By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–Consider the amazing NL West race featuring the Dodgers and Giants a stare down. After 159 games–and thus far in the season’s final week–neither team has flinched.
But the Dodgers–likely watching the conclusion of the Arizona-San Francisco game on television in their clubhouse–suffered a collective twitch.
After the Dodgers blew past the Padres in Los Angeles 8-3, the Giants followed with the “Late Night” Lamonte show at Oracle Park in their 5-4 win over the Diamondbacks. With three games to play, the Giants (105-54) maintained a two game lead over their rival in a race that has baseball history written all over it, and will command the baseball world’s attention in the final weekend.
“I would just say that this is two teams playing really good baseball in a pennant race,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Like I’ve said many times over, we can be in tune with what’s going on outside of our games which is part of the fun. But most importantly we just have to play good baseball. However, we get there–if we do that–bring it on.”
Madison Bumgarner, the MVP of the 2014 World Series for the Giants and Arizona’s starting pitcher on Thursday night, weighed in on the divisional battle that–at least for one night–included him in the drama. After five inning stint in which he departed with the game tied, 4-4, he certainly had a barrel full of perspective on his former team.
“I know people have counted them out all year and a lot of people can’t understand it and make sense out of it, but I’ve been on that side when people are saying the same thing,” Bumgarner said. “I know how dangerous the Giants are just in general when they get in the postseason. I’ve obviously seen that a time or two, so there’s something about that uniform.”
Bumgarner–pitching for the first time in San Francisco wearing another uniform other than the Giants’–received a pair of well-deserved and loud ovations from the crowd of 27,503. In a twist that only baseball can provide, the second of those ovations came in the top of the first inning, not the bottom with him on the mound. At that point, Bum was the ninth batter of the inning with the D’Backs already leading 3-0. Despite the gravity of the game at that juncture, the lefty’s welcome was genuine. Genuine enough that he paused before stepping into the box and briefly waved his batting helmet.
“It was really cool,” he said. “This place, I’ve said it a bunch, it means a lot to me and my family. I don’t take that for granted by no means. I enjoyed that and I’m very thankful for that.”
The Giants were forced to go full improvisation in the inning as starting pitcher Scott Kazmir was injured on a ground ball that demanded he cover first base. So after recording just one out and throwing 12 pitches, Kazmir departed and Kervin Castro was summoned from the bullpen. The two pitchers allowed five hits in the first, and three runs, all charged to Kazmir.
But the Giants battled back, scoring single runs in the first, third and fourth to gain a 3-3 tie. In the fourth, Brandon Crawford homered off his old teammate, his career-best 24th and the only home run of the ballgame.
In the fifth with Arizona again leading 4-3, Buster Posey got his shot against his old battery mate. Posey’s RBI double scored Austin Slater from first base. The Giants’ catcher also delivered an RBI sacrifice fly in third.
Johnny Cueto, activated from the injured list, was the third of seven Giants’ pitchers to enter the ball game. Cueto pitched the third and fourth innings, along with recording the first out of the fifth. The veteran who has suffered elbow injuries, threw 48 pitches and seemed adaptable to his likely postseason role: pitching out of the bullpen.
It was Cueto’s first ever appearance as a reliever after 329 starts, and 135 wins.
“I’ll be myself,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “Of course, I’ll be a little bit more aggressive because I know it’s going to be maybe one inning or two.”
The game remained tied until the ninth where Wilmer Flores doubled with one out. Reliever Joe Mantiply then intentionally walked Donovan Solano. Curt Casali in a pinch-hitting role was next and he drew a walk to load the bases. That brought a second pinch-hitter to the plate, “Late Night” LaMonte Wade Jr.
Wade, who had 13 hits and 12 RBI in ninth innings alone this season, delivered again. On a two-strike pitch, he stroked a hard-hit groundball that got between first baseman Paven Smith and second baseman Ketel Marte for a game-ending base hit.
Ironically, the prolific Wade had not delivered a game-ending hit at home. Twenty-seven Giants ran toward the slugger after touched first base to introduce him to the world of walk offs.
On Friday, the Giants’ open the final series of the season against the visiting Padres, who return to San Francisco after being swept by the Dodgers, and losing 39 of their last 58 games. The Giants will need to win twice in the series to clinch the division. That is, if they don’t get any help from the Dodgers, who will host the Brewers this weekend.
The Dodgers (103-56) have won 44 of their last 60 games since July 23.
NOTES: Before the game, Cueto and Darin Ruf were reinstated from the 10-day IL. Ruf started in left field, and went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Tony Watson was placed on the injured list with a shoulder strain, and Jose Quintana was designated for assignment.