Somebody forgot to tell the Giants and Dodgers that it’s not September yet. The April series they just played at AT&T Park had to be one of the best first-month sets in baseball history. It felt like Indian summer, even with the raindrops that fell on the Giants’ new black matte helmets Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and with the gray skies that hovered Sunday.
The games were so good, so intense, you’d think the pennant was on the line. Maybe it was.
Only 155 game days remain in the 2016 season after the Giants’ 9-6 victory over the Dodgers on Sunday. If the teams play their karmas right, they might get to play each other some more in mid-October. Wouldn’t it be great if they could play it off for the National League championship? It’s only been 54 years since the last time they did it, in 1962, which was only 11 years removed from Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” .
Pennant races haven’t been the same since they divvied up the leagues. But a Giants-Dodgers playoff might be better than anything that’s ever happened in the 126 years of their bicoastal rivalry. It seems to be in a very good place right now, unless you don’t like electrifying home-opener grand slams to put the game away for the home team in a rout after it fell behind by four, or if you in some way are displeased by rookies throwing no-hitters for 7 2/3 innings in their major-league debut. Or if you find further fault in walk-off home runs on wet Friday nights, or if you are dissatisfied by an aces’ duel in which one of them knocks the ball out of the park against the other, as happened Saturday with Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, with Bum hitting the dinger off Kersh.
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This all took place before Sunday, when the Giants spotted the Dodgers a five-run lead in the first inning. San Francisco came back to tie it on home runs by Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan, and took the lead on a two-run double by Joe Panik. Johnny Cueto gave up the nickel in the first inning but struck out eight in the next four and left the field to a standing ovation when he completed his work in the seventh.
As far as the first week of April goes, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he’s never seen anything like this one that just unfolded, especially in the four games just completed with Dem Bums of L.A., three of which his team won.
“I don’t think so,” Bochy said. “I think in the early go, to have this kind of series, the types of games that we’re playing in, it doesn’t get any better than that. The fans, you can tell they’re really into it, the players, and we’re in April, but you would think we’re in September the way the series has gone.”
Baseball’s best rivalry, West Coast speaking.
“It’s never going to change,” Bochy said. “There’s too much history between these clubs,” and they added to it with the four games completed Sunday.
Pagan added a couple of footnotes on Sunday with a double and a home run. He totally respects the meaning of L.A. vs. S.F., the passion that the fans inject into it. The trick for the Giants, he said, will be to apply the same level of focus to the other 143 games on the schedule.
“We have the talent here to do special things,” Pagan said. “Now we’re playing the Dodgers, and people might think we’re playing with this intensity, but no – we play like this against every team. Every team is a big enemy. Every part of every game matters. Every game. We go out there and we play one inning at a time, one at bat at a time.”
Last year’s starting catcher for the River Cats, Trevor Brown, had a lot of fun in the series, with one swing of the bat. All it did was deliver a home run that tied a game that L.A. rookie pitcher Ross Stripling had just departed in the eighth inning having not allowed a hit. The two-run blast tied the score that Brandon Crawford untied in overtime.
“Running the bases and hearing the crowd screaming for you, and coming into the dugout and having all those guys ready to high-five you – it was a special moment,” Brown said. “And then, the guys telling me to go out and give them a wave, getting a little curtain-call thing. Overall, it was an incredible night.”
What a way to get the season lit. The Giants’ power broke the Dodgers series in their favor. But S.F. knows L.A. has almost an entire varsity lineup out on the disabled list. Even if it feels like September, they know it’s only April, and they know orange will see blue again.
“I was thinking about it yesterday, how good these games have been,” Posey said Sunday. “It’s funny. You go from spring training, and the intensity’s pretty low, and all of a sudden you’re playing in division games that mean a lot. It’s fun.
“We’re probably in store for a decent amount of those when these two teams meet up this year.”