Column: Dodgers settle old scores, crush bad memories in grudge-match triumph over Giants
The Dodgers win the series! The Dodgers win the series! The Dodgers win the series! The Dodgers win the series!
There’s a new radio call in town. There’s a new ruler of an ancient rivalry. There’s a new answer to the endless bellowing Bay Area chants of “Beat L.A. ... Beat L.A.”
Cody Bellinger’s two-run single in the ninth pushes the Dodgers to a 2-1 series-clinching win over the Giants and an NLCS showdown with the Braves.
On a harried, howling Thursday night at Oracle Park, with orange towels flapping in their faces and desperate jeers grabbing at their ankles, the Dodgers crushed memories and settled scores to win the greatest grudge match in franchise history.
In arguably the biggest game in the two teams’ 131 years of competition, the Dodgers not only beat the San Francisco Giants, but finished them, ended them, and climbed over them on their way to deep October.
In the first postseason duel in the team’s 2,540 games of competitive history, in the fifth and deciding game of the National League Division Series, the Dodgers sliced and slashed their way to a ninth-inning run to capture a 2-1 victory and series win.
Welcome to the rivalry history, Cody Bellinger’s last-gasp slashing single to right field with one out in the ninth. It scored Justin Turner with the eventual winning run. Bellinger pointed into the jubilant Dodgers dugout all the way to first base. He knew, and they knew.
“They’re obviously an unbelievable team … it’s an unbelievable win … to come in here and take that victory,” Bellinger said.
Determined Max Scherzer finishes off an unusual game plan that delays Julio Urías’ start in instant-classic series for the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Welcome to the rivalry history, also, to starter Max Scherzer, who took the mound in the bottom of the ninth in relief and survived the Giants, ending the game on a controversial strikeout of Wilmer Flores with Kris Bryant on first base, bringing the Dodgers dancing out of their dugout.
Replays show that Flores clearly checked his swing on an 0-and-2 pitch, but first-base umpire Gabe Morales saw otherwise, called him out, ending the tumultuous series in turmoil.
And with the first save in Scherzer’s 14-year career.
“That’s Scherzer being Scherzer, man,” Bellinger said. “He’s a gamer. He’s a competitor.”
The Giants fans who had been so loud and harrowing all night filed out of the building cursing and gesturing. Meanwhile, several hundred Dodgers fans stayed, gathering behind the Dodgers’ dugout to serenade their champagne-swilling heroes when they emerged to take a bow.
“Moo-kie, Moo-kie,” they cried to Mookie Betts, who had four hits and scored a run.
“MVP, MVP,” they shouted at the shirtless Scherzer.
“Ju-lio, Ju-lio,” they cheered the starting pitcher Julio Urías, who didn’t actually start but pitched four strong innings anyway.
The Dodgers were elated, energized, and completely exhausted.
“We poured everything we could into this series and it took everything we had to beat these guys,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
The Giants, despite finishing the season with 109 total wins and the best record in baseball, are done.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, advance to the National League Championship Series for the fifth time in six years, and for the second consecutive time against the Atlanta Braves, in a best-of-seven duel beginning Saturday in Atlanta.
Their Truist Park home is sterile. Their rivalry with the Dodgers is none. After enduring five games of Giants madness, it’s going to initially feel weird.
“There is no letdown,” claimed Roberts. “I have no doubt our guys are going to come ready to beat the Braves.”
Last fall the Braves led the Dodgers 3-1 in the NLCS before the Dodgers won three straight games to propel them to a World Series which they eventually won. But this year, the Braves don’t seem equipped to offer a similar challenge, as they finished the regular season with 18 fewer wins while scoring 135 fewer runs. The Braves will be without their most exciting player, the injured Ronald Acuna Jr., and could be missing one of his power-hitting replacements, the COVID-sidelined Jorge Soler.
The Braves will have home-field advantage because they won the National League East while the Dodgers were the wild-card team, but the Dodgers should be able to win it by the time they finish the three games at Dodger Stadium.
If the Dodgers can win the NLCS and advance to their fourth World Series in five years, waiting for them will be either the Houston Astros or the Boston Red Sox.
Considering the Astros cheated the Dodgers out of a World Series title in 2017, facing them would be sweet.
But, seriously, can anything be as sweet as what just happened?
Before Thursday’s game, the retired Vin Scully tweeted from the mountain top.
“To my knowledge, tonight’s game between the @Dodgers and @SFGiants is the most important game in the history of their rivalry. With nearly identical records, and so much at stake, I believe this to be the case.”
When Roberts was read the tweet, he shook his head and smiled.
“Now I feel pressure,” he said. “Gosh darn it, Vin!”
Once again, you got it right, Vin.
It only figured that the final battle of the taut five-game series would stretch to the final inning and eventually even the final out.
The score was tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth after both teams scored in the sixth, the Dodgers on Corey Seager’s RBI double, the Giants on Darin Ruf’s homer.
Facing kid Giants reliever Camilo Doval, Justin Turner took first base when he was plunked in the left arm, then six pitches later Gavin Lux chopped a single to right.
Then Bellinger, who had the statistically worst hitting season of any former MVP, continued his October resurgence by fighting off a pitch and driving it into history.
There’s a history this season of bad checked swing calls for the Dodgers and Giants.
“It wasn’t about mechanics, it was just about a fight,” Roberts said. “It was me versus you. Cody versus Doval.”
Bellinger won. Then it was time for Scherzer to step into the ring.
In the bottom of the ninth, after Bryant reached first when Turner booted a grounder at third base, Scherzer held strong, striking out Lamont Wade Jr. and Flores, albeit controversially.
Afterward, Morales said he obviously thought it was a swing, but crew chief Ted Barrett wouldn’t let him answer a question about whether replay changed his mind.
“Yeah, no, we, yeah, yeah, he doesn’t want to say,” Barrett said.
Would a different call have changed the game? Maybe. But, this being a game of humans, was Morales the only person on the field Thursday to make a mistake that hurt the Giants? Absolutely not. That blown call didn’t beat the Giants. The Dodgers did.
“I think what great ball clubs have the ability to do is understand the gravity of the moment ... give everything they have to that moment,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers understood. The Dodgers owned.
Across three centuries, this wonderful rivalry with the Giants has had great moments.
So far, the biggest one belongs to the Dodgers.
Photos from Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on Thursday night.
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