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How the Dodgers caught the Giants for the NL West lead

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports
Kershaw K's 13 as Dodgers blast Cardinals 6-0
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Los Angeles Dodgers' Chris Perez, right, gets a high five from teammate Clayton Kershaw after earning a save in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 9-1. (AP Photo/Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

LOS ANGELES – Just another June morning in the Dodger Stadium basement, where Yasiel Puig is howling loud enough to cause tiny coffee tremors inside the nearby Starbucks cups, and Juan Uribe is getting slapped around by Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is getting towel-snapped by Adrian Gonzalez, all daily rituals, like the Dodgers gaining a game on the San Francisco Giants.

Considered quite possibly overpaid, over-entitled and overestimated underachievers, they had for a few weeks been delivered the two most necessary elements for an abrupt return to relevance: they'd pitched and the Giants had lost. A lot.

On June 8, the Dodgers were 32-31. The Colorado Rockies had walked them off the previous night. A few days before, the manager had put a word to what everyone else was seeing. Don Mattingly called them, "Sh----." They were 9½ games behind the Giants.

The same day, the Giants were 41-21. They'd walked off the New York Mets the night before. The manager would have many words about his ballclub, how it had pitched and hit itself to a staggering early lead in the West. None would be unsuitable for print. They were 9½ games ahead of the Dodgers.

Just another June morning in the AT&T Park home dugout, where the questions are hard and the answers wispy. Bruce Bochy said Sergio Romo would not be his closer for the immediate future, and that, yes, he hoped Angel Pagan would come off the disabled list early next week, and maybe Brandon Belt shortly thereafter. These are the daily rituals – healing from the night before, finding hope in the recovering infirmed, adhering to the very process that had put them so far ahead in the first place, and losing a game in the standings to the Dodgers.

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Gregor Blanco (right) and the Giants were swept by the Reds at home. (Getty Images)

Gregor Blanco (right) and the Giants were swept by the Reds at home. (Getty Images)

By Sunday afternoon, only those three weeks having passed, all but .001 of the Giants' lead was gone, spent that fast in spotty starting pitching and blown late leads and a rather mercurial offense. Homer Bailey was no-hitting the Giants well into the seventh inning and Clayton Kershaw was striking out 13 St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants were going to lose for the 15th time in 20 games and the Dodgers were going to win for the 15th time in 21 games, and that's how 9½ games disappear. Buster Posey flied to center field at 3:43 p.m. PT and the final score at AT&T Park, where the Giants had never before been swept over four games, was Reds 4, Giants 0. Nearly 48,000 people here applauded. Thirteen minutes later, the game went final at Dodger Stadium – Dodgers 6, Cardinals 0. The NL West had co-leaders.

"It's not something we expected," Kershaw said of the three weeks that turned 9½ games to none. "Just like we didn't expect to go 42-8 last year. But, you know, we have the ability."

Kershaw beat the Rockies on June 8, sending the Dodgers out after the Giants. He'd win each of six June starts, post an 0.82 ERA in them, throw a no-hitter in one of them, and strike out 61 and walk four in them. He'd finish his June with 28 consecutive scoreless innings. And he'd push to 33 a streak of games by Dodgers starters – Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Ryu and Dan Haren – in which they walked no more than two batters.

The month was good to Matt Kemp, who needed it. The month was good to Dee Gordon and Scott Van Slyke and A.J. Ellis and, until the past few days, Hanley Ramirez. Mostly the month was good to a team that couldn't be entirely sure where it was headed, and to a clubhouse that was sorting through its own issues. In a game in which chemistry and success have a chicken-and-egg relationship, it appeared the Dodgers would have to win ballgames to confirm why they were all here. They would have to play harder, and play smarter, and play selflessly, and when Mattingly gathered them in the visitors' clubhouse at Coors Field and told them so, maybe that helped for a day. And maybe that day became two. Then three. That was three weeks ago. Nine-and-a-half games ago.

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Matt Kemp (left) has helped factor in the Dodgers' turnaround. (Getty Images)

Matt Kemp (left) has helped factor in the Dodgers' turnaround. (Getty Images)

"He rightfully accused us of selfish play," Ellis said Sunday afternoon. "I really give him credit to have the courage to call a lot of guys on the carpet and do it in a team setting. And every one of us had a chance to look in the mirror and ask, 'Is he possibly talking about me?' "

In the richest clubhouse the sport has ever seen, there'd been ample opportunity to play for the next big contract to be written by the Bank of Guggenheim. To play for the numbers that would bring that contract. To look good doing it.

"You saw a change right away," Ellis said.

That's not all gone. But, perhaps, it would be easier for many of them to be swept up in all that winning, and in the reasons for it. They've pitched. They've prioritized defense. They've let the sulking burn itself out. Now a whole summer is out there and it's a fair fight again, or at least a fight that wasn't over before it started.

"The Giants are a great team," Kershaw said. "They're going to start winning games."

Just another June evening at Dodger Stadium, players and their wives and children scattered across the outfield. It's family day and they're launching water balloons and playing Wiffle ball and dribbling a soccer ball. The music is loud. They'd pitched again, they'd won again, they'd gained on their expectations again. And on the Giants again. All part of the daily routine.

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