Dodgers force do-or-die Game 5 with Giants after evening NLDS

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LOS ANGELES -- It’s what America wanted.

It’s what this historic rivalry deserves.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have already played 131 years against one another, moving from coast to coast, staging an epic division race that wasn’t decided until the 162nd game of the regular season, so it’s only fitting that their season is coming down to one last game.

The Dodgers forced a Game 5 with a 7-2 victory Tuesday night over the Giants in front of a sellout crowd of 52,534 at Dodger Stadium, forcing a deciding game of the best-of-five National League Division Series on Thursday at Oracle Park.

The winner advances to the National League Championship Series against Atlanta, beginning Saturday.

The loser goes home for the winter with at least 108 regular victories.

Mookie Betts rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning.
Mookie Betts rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning.

"This is what baseball wants," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "All the series are done, so we're going to be the only show in town. If you have a pulse or you're a sports fan you better be watching Dodgers-Giants. It's going to be a great one."

Welcome to the latest chapter of the wonderous rivalry that will haunt one of these franchises right up until spring training.

It will be the two of the best youngest starters in the game in 20-game winner Julio Urias of the Dodgers and Logan Webb of the Giants. Webb won Game 1 of this series. Urias won Game 2. All anyone will remember is who wins Game 5.

“He’s ready for it," said Giants manager Gabe Kapler about Webb. "We’ll get the rest of the club ready as well.”

The Dodgers, of course, were supposed to be here. They won eight consecutive NL West titles until this year. They won three pennants since 2013 and last year’s World Series. They were hyped as one of the greatest teams ever constructed.

The Giants, well, not so much.

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They haven’t been to the postseason since 2016, which was their last winning season. They have finished a combined 101.5 games out of first place since that postseason berth. They were predicted this year to win no more than 76 games by FanGraphs.

And they certainly have gotten the last laugh, winning a franchise-record 107 games, and are just one victory away from advancing to their first NLCS since 2014.

So much for all of the talk of the Dodgers-San Diego Padres becoming the new rivalry of the West, offending the senses.

Certainly, it had to infuriate the Giants, right?

“I actually don't feel that way,’’ Kapler said. “I understood. I understood from the very beginning of the season why the Dodgers were considered to be the best team in baseball and why the Padres were considered to be a team that could challenge for the National League West title.

“There was no point in the season where I was like, 'Wow, I can't believe like people still think these teams are really good.' I mean, the Padres were exceptionally talented, had a tough year on a number of different levels. And the Dodgers are as talented as any team out there and they're in the postseason and won 106 games.

“None of those things surprise me.’’

So the fact that the Dodgers-Giants rivalry comes down to an elimination game to join baseball’s Final Four, with the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros all set for the ALCS and Atlanta clinching its berth Tuesday with a victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The elimination game was set up with Walker Buehler, pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, holding the Giants to one run for 4 ⅓ innings, and turning the game over to vaunted bullpen.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best postseason pitcher in baseball,’’ Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor said. “Just the mentality he has, and he's got the power, strikeout stuff.’’

The Giants, meanwhile, went through their entire bullpen Rolodex trying to slow down the Dodgers, using seven pitchers after starter Anthony DeSclifini lasted just 1 ⅔ innings.

The Dodgers certainly did their part keeping the Giants in striking range, squandered opportunity after opportunity to blow it open. They stranded 11 baserunners going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, finally pulling away on catcher Will Smith’s two-run homer in the eighth.

No matter, the Dodgers are used to the pressure of October, and refuse to blink no matter how bleak the situation. They won all three elimination games last season against Atlanta after being down 3-1 in the NLCS, and were tied at 2-games apiece in the World Series before winning the final two games against the Tampa Bay Rays.

So what’s a little division series game?

“I just think we're best when our backs are against the wall,’’ Taylor said, “and we've shown that. We understand we still control our own destiny.’’

Certainly, Dodgers All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts is no stranger to the postseason, having played 44 postseason games in his eight-year career.

Nerves?

You kidding?

Betts drove in three of the Dodgers’ seven runs with a two-run homer in the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly in the fifth, and sprinkled in an infield single.

You think a Dodgers-Red Sox series would be dramatic? Betts and pitchers Joe Kelly and David Price would be facing their former team featuring former Dodgers Enrique Hernandez and Alex Verdugo.

The Dodgers have five victories to go, and the Red Sox need four more wins, to make it happen.

For now, the Dodgers’ only concern is Thursday night, in the latest and greatest battle of their rivalry, with the last remaining Division Series game of the season.

“We know we got a tough task at hand,’’ Giants infielder/outfielder Kris Bryant said, “but it's been pretty special what we've been able to do. Just the resiliency that we have and proving people wrong. …

“It’s just all come together at the right time, and 107 wins later, and now we're in this position.’’

See you Thursday night.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dodgers even NLDS with Giants to force do-or-die Game 5