Column: Dodgers and Giants finished the season one win apart. They’re one big win apart again
Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford didn’t have time to think.
The Dodgers were threatening to erase San Francisco’s 1-0 lead in the seventh inning Monday, applying pressure by putting runners on first and second late in a game that would put either team within a victory of winning their National League Division Series. Giants starter Alex Wood had stifled the Dodgers’ best efforts, limiting them to two hits, but they finally got to the bullpen for two singles in the seventh. That brought Mookie Betts to bat in a game-tipping situation.
Betts took the first pitch from Jake McGee for a ball. Betts rapped the next pitch sharply, promisingly, toward left field.
Crawford reacted instinctively. Leaping like the high school basketball dunker he once was, he soared high in the air near the far edge of the dirt, just before the grass. When he came down, he had the ball in his glove, and the Dodgers had wasted a prime scoring chance.
“There’s not a whole lot of time for anything to really go through my head. Just ‘catch the ball.’ That’s all I’m thinking,” Crawford said.
“I think it had a little bit of topspin on it, fortunately, and it was right over my head, so I was able to just jump and hope that it goes in my glove.”
The Dodgers are staring at the cold reality of being one loss away from playoff elimination after another frustrating loss to the San Francisco Giants.
Giants third baseman Evan Longoria, who broke a long slump and provided the only run by driving a leadoff home run to left in the fifth inning, leaped alongside his teammate when Betts made contact. “The biggest defensive play of the game, without a doubt,” Longoria said.
The Giants held onto that 1-0 lead because Crawford held onto that ball and because rookie closer Camilo Doval pitched two perfect innings. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he had no problem with most of his team’s at-bats, but the quality was less important than the result after being shut out twice in three games and being forced to face elimination Tuesday in Game 4 at Dodger Stadium.
“I thought we took some good at-bats and we just didn’t get rewarded,” Roberts said. “Collectively I thought we did a nice job tonight. Better than kind of the goose eggs we threw out.”
Dodgers players Max Scherzer and Albert Pujols, along with manager Dave Roberts, talk about the Dodgers’ 1-0 loss in NLDS Game 3 against the San Francisco Giants.
The swirling winds that brought a chill to Dodger Stadium and made every fly ball an adventure helped Doval by pushing back pinch hitter Gavin Lux’s hard-hit fly ball to left-center field with two out in the ninth, a blow that Roberts, Longoria and Crawford were certain would go over the fence. “My stomach pretty much sank when he hit it. I couldn’t believe that it didn’t,” Longoria said.
But the Dodgers lost not because of the weather but because the Giants got the kind of timely hits and clutch performances they enjoyed all season while winning 107 games and edging out the Dodgers for first in the NL West. They were one win apart during the season, and they’re one win apart now. One big win.
Doval’s save was especially noteworthy because he’s not accustomed to that kind of pressure and not accustomed to being called upon to make two-inning saves. Yet Giants manager Gabe Kapler saw something in him beyond the right-hander’s pitching arsenal.
Evan Longoria is making the most of his long-awaited return to the playoffs, hitting a solo home run to lift the Giants to victory in Game 3 of the NLDS.
“It’s one thing to ask a guy to close out big games without a long track record of success, and it’s kind of another step to do what he did to come into an inning that wasn’t necessarily going to be his inning. But you kind of found yourself right in the middle of the lineup, and he was certainly the right guy for that moment,” Kapler said.
“But then to have him be so successful in that first inning and him have so much confidence to go back out there and do it again, I think this one was the most impressive of all. Not necessarily from a stuff perspective. Slider’s been nasty at times. He’s kind of a 100, 101 [mph pitcher], like he was tonight. So that wasn’t the surprise. It was just the calm, the poise, the teammate behavior to get back out there and do it for a second inning [that] was really impressive.”
Kapler said his Game 4 starter will be right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, who had wildly varying results against the Dodgers this season. They pummeled DeSclafani for nine hits and 10 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings May 23, but he held them to two hits over six scoreless innings Sept. 3 in his last appearance against them. He was 13-7 with a 3.17 earned-run average in 31 games, all starts.
“DeSclafani’s had a really nice year for us,” Kapler said. “You look back to the beginning of the season, you just kind of objectively look at his performance, he’s done a really nice job, and he’s prepared for this, he wants it, he’s ready and he’s the right choice for us.”
If Kapler is right again, as he was with Doval, the Dodgers will go home and the Giants will advance to the NL Championship Series. A fifth game, if necessary, will be played Thursday in San Francisco. “Everything is on the table,” Roberts said.
It has to be. And Longoria expects to get the Dodgers’ best shot. “That’s a really good baseball team. They bounced back after our Game 1 win. Their offense showed up,” he said of the Dodgers’ 9-2 victory in Game 2 at San Francisco.
“We definitely know they’re not going to roll over. They’ve been down before and figured out ways to come back, and they definitely have the players to do it. Hopefully as a group we come out and try and get on top and silence this crowd a little bit, but it’s not going to be easy.”
It’s simple for the Dodgers: Win or their season is over.
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