Jeff Servente is devoted to two things, his family and the San Francisco Giants. So to avoid having to choose between them, he proposed to his wife, Karina, at AT&T Park.
He even kept the Giants in mind when buying the ring, following their lead by bypassing an ostentatious design for something utilitarian: a simple silver band topped with a single diamond.
“That was a third-stringer ring,” Servente, decked out in a Madison Bumgarner jersey, joked Sunday as he walked the crowded concourse before San Francisco’s 7-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
But then as the Giants have proven over the past six seasons, it’s not what you spend but what you buy that counts. And that has opened a whole new front in the storied feud between the Dodgers and Giants, a rivalry that will be renewed Monday when the Giants come to Los Angeles for a crucial three-game series.
Since 2010 the Dodgers have spent more than $1.07 billion on player salaries yet made the playoffs only twice, winning just one postseason series. San Francisco has spent about $180 million less over that same span and won three World Series championships.
FOR THE RECORD
Aug. 31, 10:03 a.m.: An earlier version of this article reported that the Giants had spent about $260 million less than the Dodgers in player payroll since 1991. The amount is $180 million.
And that’s something Giants fans point to with satisfaction: They say the Dodgers may have a bigger checkbook but their team has bigger hearts.
“It reminds me of the big spenders like the Yankees, trying to create a team based on money instead of the heart that’s in the team. Which is what the Giants have been these last six years,” Edwin Olson said as he watched his two young sons hack at plastic balls with thin plastic bats beneath the center-field stands.
“Those young teams that have heart and want to win, they’re the guys that win. It’s not about the money.”
Stability has been another important part of the Giants’ foundation. While the Dodgers have had two ownership groups, two general managers and two managers over the last six seasons, the Giants have made just one change since 2008, promoting GM Brian Sabean to executive vice president for baseball operations last spring.
“The Giants have a formula and sort of a plan on how to approach their roster. And it’s not always about paying the highest dollars,” said Steve Toland, a lifelong Giants fan from Oakland, as he stood with his son in the outfield bleachers, wearing a faded Barry Bonds T-shirt.
“It’s more about the chemistry in the clubhouse and how you build a team from that direction. Their results prove that the model works.”
Injuries have chipped away at that model this year, with the Giants coming to Dodger Stadium with three-fifths of their rotation and three everyday starters on the disabled list. But unlike the Dodgers, the Giants haven’t thrown money at their problems. They made just two late-season acquisitions, sending three minor leaguers to Cincinnati for nine-game winner Mike Leake and outfielder Marlon Byrd in separate deals that figure to cost the Giants less than $4.6 million.
Which isn’t to say the Giants are cheap; their opening-day payroll of $173 million, more than double the figure from just seven years ago, ranked second in the National League to just one team — the Dodgers, who will spend a little more than $300 million on player salaries.
That $127-million difference to the bottom line has bought the Dodgers just a slight difference in the standings though. And there’s virtually no difference between where the teams were at this point last summer.
After 130 games in 2014 the Giants were 69-61 and four games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. They’ll start Monday with the same record, in second again, by almost the same margin.
But at this time last season San Francisco also had a comfortable hold on the NL’s second wild-card berth, which got the Giants into a postseason that ended with them hoisting the World Series trophy for the third time in five years.
This year their most viable route to the postseason appears to be a division title, and a sweep of the Dodgers would bring them closer to achieving that. Getting swept, on the other hand, could all but end their season.
“This series coming up is a critical series. We know it,” said Giants Manager Bruce Bochy, whose team has won nine of 12 from the Dodgers this season. “This time of year . . . you look forward to series like this.
“Especially when you’re behind. Your best chance is playing the team that’s ahead of you.”
Back on the concourse, Jeff Servente is still celebrating the Giants despite Sunday’s loss. However, he admits the team’s success has come at a high cost for fans, who have seen the demand for tickets drive prices well beyond what the Dodgers charge.
“I don’t come to as many games anymore,” Servente complained. “They’re pricing the middle class out.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11