LOS ANGELES — In August, with the San Francisco Giants setting a torrid pace atop the NL West and the Los Angeles Dodgers in frantic pursuit, two longtime friends made a wager on the outcome of the epic division race.
Retired Giants manager Bruce Bochy backed his former club. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took his team.
“I lost dinner and a nice bottle of Bordeaux,” Roberts said Wednesday. “Knowing him, it's going to be some type of first growth [wine], so it's not going to be cheap.”
Roberts can go double or nothing with Bochy after an unlikely hero powered the Dodgers past the St. Louis Cardinals and kept alive their hopes of repeating as world champions. Utilityman Chris Taylor came off the bench to deliver a bolt of tie-breaking, walk-off magic, sending the Dodgers to San Francisco for what promises to be a dream division series.
On one side is a relentless 107-win Giants team that ascended to the top of the NL West in May and kept on mashing the gas pedal. On the other is a talent-laden, playoff-tested Dodgers team whose 106 wins are more than any other second-place team has racked up in baseball history. At stake are bragging rights, World Series hopes and history. Never before have the Giants and Dodgers faced off in the playoffs, though twice they did meet in tie-breaker series at the end of the 1951 and 1962 regular seasons. The Dodgers are -155 favorites at BetMGM to win the series.
“I think it's great,” Roberts said. “It's what baseball wants. Giants, Dodgers, one of the great rivalries in sports, and it's happening.”
Fierce Dodgers-Giants rivalry takes playoff stage
A playoff series between the Dodgers and Giants will add more fuel to a rivalry that has always burned hot. Animosity that originated in neighboring New York boroughs shortly after the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge only grew after both clubs moved west in the late 1950s to California cities that have always been competitive with each other.
The Giants and Dodgers have faced one another more than 2,500 times since 1890. Only 22 victories separate the two rivals, with the Giants holding that slim edge.
The rivalry’s most vicious moment occurred on August 22, 1965, with the Giants and Dodgers grappling for the National League lead. In the bottom of the third inning, Juan Marichal infamously bashed Dodgers catcher John Roseboro over the head with a bat, inciting a brawl and leaving Roseboro with a bloody gash that required 14 stitches to close.
Roseboro became the target of Marichal’s rage by twice firing return throws to pitcher Sandy Koufax that buzzed just past the ear of the Giants ace. Later, Roseboro admitted that those throws were retaliation. Earlier that day, Marichal knocked down two Dodgers hitters with brushback pitches.
Never again has the rivalry gotten so ugly, but the Giants and Dodgers haven’t stopped inflicting pain on one another. They’ve exchanged punches and staredowns, battled for division crowns and taken turns eliminating the other from playoff contention.
Say Joe Morgan’s name, and Los Angeles-area baseball fans instantly harken back to his home run on the final day of the 1982 regular season that spoiled the Dodgers’ bid for a division title. Say Salomon Torres’ name, and Bay Area baseball fans cringe at the thought of his short-lived 1993 start against the Dodgers that doomed a 103-win Giants team.
The Giants' Brian Johnson altered the course of the 1997 pennant race with an epic 12th-inning home run. Steve Finley broke the Giants’ spirits in 2004 by capping a seven-run ninth inning with a walk-off grand slam. Barry Bonds’ home run pirouette is etched into Dodgers-Giants rivalry lore, as is Max Muncy telling Madison Bumgarner, “Go get it out of the ocean.”
All that’s missing from the rivalry’s rich history is a playoff series pitting the Dodgers against the Giants. It was never possible until MLB expanded the playoffs in 1995. Since then, the Giants and Dodgers have only made the playoffs the same year twice, the Dodgers ruining a potential NLCS meeting by losing a hard-fought division series to the Cardinals in 2014 and the Giants doing the same against the 103-win Cubs two years later.
The showdown arrives
This year, a showdown has felt inevitable for months. The Dodgers closed the season on a 43-13 tear after acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner at the trade deadline. During that time, they made up a mere two games in the standings on the first-place Giants.
“They're a great team,” Scherzer said. “Obviously they showed that throughout the course of the season, so it's going to absolutely take everything from us to be able to win this series. Here we go, let's play some baseball.”
One of the hallmarks of the 2021 Giants is their power. Fueled by the reemergence of 30-something cornerstones Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, and by the contributions of bargain pickups LaMonte Wade Jr. and Darin Ruf, the Giants were second only to the Toronto Blue Jays in home runs and set a record for pinch-hit dingers.
Farhan Zaidi’s Midas touch identifying talent on the margins also extended to the pitching staff. Three of the Giants’ four most reliable starting pitchers are free-agent acquisitions signed to affordable one-year contracts. Their bullpen features an array of developmental success stories and pitchers salvaged off the scrap heap.
The Dodgers have an undeniable advantage in star power, playoff experience and starting pitching. Even with longtime ace Clayton Kershaw injured, the Dodgers can start Walker Buehler in Friday’s Game 1 and 20-game winner Julio Urias in Saturday’s Game 2 before handing the ball to Scherzer when the series comes to Los Angeles for Game 3.
So can the Dodgers avenge their second-place regular season and move another step closer to a repeat title? Or will the Giants block their path again? We know where Roberts and Bochy stand.
“I'm going to shoot him a text tonight,” Roberts said. “We're going to go double or nothing.”