SAN FRANCISCO — The first-ever modern era playoff matchup between the rivals. A 107-win division champion and a 106-win wild card juggernaut. A winner-take-all Game 5 decided in the final moments.
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From Opening Day to the final act at Oracle Park on Thursday night, the Giants and Dodgers pushed each other in a way never before seen in the storied history of a rivalry whose roots were grown more than 3,000 miles away.
And after the Giants narrowly edged out the Dodgers in a historic division race, it was the Dodgers who beat the Giants with a ninth-inning rally that left San Francisco and rookie closer Camilo Doval heartbroken following a 2-1 loss.
The Giants spent the ninth-inning hoping that one of their hitters could deliver the type of closing salvo Bobby Thomson did in 1951 when his Shot Heard ‘Round the World lifted the New York Giants past the Brooklyn Dodgers to secure a National League pennant, but Los Angeles turned to Game 3 starter Max Scherzer to close the door on the Giants’ dream season.
A Giants team that felt the bats were taken out of its hands throughout the series by poor umpiring had its season end when Wilmer Flores appeared to successfully check his swing on a pitch in the dirt and was called out anyway by first base umpire Gabe Morales.
The hero from the 24th and final matchup between the teams this year happened to be the worst player throughout the Giants and Dodgers head-to-head regular season matchups. With two on and one out in the ninth, Cody Bellinger, who went 2-for-50 against the Giants during the regular season, saw four consecutive sliders from Doval before drilling one into right center field for a go-ahead base hit.
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Doval routinely touches triple digits on the radar gun with his fastball, but he appeared to lose confidence in his fastball after hitting Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner with a 100-mile per hour four-seamer with one-out in the ninth. After Doval threw center fielder Gavin Lux five straight sliders, he fed the left-handed hitter a fastball that found a hole on the left side of the infield to advance Turner into scoring position.
That’s when Bellinger came through with a hit that will define his legacy and be the lasting memory from a year that brought unparalleled drama to the rivalry.
Before 24-year-old Logan Webb delivered the first pitch to Dodgers leadoff man Mookie Betts, Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts had already lobbed the game’s first curveball. Seven hours before first pitch, the Dodgers announced reliever Corey Knebel, not 20-game winner Julio Urías, would start Thursday’s game.
One of baseball’s best starters needed an opener? To have a chance to take down the National League West champions, Roberts said it gave the Dodgers their best chance to win.
Truth be told, it didn’t hurt.
Knebel and reliever Brusdar Graterol each had a Giants baserunner reach scoring position in the first two innings, but when Urías finally took the mound in the bottom of the third, the game was still scoreless.
While the Giants’ offense missed early opportunities, it was never out of the game thanks to a dominant starter who tamed the National League’s highest-scoring offense for the second time in a week.
After leading the Giants to a division-clinching win on the final day of the regular season against the Padres and a victory in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Webb returned to the mound at Oracle Park on Thursday with an opportunity to rewrite the top line of his big-game résumé for the third consecutive start.
Of the five hits Webb allowed in his Game 1 start against the Dodgers, two were singles from Betts, who is at his best on the game’s biggest stage. Betts was practically a one-man show against Webb again on Thursday, as he recorded three singles in three at-bats including a line drive hit with one out in the top of the sixth.
After being stranded on the basepaths following each of his first two hits, Betts stole second in the sixth and jogged home for the game’s first run on a softly-hit double into shallow left field from Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager. Seager became the first Dodgers’ player aside from Betts to reach base against Webb, but it gave Los Angeles a 1-0 lead that appeared significant in a series in which the team that had scored first won each of the first four games.
The Giants, however, answered immediately in the bottom of the inning as Ruf came to the plate determined to hit a ball where no Dodgers outfielder could track it down. After lacing a 377-foot flyout in his first at-bat and a 378-foot flyout his next time up, Ruf launched a towering 452-foot solo home run to straightaway center field that drew the loudest cheer of the season to date from the Oracle Park crowd.
Ruf entered his sixth inning plate appearance 0-for-9 in the series, but majestic homer reset the game and reinvigorated the Giants dugout.
With the game tied at 1-1, the Giants sent Webb back to the mound and all he did was wrap up a sensational outing with a 1-2-3 inning punctuated by an eight-pitch strikeout that again brought the crowd to its feet.
The crowd ended the game there, too. At the final out, however, they were staring in disbelief.
An unforgettable journey is over.