After coming up short with runners in scoring position the last two weeks, the Giants finally delivered clutch hitting Sunday afternoon against Cy Young contender Walker Buehler to beat the Dodgers 6-4 at Oracle Park.
By taking two of three and snagging their 87th victory, San Francisco (87-50) inches ahead of Los Angeles (86-51) in the National League West by one game. The two teams will not face each other the rest of the regular season, but many are anticipating an eventual postseason clash once the calendar turns to October.
Matchups between the Giants and Dodgers are always intense, but the neck-and-neck NL West race this season adds an extra element. Fans haven’t shown up in large numbers at the ballpark this year, averaging just under 19,000 per game. This series, though, induced both fan bases to flood the seats, with 41,155 in the stands Sunday.
The win not only places San Francisco atop the division, it earns them a victory in the season series. Now, if the Giants and Dodgers were to tie for first place in the NL West, San Francisco will serve as the home team in a potential Game 163.
Buehler – the presumptive National League Cy Young Award frontrunner – took the slab against San Francisco for the sixth time this season. In 34 innings pitched against the Giants heading into Sunday, Buehler (L, 13-3, 2.31 ERA) had given up just three runs.
He allowed one early in the first when Brandon Belt pounced on a first-pitch fastball and punished it into the deepest part of the ballpark, over the right-center field wall for the first run of the game.
Belt continues to add to his career high in home runs, with the blast being his 21st of the year. The Giants as a team are now 33 home runs away from the single-season franchise record, set in 2001. That club featured a mythological season from Barry Bonds, whose record-setting 73 homers made up more than 30 percent of the club’s 235 long balls.
Instead of relying on one or two big power bats, the 2021 San Francisco Giants have ten players with ten or more homers. Half of them are will make less than $3 million this season.
On his homer, Belt said:
“You know, I think anytime you can jump out and get an early run on a pitcher like that, it’s definitely gonna help it. I mean, this is this is the time when you kind of see that hitting is contagious. And that’s why it’s so huge for us to get started early because we know that carries over into other innings.”
In the second, Steven Duggar – just called up from Triple-A Sacramento in-place of the injured Austin Slater – ripped a two-run triple down the right field line to add insurance and further energize the Oracle Park crowd. Darin Ruf would then bloop a single, allowing Duggar to jog home.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler said Duggar’s electrifying smash set the tone:
“Triples are pretty exciting. I don’t think it’s any secret. We’re not the fastest team in the land. But Duggar can really run. So I think that was a ‘fire up the dugout’ type moment.”
Heading into Sunday, Giants hitters had been 23-for-129 (.178) in their last 16 games in those situations. In the first two games of this series, the Giants were 4-for-30 with runners in scoring position, stranding 26 baserunners.
Kapler called the offensive approach “pretty simple”:
“It’s really the same approach that we take against all good starting pitchers and he (Buehler) is excellent We were prepared. And yeah, I thought our at-bats were of good quality, and we got enough big hits in today’s game to to win. I also felt like we had some opportunities to break the game open again. We’re always going to raise the bar for ourselves, so I think we can do better. But I thought today was a good overall effort, by all means.”
The script completely flipped Sunday afternoon, and they finished the game 4-for-10 with RISP.
Just for good measure, Curt Casali singled to left, making it 6-1 to end the third inning and marking the first time this season Buehler had allowed as many as six runs.
Even though the Dodgers are a tough crew to battle against, the Giants kept true to their schedule when it comes to resting Buster Posey. They anticipate him to be fresh and ready to go for their stretch run.
As they continue to replenish the rotation to replace two key starting pitchers, the Giants turned to their bullpen to open their second-straight game. In his first Major League start, Dominic Leone (3-3, 1.59 ERA) took the slap and required just 13 pitches in a 1-2-3 first inning.
The idea of a bullpen game has been debated, especially with the team heading to Coors Field to take on the Rockies starting Monday. A known hitter’s paradise, Coors has characteristics that don’t necessarily favor relief pitchers – or any pitcher for that matter. Luckily for the Giants, they have three traditional starters lined up: Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb, and Anthony DeSclafani are all probables against Colorado.
Nine Giants pitchers Sunday allowed five hits, three earned runs, and eight strikeouts. Their biggest blemish was their six walks allowed.
Belt spoke after the game about Oracle Park’s playoff atmosphere:
“I think it felt different in that it really felt like a playoff atmosphere out there. And you know, obviously we’ve had some games like that before, but it’s crunch time and we came in the series tied with the lead. This might be the first time that we’ve ever done that in September. So it was just a cool atmosphere and there’s no doubt that the energy that the fans bought today really helped us pick it up.”
The Dodgers briefly tied the game in the top of the second when left-hander José Álvarez (4-2, 2.50 ERA) and allowed a single and a walk, followed by an RBI single up the middle from Will Smith. When Los Angeles threatened again in the third, Kapler turned to his fifth pitcher of the night. José Quintana (0-3, 6.22 ERA) entered in a first and third situation to face shortstop Corey Seager, but walked him and got Smith to fly out to right with the bases loaded.
Kapler said pregame that Quintana was built up enough by his former employer – the Angels – to handle extended outings. This time out, the veteran left-hander gave his team two innings and allowed one hit and three walks while striking out three. He exited in the fifth with the bases loaded, handing the baton to youngster Camilo Doval (1-1, 5.79 ERA), who walked in a run to make it 6-2 before escaping the jam by striking out Chris Taylor.
After that, the Giants bullpen retired ten straight Dodgers. Jake McGee (SV, 3-2, 2.81 ERA) opened the ninth and was greeted with a leadoff error and a two-run shot from pinch hitter Albert Pujols to left-center.
After a Max Muncy single, Mookie Betts came to the plate as one of baseball’s best fastball hitters facing one of baseball’s highest-percentage fastball throwers. McGee came out on the winning end, striking out Betts looking. The drama continued as Justin Turner came up next and, with a full crowd on their feet, McGee got Turner to pop out to Yastrzemski, who made the catch up against the netting down the line for McGee’s 30th save of his career.
Friday – Giants 3, Dodgers 2: Both teams headed into Friday tied for first place in the NL West, adding a plethora of playoff-like suspense. The Giants handed the ball to righty DeSclafani (11-6, 3.24 ERA) and he was solid, tossing six innings without allowing a run. The Giants scored in the third when Kapler aggressively used pinch-hitter Slater, which immediately paid off when he singled in a run. It remained 1-0 until the ninth when Chris Taylor blooped an RBI single off McGee to tie the game. Both teams scored in the tenth and, with the bases loaded with two outs in the 11th, a routine Posey grounder to the right side turned into a costly mistake for second baseman Trea Turner, who made the play but threw wildly to first and the winning run crossed the plate.
Saturday- Dodgers 6, Giants 1: In Game 2, Los Angeles sent left-hander Julio Urías (16-3, 3.11 ERA) to the mound, an arm that has encountered mixed results this season against the Giants. He worked around traffic through 5-2/3 innings as eight hits were manufactured against him but only one run scored when Posey doubled in the opening frame. For the Giants, it was quite the struggle to get through a bullpen game and the Dodgers took advantage by dropping a three-spot in the first when Turner homered, Seager racked up a sacrifice fly, and A.J. Pollock doubled home a run. Seager added more insurance in the ninth with a solo homer (8).
The Giants head to Coors Field in Colorado to take on the Rockies and start a three-game set. The Giants will hand the ball to the righty Gausman (12-5, 2.52 ERA) to face lefty Kyle Freeland (5-6, 4.22 ERA) for Colorado. First pitch is set for 1:10 p.m.
The Giants optioned young left-hander Sammy Long to Triple-A Sacramento and recalled fireballing righty Camilo Doval. Long threw 39 pitches during Saturday’s loss and was knocked around, walking two and allowing a homer. Even though Long is viewed as key piece for the organization moving forward, Kapler says the main focus is for him to throw more strikes and star “landing” his pitches. With a heavy right-handed presence in the Dodgers’ lineup, Doval was the ideal choice for the Giants to call up. … Slater was placed on the 7-day injured list with a concussion that he suffered after taking a hit to the wall on Saturday night. Duggar was recalled, a left-handed bat with flexibly in center field and reasonable matchup numbers against right-handed pitching.