Commentary: Vin Scully explains why Dodgers-Giants Game 5 was the biggest in rivalry’s history
It was a very pleasant good afternoon Friday when Vin Scully picked up the phone.
The best broadcaster in baseball history turns 94 next month. He shed his professional neutrality when he retired five years ago. He happily roots for the Dodgers now, marveling that a team with 110 victories this season still has no idea whether it will qualify for the World Series.
One. Hundred. And. Ten.
“I shake my head,” Scully said.
I shook my head when I saw Scully’s tweet Thursday. In the hours before the Dodgers played the San Francisco Giants in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series, Scully tweeted that Thursday’s game would be “the most important game in the history of their rivalry.”
Dave Roberts heard about the tweet in advance of the game.
A check swing is unlike any other call in baseball. It isn’t defined in the rule book, is often deferred from one umpire to another, and can’t be reviewed.
“Now I feel pressure,” Roberts said, laughing.
Justin Turner read the tweet.
“As Vin always is,” Turner said, “right on the pulse.”
But here’s the thing: In 1951, and again in 1962, the Dodgers and Giants played games in which the winner advanced to the World Series.
If the winner of Thursday’s game still would be four wins shy of the World Series, why would Scully call it the most important game in the history of the rivalry?
“The struggle was immense to get where they got last night,” Scully said Friday. “When you realize how many games they had to win just to stay even with each other, to me, that made it truly remarkable. It was not a come-from-behind season, as it was for, say, the New York Giants.”
Bobby Thomson did hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951, but only after the Dodgers had blown a 13-game lead over the Giants.
“This,” Scully said, “was a constant ‘first me, then you.’ They kept building and building, and winning and winning. They never stopped. To win 100 games was always a big deal, and here were two teams — and in the same division — winning over 100. The Dodgers stayed right on the heels of the Giants. The Giants, all year, coming up with remarkable victories.
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“And then they had to [play Game 5] — just the thought that 109 wins was not enough made that game, in my mind, the biggest game that they had ever played.”
Scully said he got a pleasant surprise before Thursday’s game, a phone call from Giants president Larry Baer. As the two reminisced, Scully said he expressed one fervent wish: that no one in Game 5 would forever be tagged as a goat, as Ralph Branca was for giving up that home run to Thomson.
Gabe Morales, perhaps? He was the umpire who made the controversial call that ended the game. With the potential tying run on base and the potential winning run at the plate, Morales ruled that the Giants’ Wilmer Flores had swung at strike three. Flores said he had not, and video of the check swing did not appear to absolve Morales.
“The Giant fans will think, if he had another swing, maybe he’d hit a home run with the man on base,” Scully said.
“But that will recede. That’s not a Ralph Branca or Bill Buckner moment.”
It is not that Scully is defending the call.
“I think it was incorrect,” he said.
But that will recede? Try telling that to Giants fans.
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“Nobody is going to remember a half-swing after a while,” he said. “It wasn’t like there were bad plays with a runner called out at first when he was safe.
“A check swing? That’s too bad. But the game had to end some way, and that’s the way it did.”
That brought the Dodgers here, for the league championship series. With four wins in the NLCS and four more in the World Series, the Dodgers finally could ride through the streets of Los Angeles in triumph.
The pandemic deprived the Dodgers of a championship parade last year, but Scully narrated the official World Series documentary. If the Dodgers repeat, who wouldn’t want to see Scully join the parade?
The Dodgers’ immense playoff experience certainly didn’t hurt during their winner-take-all Game 5 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants.
“I don’t belong in that,” Scully said. “It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been away from it for five years now. No, no, no, this is their time in the sunshine, and to enjoy every minute. They don’t need an interloper to be in the parade. I would never think of doing that.”
The NLCS comes first, and the first game comes Saturday, when Los Angeles can gather once more and say it’s time for Dodger baseball.
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