Dodgers fall to Giants in 11 innings on costly throwing error

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 03: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants tags out Justin Turner.
Giants catcher Buster Posey tags out Dodgers baserunner Justin Turner at home plate in the 11th inning of the Dodgers' 3-2 loss Friday at Oracle Park. (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

The first chant echoed through Oracle Park at 3:40 p.m. Friday, three hours before the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants took the field for the rivals’ most important meeting in at least a half-decade.

Some members of the Giants were stretching down the left field line. The Dodgers hadn’t yet emerged from the visiting clubhouse; just a member of the training staff stood along their dugout’s rail. The ballpark was empty. A man behind the wall in right field took centerstage.

“Go Giants!” the man shouted. “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.! Wooooooo!”

Five pennants, one for each team in the National League West, flapped in the wind on a flagpole overhead. The pennants’ placements mirrored the division’s standings. On Friday, the Giants’ remained above the rest, though the Dodgers boasted the same league-leading record (85-49) and the best run differential in the majors.

By the end of the weekend, after three meetings, one club will take sole possession of the top spot. The Giants claimed it Friday, at least temporarily, with a gripping 3-2 win in 11 innings that came down to an error on a routine play between two Dodgers playing out of position after a series of thrills, oddities and pitching changes.

The game-ending sequence began with Buster Posey, a future Hall of Famer, scalding a groundball off Evan Phillips, the last reliever in the Dodgers bullpen, to the right side.

Second baseman Trea Turner, who began the play shifted up the middle, snagged the ball to his left and had time to throw out Posey, a 34-year-old catcher who runs like a 34-year-old catcher. But Turner’s throw sailed and took Will Smith, who was making his professional debut at first base, off the bag. Posey was ruled safe and a replay review upheld the call to end the game.

“I need to make that play,” Turner said.

The rivals began their three-game series Friday having split their first 16 meetings, scoring 68 runs apiece. They were tied in first place in the NL West in September for the first time since 1997. The stakes — and chilly conditions — generated a postseason atmosphere. The pitching matchup, however, didn’t resemble an October encounter.

The Giants had Anthony DeSclafani, who hadn’t logged more than three innings in a start in three weeks, take the mound ahead of bullpen games set for Saturday and Sunday. He gave up two hits over six scoreless innings.

“All game it just seemed like all game we were playing from behind,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “and playing on our heels all night.”

The Dodgers, meanwhile, announced Friday afternoon that that Corey Knebel, not David Price, would start. Roberts later indicated that Price, who had been listed as the starter, likely is headed to the injured list because of a sore elbow that hindered him in his previous few appearances.

Price’s absence would represent a step back just as reinforcements are approaching to bolster the thin starting rotation.

Tony Gonsolin, on the injured list since July 31 with right shoulder inflammation, is scheduled for to throw four innings for single-A Rancho Cucamonga on a rehab assignment Saturday. The right-hander could then come off the injured list if he emerges healthy.

Clayton Kershaw took his next step forward in his return from forearm inflammation Friday when where he threw around 35 pitches over two innings in a simulated setting. Roberts said the left-hander is slated to throw a bullpen session Sunday before going on a rehab assignment for a three-inning start. Kershaw, who last pitched for the Dodgers on July 3, could be activated after the outing in the minors.

Price’s absence would leave the Dodgers with just Max Scherzer, Julio Urías and Walker Buehler in the rotation. Urías and Buehler are listed as the starters Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, it was on the 11-man bullpen to absorb at least nine innings. It did so effectively.

The Giants scored the night’s first run in the third inning. That alone was enough until the ninth inning, when the Dodgers, down to their last out, tied the game. They almost didn’t get the opportunity.

San Francisco's Brandon Belt celebrates with third base coach Ron Wotus.
San Francisco's Brandon Belt celebrates with third base coach Ron Wotus after a video review confirmed Buster Posey (not pictured) was safe at first base to give the Giants a 3-2 win over the Dodgers in 11 innings Friday. Belt scored the winning run. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

After Justin Turner singled and Corey Seager doubled off Giants closer Jake McGee, Smith hit a sharp groundball right to second baseman Thairo Estrada. Turner broke for home immediately but stopped three-quarters down the base line when Estrada’s throw easily beat him. Turner retreated to third base where Seager had advanced.

They were standing on the bag when Posey, the catcher, tagged Turner. The third base umpire, however, called Seager out since rules stipulate the trailing runner is out in that situation.

Confusion ensued. Both Turner and Seager walked off the base thinking they were out. Posey, realizing something was amiss, rushed to tag Seager. But he was already out. Turner, meanwhile, stepped onto the base before Posey could reach him. Turner was safe and the Dodgers caught a break.

Chris Taylor then took advantage by lifting a bloop single to shallow center field to tie the game. Closer Kenley Jansen then wiggled out a jam in the ninth inning after issuing two walks to bring on extra innings.

The 10th frame began with 41-year-old Albert Pujols at second base following a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth. Pujols managed to lumber to third base on a flyout before Buehler replaced him as a pinch-runner and scored the go-ahead run on Trea Turner’s sacrifice fly.

Roberts, down to two relievers, chose Andrew Vasquez to pitch the bottom of the frame. Vasquez, acquired from the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2019. Brandon Crawford welcomed the left-hander with a game-tying single, scoring Posey, who had started the extra inning at second base.

Vasquez retired the next two batters before he was pulled for Evan Phillips, the Dodgers’ last unused reliever. He struck out Curt Casali on the ninth pitch of the at-bat to keep the Dodgers alive. The Dodgers thought they also survived the 11th inning when Turner fielded Posey’s groundball.

Getting to the ball was a display of the range Turner has showed off as a shortstop for most of his career before the Dodgers acquired him to play second base for the rest of the season. But his throw shined a light on his relative inexperience at the position — 53 starts in seven seasons.

"Trea works his tail off out there and is playing a new position,” Roberts said. “He'll never make excuses. He's been a plus-plus player for us all around and he's only going to make us better.”

Smith, the Dodgers’ starting catcher, never played first in a college or professional game until the 10th inning. Roberts chose him as the Dodgers’ fourth first baseman of the night — over Justin Turner, who has played 39 major league games at first — after the manager double-switched starting first baseman Max Muncy out of the game in the eighth inning, pinch-hit Pujols for Cody Bellinger in the ninth and had Buehler pinch-run for Pujols at third base.

“Not a lot,” Smith said of his experience at first. “But I feel athletic enough that I can play any position.”

Smith is listed at 5 feet 10. Another inch or two would’ve helped on Turner’s errant throw. So would’ve better footwork, a skill that comes with repetitions. But Smith doesn’t have the experience at first. Turner, transitioning to a new position midseason, doesn’t have much more at second. The combination became a problem at the absolute wrong time, dropping the Dodgers to second place again at least for 24 hours until Oracle Park is filled again for another round Saturday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.