It’s the Dodgers and the Giants: Enough said
It was so long ago that Frank and Jamie McCourt skipped onto the field and danced in front of the dugout like honeymooners.
It was so crazy that the staggering Dodgers clinched the National League West on the next-to-last day of the season, on a walk-off grand slam by a guy they had imported two months earlier and would discard one month later.
It was the last time the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were in a real pennant race, down the stretch and into the final series. It was 2004 and the Dodgers won the NL West by two games over the Giants.
The Dodgers and Giants have accounted for five of the last six NL West titles, but the rivals have not finished so close to each other since that Steve Finley grand slam a decade ago. This could be the September that reheats the rivalry, with the Dodgers taking a two-game lead over the Giants into a three-game series that starts Friday in San Francisco.
“It’s great for the division. It’s great for baseball. It’s great for history,” Dodgers broadcaster and former pitcher Orel Hershiser said. “Baseball would get a jolt.
“If Oakland and Seattle went down the stretch, I’m not sure the nation would be as interested. There’s a national interest if the Dodgers and Giants come down to the wire.”
Of the three rivalries generally ranked as baseball’s best, the Dodgers-Giants is the only one that is relevant this September. The St. Louis Cardinals might be in first place, but the Chicago Cubs are in last. And this postseason could well be the first since 1993 without either the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.
“If you get into a situation where you’re trying to win the division, whoever you are battling with, it’s going to be special,” Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said. “This one may be a touch more.
“You have to play everybody with heart and focus and passion. But this has a little different feel to it because of the rivalry.”
In 2004, as assistant general manager of the Giants, Colletti was at Dodger Stadium for the final weekend of the season. The Giants had cut the Dodgers’ lead from six games on Sept. 10 to a half-game on Sept. 22.
The Dodgers started the final week with four games against the Colorado Rockies, winning three — all in walk-off fashion — to maintain a three-game lead in the NL West. The Giants arrived at Dodger Stadium needing to win all three to force a tie.
“We were kind of hanging on,” said Tim Wallach, a Dodgers coach then and now.
The Giants won the series opener, 4-2. They led the second game, 3-0, with one out in the ninth inning. They never got the second out, as the Dodgers scored seven runs, the final four on Finley’s grand slam.
“This is what we all play for,” Wallach said. “When it comes down to you and the team you have been rivals with for years and years, this is what you play for.”
Hershiser made his major league debut for the Dodgers in 1983, when the Giants were a dozen years removed from their last postseason appearance. In the interim, the Dodgers had been in the World Series four times.
“When I first got to the big leagues, everyone said the rivalry only went one way,” Hershiser said, “which was, ‘The Giants are trying to beat the Dodgers, and the Dodgers are trying to win the world championship.’”
As the Giants revived their franchise — they have appeared in the World Series four times, winning twice, since the Dodgers last got there in 1988 — Hershiser got the chance to play one season in San Francisco.
“There is a different passion for baseball in San Francisco than there is in L.A.,” Hershiser said. “I think the L.A. passion is, ‘We love L.A. These are our Dodgers.’
“And I think in San Francisco, the Giants are in some ways like their kids. There is a really deep passion in how they voice it. Even when the Giants are losing, it seems like there is an intensity there.”
Is the intensity there among the current generation of players — in this era of widespread free agency — or just among the fans?
“I think it takes some years for the rosters to stay the same for it to run as deep with the players as it does with the fans,” Hershiser said. “When it was Matt Williams against Orel Hershiser, when it was Fernando Valenzuela against Jeff Leonard, I think there is a rivalry with the players.
“When the rosters change a little bit — and a little more often in certain generations — I think definitely there is more passion in the stands than there is on the field.”
There might be no more polarizing figure in the rivalry than Tom Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager who was routinely pelted with boos just for setting foot at San Francisco’s old Candlestick Park.
Lasorda, who turns 87 when the Giants play at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 22, put on his curmudgeon face at the notion that a tight pennant race for this rivalry is the way baseball ought to be.
“We’re supposed to be ahead a lot more,” Lasorda said. “That’s the way I like it.”
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