SAN FRANCISCO What Brian Johnson remembers most is the silence. After he crushed one of the most memorable home runs in Giants-Dodgers history, he rounded first base in front of a delirious Candlestick Park crowd and heard nothing.
"So bizarre," Johnson, now 44, recalled this week. "It was so loud that it was like my body was trying to protect me from the sound. As soon as I hit the bag, everything was muffled. It was the weirdest thing."
The Shot Not Heard 'Round the Bases took place 15 years ago this month. Johnson hit his game-winning and National League West-altering home run Sept. 18, 1997, helping to catapult the Giants toward an unexpected division title.
As an early anniversary present, the Dodgers arrive at AT&T Park today for a three-game series that could again sway the fortunes of these storied rivals. The Giants lead the N.L. West by 4 1/2 games over Los Angeles with 25 games to play.
The latest Giants-Dodgers showdown has the attention of the national networks. The MLB Network gets tonight's game, Fox gets one Saturday, and ESPN will show Sunday night's game. (Tonight's game will air locally on Comcast Sports Net Bay Area.)
Tim Lincecum starts the series opener for the Giants and will try to reverse a troubling trend for the rotation. Over the past 11 games, Giants starters are 2-4 with a 6.47 ERA.
"As a group, we're not quite throwing as well," manager Bruce Bochy said after a 6-2 loss to Arizona on Wednesday.
Lincecum, though, has been solid against the Dodgers, even as he struggles against almost everybody else. The right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA in three starts against Los Angeles this season, including a victory at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 21.
Josh Beckett will oppose Lincecum in his first start against the Giants since 2005, when the right-hander was still in Florida. The Dodgers acquired Beckett from Boston in an August trade that also brought Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto and Carl Crawford. The new-look Dodgers also feature recently acquired shortstop Hanley Ramirez, outfielder Shane Victorino and reliever Brandon League.
The overhauled Dodgers seem to have sagged under the expectations. Since Aug. 22, they have lost two games in the standings despite playing nothing but teams with losing records. They went 3-4 on their just-completed homestand and managed just 20 runs in those seven games.
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval expects a tough series.
"They're going to come hard," he said. "Everybody is going to be concentrating for every second. This kind of series is fun for everybody the players, the fans, everyone."
These head-to-head games could prove pivotal because the Dodgers are the only winning team the Giants face over the final month. Other than this series and a three-game finale at Dodger Stadium, the Giants play their other 19 games against teams under .500 (Arizona, Colorado and San Diego).
Los Angeles, meanwhile, is beginning a 15-game stretch that includes 13 games against the best teams in the N.L.: all three division leaders and St. Louis, the team 11/2 games ahead of them in the wild-card standings.
So perhaps the three games in San Francisco will set the stage for another storybook hero along the lines of Johnson.
An Oakland kid who played football and baseball at Stanford, Johnson spent eight seasons as a major league catcher, including the final four games of his career with the Dodgers in 2001.
He now lives in Detroit and serves as a scout for the Giants, but he will always be remembered for that September afternoon at the 'Stick in 1997.
In the 10th inning, Johnson was behind the plate as reliever Rod Beck gutted through a bases-loaded, none-out jam.
He led off the bottom of the 12th inning with a homer to left-center field to send the Giants into a first-place tie with the Dodgers and propel them toward their first division title since 1989.
The 52,188 fans were so loud Johnson couldn't hear a thing.
"I had other moments in my career," he said. "But I'm happy to be remembered for that one."