SAN FRANCISCO – Everybody expected a playoff series for the ages between the century-old rival Dodgers and Giants, and now they've got it.
Anything less than a winner-take-all Game 5 would have been a baseball travesty, leaving the sport short-changed on the October stage.
It's the 107-win, NL West champion Giants vs. the defending World Series champ Los Angeles Dodgers for a place in the NL Championship Series against Atlanta starting Saturday night.
It all comes down to Game 5 on Thursday night, back at the San Francisco's Oracle Park after the Dodgers staved off elimination with a 7-2 victory at home Tuesday night.
So you can see why San Francisco third baseman Evan Longoria would prefer a best-of-seven over this short NL Division Series before one of these two has to go home for the winter.
“I feel like this may also be like a series or a moment where baseball may have to think about restructuring the way that the playoffs happen — 106 and 107 wins doesn’t feel like a DS matchup,” Longoria said last week before his home run lifted the Giants 1-0 in Game 3. “... I just feel like there’s two teams that win this many games, it seems early to match up us two.”
Mookie Betts and LA have played their share of winner-take-all games the past two seasons.
“We’ve had a lot of success here and in the past four, five, six, whatever years, and I think one of the biggest things is there’s teams that operate out of, ‘We want to get here,’ and there’s teams that it’s disappointing if we don’t get there, and I think we’re one of those teams that it’s disappointing if we don’t get there,” Betts said. “I think you sense that in there and you find a way to do little things that you might not do in the regular season. You find a way to impact a game.”
It will be season meeting No. 24 between these talented, even clubs, to be played at 24 Willie Mays Plaza — an ode to the Hall of Famer's jersey number.
San Francisco has won 12 and LA 11.
And now these teams that began playing each other in 1884 and have each won 109 times this year meet in an win-or-go-home game.
“I think it’s only fitting,” Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler said.
Game 1 winner Logan Webb, dazzling in his postseason debut, takes the ball again for the Giants.
“We knew it was going to come down to Game 5,” he said.
The Dodgers will go to 20-game winner Julio Urías after the left-hander pitched the Game 2 triumph.
“Tomorrow when I take the mound the message is to give 100 percent of me,” Urías said.
In their two wins this series, the Dodgers have scored nine and seven runs. In their two victories, the Giants have shut out LA's slugging lineup.
“This time of year you’re going to face great pitching night in and night out,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said. “And as much as you can, you’re hoping that when you do get some traffic out there, you can get a big hit and, because sometimes those opportunities are limited and hopefully that’s something we will be able to do on Thursday.”
Webb and two relievers combined on a five-hitter in 4-0 Game 1 win last week.
“As an offense, we got to come ready to go and just put together good at-bats, score some runs, and jump on him early,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said. “They know us. We know them really well. And it’s just going to come down to who wants it a little more and who is ready to go that day.”
These teams share a star-studded history of meeting in deciding games to see who advances.
In the decisive Game 3 of a 1951 NL pennant tiebreaker, Bobby Thomson hit what many consider the most famous home run ever when he connected for the “Shot Heard 'Round the World,” a three-run drive in the bottom of the ninth that lifted the New York Giants over Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers 5-4 at the Polo Grounds.
The franchises had shifted to the West Coast when they played a best-of-three matchup for the 1962 NL pennant. After topping Los Angeles ace Sandy Koufax in the opener, San Francisco lost the next day. Mays then keyed a four-run rally in the ninth inning to win 6-4 in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.
“I think our players understand the magnitude of the Game 5 in a DS at home against the Dodgers with the magnitude of a postseason series, all the dramatics that have happened in Game 5s along the way and some of the cool things that have happened for the Giants players and Giants fans,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said Wednesday.
“Our players are well aware of that so when I hear them talk about it it fires me up a bit. Their understanding and knowledge of the history, it’s encouraging," he said.
And all these years later, the longtime rivals are still at it.
“This is what baseball wants. I mean, I think, as I understand, all the series are done and so we’re going to be the only show in town," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. "So if you have a pulse or you’re a sports fan, you better be watching Dodgers-Giants."
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