Giants vs. Dodgers heading for Game 5: A historic matchup

‘Both teams know each other well. It’s pretty much as simple as that.’

And just like that. The Giants’ season comes down to one game. Winner take all. Against the Dodgers.

What a remarkable development, considering. San Francisco set a team record with 107 wins, yet barely won the division due to the relentless pursuit from Down South. The Giants took residence of first place in May, yet the Dodgers never let up and forced the issue until the very last day of the season.

The result? A baseball fan’s dream. Oracle Park will host a historic matchup Thursday night, pitting the two best teams in baseball against one another to decide the National League Division Series.

How did we get here? Well, these two evenly matched squads split the first four games of the NLDS, capped by the Dodgers’ dominant 7-2 victory Tuesday night. We’ve seen remarkable pitching. Timely hitting. Tremendous defense.

Now, we’ll see the best of the West, head-to-head. Marbles in play. The spirit of Bobby Thomson.. and Juan Marichal… and his buddy Johnny Roseboro will be on the field. Don Drysdale and Joe Morgan and Brian Johnson. Don’t forget Willie Mays, and his godson Barry Bonds. They’ll all be there, in our hearts and memories, representing the best rivalry in baseball history.

We could hash out the details of the Giants’ Game 4 defeat. Sure. San Francisco had touched up Dodgers ace right-hander Walker Buehler twice in the last couple of weeks, so it was a stretch to think they could make it a hat trick. They didn’t. Beuhler pitched beautifully into the fifth inning, enjoying the early four runs his sidekicks provided against Giants’ starter Anthony DeSclafani, who only lasted 1-1/3 innings, and a parade of relievers who came on.

On the flip side, the Giants couldn’t get the offense going. A hit here, a couple of runners there, but L.A. kept San Francisco from touching home early on, forcing them to come home for the decisive Game 5. The Giants threatened in the fifth, loading the bases, but only mustered one run against a stout Dodger defense. It just wasn’t their night at the plate.

“I feel like our team and the Dodgers team have been playing meaningful games for awhile now,” said Giants catcher Buster Posey, after the loss. “Obviously, this game coming up Thursday is going to be the most meaningful game. It should be fun.”

“Both teams know each other well. … It’s pretty much as simple as that.”

Let’s get beyond the basics. You watched the game on TV. You listened on the radio. And you scoured the box score on ESPN. Let’s talk about what this all means.

This is an epic moment in baseball history, pitting two arch-rivals against each other on one of the game’s biggest stages. It’s a shame it’s happening in the NLDS, as Evan Longoria pointed out earlier this week. When one team wins 107 games, and the other wins 106, they shouldn’t meet in the first round.

But baseball is a game of tradition. You could argue about reforming the postseason, ranking teams by wins like the NBA, but I’d say it would distort the sanctity of the game. Baseball relies on statistical comparison and historical norms. Don’t switch things up for an anomaly, Wild Card era be damned. Two teams with those win totals just doesn’t happen, so no change needed. Let’s enjoy the de facto World Series in the first round, chin strokers be damned.

Which brings up another great debate. Can either of these teams sustain their intensity after this series? I mean, it’s like vanquishing the Night King in the first round and then taking on the High Sparrow next. Letdown could be reality.

But that’s for another day. Today, we celebrate baseball. Ninety feet from base to base. Sixty feet, six-inches from mound to plate. Exactly 380 miles from Dodger Stadium to Oracle Park. These are the metrics known. Let’s take measure and enjoy.

“If you have a pulse, or a sports fan,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “You better be watching Giants-Dodgers.”

Well said, sir.

The result of Thursday night’s tilt remains eminently unknown. Can the Giants make a little more magic at the intersection of Third and King? Will Logan Webb cement his place in Giants history with another stellar start? Or will the Dodgers turn this dream into a nightmare, stealing San Francisco’s soul once again? How will the Giants deal with L.A.’s last-minute decision to start reliever Corey Knebel, rather than 20-game-winner Julio Urias?

“We’re going to get together and look at the last game against Urias and plan accordingly,”Giants manager Gabe Kapler, who has handled his first postseason with San Francisco with cool confidence, took the news in stride.

“It’s understandable,” said Kapler before Game 5. “I don’t thi9nnk it was unexpected. Certainly changes the way we were thinnking about today’s game, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

He revealed that he had heard about the pitching change from none other than Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who sent him a courtesy text Wednesday night.

That’s why they play the games, as they say, and this just feels like more than a game. It feels like a referendum. All variables have been cast aside with one pure contest before us. The Giants’ nine against the Dodgers’ nine. History lies in the balance. 

asaracevic@sfexaminer.com

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