A perfunctory glance at the early numbers of Wednesday’s starting pitchers might have left one to deem it an inconsequential mid-April meeting. In fact, the owners of those 4.42 and 5.29 ERAs were the reigning National League and World Series MVPs, respectively, and the pitching matchup among the best today’s game has to offer.
Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner opposed each other for the fourth time in their young careers at AT&T Park, and the matchup ended with appropriate symmetry. Down by two runs in the seventh inning, the Dodgers replaced Kershaw with pinch hitter Alex Guerrero, who crushed a tying home run on Bumgarner’s final pitch.
It left the game to be decided with both aces off the table, and the Giants broke through in the ninth. With the bases loaded, one out and the Dodgers playing five men on the infield, Joe Panik lofted J.P. Howell’s first pitch deep enough to center field to bring home pinch runner Gregor Blanco and give the Giants a 3-2 win.
The Giants had loaded the bases on a Buster Posey single, a Chris Hatcher pitch that hit Justin Maxwell on the elbow and a single off Howell by Brandon Belt, who entered the at-bat hitting .143. It gave the Giants consecutive wins for just the second time this season, against a Dodgers team that came into to the series having won seven straight.
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Before a pitch was thrown, this game was already marked for history as the first-ever meeting between the previous year’s league MVP, Kershaw, and World Series MVP, Bumgarner. Even the mood in the stadium seemed taut, with little of the usual ambient noise, as if the crowd of 42,259 realized such a matchup could turn on any pitch.
Kershaw looked like his typical self – the high hand position, the hitch atop his delivery, a mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling curve. But Posey and Maxwell both hit sharp line drives off him to right field in the second inning – both caught athletically by Yasiel Puig – and the Giants got to Kershaw in the third.
Joaquin Arias, starting at third base over Casey McGehee, hit a soft single to center field. Brandon Crawford worked a walk. Bumgarner sacrificed both runners up, and Nori Aoki hit a slow chopper to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who opted for the out at first base instead of throwing home as Arias scored.
Crawford alertly took third base on the play, and then scored when Matt Duffy dumped a single into center for his third hit against Kershaw in five career at-bats. It was a veritable windfall for the Giants against Kershaw, who had not allowed more than two runs in any of his 11 previous starts at AT&T Park.
Bumgarner was coming off of two starts in which he had given up a combined nine runs and 16 hits in 10 innings.
Bumgarner stranded runners in four of the first five innings. He left two more Dodgers on in the sixth by getting Chris Heisey to hit into a fielder’s choice on his 101st pitch.
Before the game, though, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had said that Bumgarner’s early struggles could be attributed largely to “a couple (of) mistakes.” And in the seventh, he made one. After giving up a one-out single to A.J. Ellis, Bumgarner left a 1-1 fastball up and over the plate to Guerrero, then sunk into a crouch as he watched Guerrero’s drive land halfway up the left-field bleachers to tie the game.
Giants closer Santiago Casilla, who stranded two Dodgers in the top of the ninth by getting pinch hitter Adrian Gonzalez to ground out on one pitch, earned the win.
Notes – Before the game, Bochy said first baseman Travis Ishikawa had a setback Tuesday while rehabbing from the lower back strain Ishikawa suffered in spring training. Ishikawa will remain in San Francisco to continue his rehab.
▪ Ryan Vogelsong will start today’s series finale against the Dodgers. Bochy said that the Giants want to keep Yusmeiro Petit as a swingman in the bullpen.