even to Mookie.
“Mookie just got the job done.”
Either way, the young man cemented his status as a big-game performer, inching his way closer to comparisons to San Francisco legends like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. He’s not there yet, but it sure is nice that someone’s trying to step into those big spikes.
“The crowd was just awesome,” said Webb, who comes across like a very affable college kid at times. “That was so cool.”
But what about Mookie? “He’s a special player,” said Webb. “There’s a reason he’s so special.”
On the Dodgers’ side, the game was changed dramatically before the first pitch was thrown. L.A. manager Dave Roberts announced early Thursday that expected starter Julio Urias would not take the mound to face the Giants in the first inning. Instead, he would use the modern, analytics-driven “opener” approach, sending out reliever Corey Knebel to start the game and perhaps bring Urias out of the bullpen.
Roberts made it pretty clear in pregame comments that the decision had come down from on-high, but he stood behind it. “It’s from all the way to the tippy-top of the Dodgers organization on down. It was a decision that we all made together.” Asked if it was a unanimous decision, he said, “I do not get more than one vote. No, I don’t. No, I don’t.”
Something about the Dodgers’ decision felt deflating at first. This had been such a marquee matchup, between the young Giants’ ace and the only pitcher to win 20 games in the Big Leagues this season. Then, suddenly, it was Logan Webb against a guy named Knebel (which rhymes with Knievel). But, ultimately, the move worked well for the Dodgers. They were able to dictate change in the game, forcing Kapler to make substitutions when Roberts changed pitchers, adhering to the usual righty-lefty matchups dictated by baseball’s golden rules.
Knebel did fine, giving way to Brusdar Graterol, before Urias finally emerged to pitch brilliantly. In the ultimate nod to strangeness, starter Max Scherzer got the final outs for L.A., on those two controversial strikeouts.
Basically, the Dodgers played the game backwards. And it worked.
“This is what the postseason’s all about,” said Kapler. “You face the best pitchers. … I actually think we put good at-bats together, but we couldn’t get it done.” Darin Ruf accounted for the only Giants run on the night, smoking a home run to dead center in the sixth, having just missed two other round-trippers on long outs to Triple’s Alley earlier on.
The game represented a pretty interesting sign of the times, considering the Giants and Dodgers are both on the cutting edge of analytics-driven baseball, using numbers and data to make decisions that used to fall largely to instinct and guts. And the equation proved successful for both franchises. The teams won 107 and 106 games, respectively.
Then they turned in the best National League Division Series in memory. It was two parts history, mixed with one part respect and a good measure of hatred.
And that recipe, my friends, resulted in a masterpiece. A horrible, heartbreaking masterpiece.