By Andy McCullough / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The sign of capitulation took the form of a manager with three World Series rings this decade and seemingly endless nights of angst these last three months.
In the second inning Wednesday of a 9-3 Los Angeles Dodgers victory, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy lurched up his dugout steps, shuffled to the mound and held out his hand. Matt Moore, a left-hander who devastated the Dodgers inside this ballpark less than a month prior, handed over the baseball and shuffled out of sight. A division race may have disappeared with him.
The race for the National League West is not over. Not yet, not with 10 games left in the regular season. But the Dodgers own a commanding six-game lead, and any combination of five victories of their own plus losses by San Francisco will seal a fourth division title in a row.
To reach this position of strength, the Dodgers (86-66) maintained a 92-win pace while the Giants decayed. The home club captured a series this week at Dodger Stadium in thrilling fashion. On Monday, Yasiel Puig induced a temper tantrum by San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner that led to Bumgarner’s premature departure from the game and a ninth-inning comeback. Two days later, Puig sideswiped Moore with a three-run homer to highlight a five-run first inning and usher him closer to the exits.
After flirting with a no-hitter during his last appearance here, Moore collected only three outs. The Dodgers pasted a six-run bill on his tab, which granted plenty of room for Kenta Maeda, who logged five innings of two-run baseball.
Maeda earned a tidy sum Wednesday. For making his 30th start of the year, he received a $1.5 million bonus. His eight-year contract contains an annual guarantee of $3 million, but Maeda has already pushed that figure to $11.15 million in 2016. When he records one more inning, he’ll have 170 on this season, which translates to another $250,000 bonus.
The first inning lasted 24 pitches for Maeda. He walked leadoff hitter Denard Span on four pitches. Span took second on a passed ball by backup catcher Carlos Ruiz. San Francisco outfielder Angel Pagan handed Moore a lead with an RBI single into right. Puig nearly cut down Span at the plate, but Span barely beat the throw.
Puig would answer in the bottom of the inning. His teammates did damage first.
On Aug. 25, Moore toyed with the Dodgers. He procured 26 outs before he allowed his first hit of the evening, a well-placed bloop from Corey Seager. The Dodgers often flail against left-handed pitchers. On that night, the team also appeared befuddled by Moore’s sudden reliance on a recently developed cut fastball.
“We understand what he’s going to do and how he’s going to approach us,” manager Dave Roberts said Wednesday before the game.
Roberts did not have to worry. Moore yielded a hit before he recorded an out — Howie Kendrick led off with a single, before being replaced on the bases by Seager after a fielder’s choice. Justin Turner laid off a trio of two-strike pitches to take a walk. Adrian Gonzalez opened the scoring by re-directing a cutter into left field for an RBI single.
Puig was not in the lineup when Moore dissected the Dodgers last month. He was toiling with Oklahoma City, riding minor league buses and awaiting a return to the ballpark that feted him like a star. In the years since his debut, Puig has merited that adulation on an intermittent basis. On Wednesday, he basked in it.
Puig declined to chase a first-pitch curveball that hit the dirt. He tattooed an inside fastball on the next pitch. Puig hustled around the bases, pressing on Gonzalez’s heels as he crossed the plate. Puig pointed skyward and found his dugout teeming with happiness.
Maeda provided an extra bit of cheer. He came up after infield singles by Ruiz and reserve outfielder Enrique Hernandez. Maeda punched an elevated fastball into center field for a single.
Hernandez got caught in a rundown between second base and third, but not before Ruiz came home.
Up four runs, Maeda handed one back in the second. An inside fastball to shortstop Ehire Adrianza hooked inside the right-field pole for a homer.
Moore did not exactly unravel in his second inning. He hit Kendrick with a pitch. He gave up a groundball single to Seager. There were runners at the corners with none out. Bochy had seen enough.
His bullpen has vexed him for months, but Bochy trusted his relievers rather than Moore. The results were predictable. Turner delivered a sacrifice fly in the second. Kendrick roped a two-run double in the third. Andrew Toles came off the bench with an RBI double in the fifth.
Bochy offered even more capitulation in the bottom the sixth inning. He removed several starters, including catcher Buster Posey and outfielder Hunter Pence in a series of wholesale changes that actually delayed the game for a couple minutes. The implication of the substitutions was clear.
The division race did not end on Wednesday. It only felt that way.