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Called check swing ends Giants quest, advances Dodgers to NLCS

Two teams entering Game 5 of the NLDS, each with 109 wins, left little doubt that the first-ever Giants-Dodgers playoff series would be an instant classic.

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For nine high-stress innings Thursday night, the two powerhouses battled, the score even and frustrations boiling in both dugouts. But in the end, Cody Bellinger whacked a Camilo Doval slider through the infield, scoring Justin Turner from second in the ninth inning to propel the Dodgers past the Giants 2-1 in one of the greatest first round playoff series in baseball history.

The Dodgers face the Braves in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday.

Kris Bryant reached on an error with one out in the bottom of the ninth, then Max Scherzer struck out LaMonte Wade Jr. looking and Wilmer Flores on a questionable check swing call for his first career save and a ticket to the next round.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.

Flores said after the game that he didn’t think he swung. Neither did manager Gabe Kapler, but said he didn’t want to dwell on it:

“Obviously, you don’t want a game to end that way. … There’s no need to be angry about that. I just think it’s a disappointing way to end. There are other reasons we didn’t win today’s baseball game.”

The other reasons primarily were likely the lack of offense. The Giants wrapped up the season failing to crack more than two runs in four straight games, though ace Logan Webb gave them the best chance he possibly could. The 24-year-old followed up a masterful Game 1 outing with a clutch Game 5 performance, allowing one run on four hits in seven innings, tossing 106 pitches. His changeup was working. With a big spin, tailing away from hitters, he caught them off-balance, inducing weak contact and powering through a Dodgers lineup that has seemingly no soft spot.

When pressed postgame about the check swing, Kapler refused to lay into the umpiring crew. He didn’t want to come off as making excuses, pointing out that baseball is game of inches, that Darin Ruf, Brandon Crawford and Donovan Solano each had hard-hit balls that found a glove:

“In the postseason, you’re going to face really kick-ass pitching and you’re going to need to be on your A-game offensively. And I actually think we put good at-bats together and we just weren’t able to get the job done.”

Whoever emerges from a winner-take-all game needs to not only have good at-bats, but to also produce positive results, according to Ruf:

“It’s a jam shot that falls in the grass, it’s not lining out, ground balls that find holes. … This is a little bit of luck and that’s part of your approach.”

Webb only allowed one hit outside of Mookie Betts, but it was Betts’ third hit that stung. Betts singled with one out in the sixth, stole second and scored on a double to left by Corey Seager, who dunked a changeup away into left field that allowed Betts to jog home.

But the Giants answered in the bottom of the sixth when Ruf blasted a 95-mph fastball 452 feet into dead center field to tie the game, the longest home run of the postseason so far.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took a risk by starting Corey Knebel as an opener instead of going to Julio Urias right away, but the Giants couldn’t convert with runners in scoring position in the first two innings.

Urias finally entered in the third after Brusdar Graterol pitched the second. He was greeted in the fourth with a leadoff single by Brandon Crawford, but benefitted from multiple questionable strike calls to the next batter, Kris Bryant, who struck out. Crawford reached third with two outs but Wilmer Flores popped out to end the inning.

Urias departed after four innings, allowing just the one run.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay.ca

The atmosphere at Oracle Park was one of extreme anxiety mixed with excitement, as 42,275 hung on every pitch for hours. There were again incessant chants of “Beat LA,” the rapt attention and towel waving and yelling and screaming only paused temporarily by cheering for the pomp and circumstance as Stephen Curry and Trey Lance and Barry Bonds were shown on the big screen.

The teams met 24 times this season — the first time in the San Francisco era that the Giants have played a single opponent at least 24 times in a season — and it seemed like each game was a playoff game.

But this was the ultimate playoff game.

It was billed as one of the biggest in the history of Oracle Park, and perhaps, as even Vin Scully called it, the most important game in the 131-year history of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry. Despite playing over 2,500 games against each other since 1890, the two teams had never faced each other in the postseason.

What a year for it to have been the first. And it was only fitting for it to come down to a fifth game — just the fifth winner-take-all game between teams with 100 wins or more.

Both teams entered the night with 109 wins. The Giants edged the season series 10-9, but the Dodgers scored two more runs. The Giants set a franchise record for regular season wins and the Dodgers tied theirs. The Giants entered the night winners of five straight winner-take-all games, a streak dating back to 2002. The Dodgers, though, had won four straight elimination games.

Only the latter streak lived on.

Buster Posey said that he glad he got the chance to play the Dodgers in the playoffs at least once in his career. He obviously wished for a better result, but the veteran who backstopped three World Series runs relished the experience:

I don’t think anybody on our side is going to have any regrets.

Despite the hype about the two teams being even, only one entered the season as a World Series contender. The Giants were an afterthought, an up-and-coming team surely to be drowned out in a loaded NL West.

They may not be moving on in these playoffs, but the Giants know they have a team that can compete for years to come. And the future was already shining in the present, with Webb and Doval — two 24-year-olds — front and center on the biggest stage.

Kapler said he’s never seen a team come together than the 2021 Giants, and that, regardless of the results, what they’ve been working towards came to fruition against the Dodgers:

“I think the character of the team, independent of the talent, really shined in our games against the Dodgers. That grittiness and toughness and unselfishness and some of the vision, it just all came together in those games against the Dodgers.”

Doval “felt awful” about giving up the game-winning hit, according to Webb. The first thing that the starting pitcher did after the game was to hug the Giants’ newfound closer, who emerged out of nowhere to take over the prime bullpen position and held his own against the Dodgers — until Game 5. But that was nothing to hang his head on, Webb said:

“The first thing he needs to know is how big a part of the team he’s going to be in the future and to not let that confidence down.”

It’s a future that also will feature Webb, who would like more big starts against the Dodgers:

“This won’t be the last time we play them in the playoffs.”

Added Ruf:

“We don’t plan on taking any steps backwards. I know they don’t, so it will be hopefully fun for years to come.”

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