Over the decades, be it from their cross-town days in Brooklyn and Upper Manhattan or cross-state in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have played a seemingly infinite number of memorable games. Some are for the right reasons (Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”), some not so much (Juan Marichal mistaking John Roseboro’s head for a baseball). Then there was last night’s game, won by the Giants in the eleventh inning 3-2. when … well, we’ll get there in a minute.
Some backdrop. The two teams entered the contest, the first of a three-game series being held in San Francisco, tied for both the lead in the National League West and for the best record in baseball. The Dodgers being in this position was no surprise; they are the defending World Series champions, loaded with superstars and a willingness to shell out the big bucks for same, topping all of baseball with a payroll of over $267M.
The Giants are the biggest surprise in all of baseball. Thought to be in strictly rebuilding mode, the team’s mix of veterans mostly considered past their prime, a few youngsters on the way up, and assorted scufflers bouncing from team to team have much to most everyone’s amazement keep on winning behind baseball’s second-best defense (the Dodgers are first) and a slightly above average offense.
Over the past few games the Giants have been stumbling, losing two out of three to the Braves in Atlanta, then coming home to drop three out of four to the Milwaukee Brewers. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have been on a tear, winning seven of their last nine. Thus, the stage was set.
The first indication that things would be something other than normal came before the game even started, when announced Dodgers starting pitcher David Price was scratched with elbow soreness bad enough to keep him from beginning the game … but not bad enough to have kept him from pitching if needed.
Thus, Los Angeles went with a committee approach, gradually emptying its bullpen, as one pitcher after another trotted onto the mound to pitch an inning or two. Or less. The approach worked for the most part, with San Francisco scratching out a run on a walk and a couple of singles in the third. Meanwhile, Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani kept the Dodgers at bay, with no runs and only two hits allowed during his six innings of work.
The top of the ninth rolled around, the Giants bringing in pitcher Jake McGee to try and close things out. He didn’t. A Justin Turner single, followed by a Corey Seager double, had runners on second and third with one out. At this point, the weirdness began.
Will Smith hit a grounder to Giants second baseman Thairo Estrada. Turner broke for the plate, with Seager heading to third. Estrada threw the ball to Giants catcher Buster Posey. Posey chased Turner back to third, but never tagged him before he reached third … where Seager already was. Break out the rulebook. Since Turner had started the play at third, he was entitled to the bag and Seager was out. Anyway, the next batter (Chris Taylor) singled, Turner scored, and the game was tied. Thus it remained, and on to extra innings.
Given that baseball in 2021 is carrying over its “let’s get this over with” rules from last year, the top of the tenth started with Albert Pujols on second. First batter up lined out to relatively deep center. Pujols, much to everyone’s amazement, took off for third … and made it.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, in a move that may well have cost him the game later on, decided to insert Walker Buehler as a pinch-runner for Pujols, who was playing first base. It appeared to be the right move at the time, as the next batter up hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Buehler. 2-1 Dodgers.
Bottom of the tenth. With the Dodgers having emptied their bench, starting catcher Will Smith moved to first. This is not his forte.
Back to the inning. With Posey starting the inning at second, Brandon Crawford decided the game hadn’t been nearly weird enough and singled, scoring the legendary speedster Posey. (There may be a touch of facetiousness in that last sentence.) Game tied. Again.
On to the eleventh. After the Dodgers failed to score, the Giants started their part of the proceedings by working a couple of walks, one unintentional and one intentional, to load the bases with one out. Alex Dickerson then hit into a force out at home. Bases still loaded, two out, and Posey the batter.
Dodgers pitcher Evan Phillips induced Posey into hitting a routine grounder to Los Angeles second baseman Trea Turner. Turner then made an inexplicably high throw to Smith. Refer back to the earlier comment about Smith — not an experienced first baseman — replacing Pujols, a two-time Gold Glove winner at the position. Between the throw and Smith being unable to drag his foot across the bag properly, Posey was safe. Error by Turner, Brandon Belt crossed home, lengthy replay, game over. Giants win 3-2 and retake a one-game lead in the division.
The wackiness resumes this afternoon, with the Giants most likely doing a repeat of the pitching by committee routine, facing the 15-3 Julio Urías.