LOS ANGELES – A rivalry found its way back to Dodger Stadium on Tuesday in a full ballpark on a hot summer night, in the makings of a division race, in Tim Lincecum versus Matt Kemp.
Eight years had passed; time enough for the San Francisco Giants to win themselves a World Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers to compose themselves again. They'd stood on the boundaries of each other's turf and each other's history, but for too long only in the hearts of baseball romanticists.
For nearly that decade they fell out of each other's rhythms, so that one franchise rose as the other toppled. Disgrace chased good fortune. Dishonor hounded NL West titles.
Beyond the occasional chants and box score villains, beyond one horrible afternoon in a parking lot here, the Dodgers and Giants stayed out of each other's way. The Dodgers were insignificant in San Francisco. The Giants were another team in gray in L.A.
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Even the few tense moments of a season were forgotten come September, when one would go on without the other. Or they'd both be swamped, as they were by the Arizona Diamondbacks a season ago.
So it was with some significance that the Giants arrived here Monday night, pitched themselves past Clayton Kershaw and into first place by a half-game. Twenty-four hours later they gave the ball to Lincecum, their two-time Cy Young Award winner and, this season, tortured soul. The Dodgers countered with Joe Blanton, who'd come from Philadelphia at the trading deadline. His reputation was as a back-end starter, and he'd pitched to it for the better part of three starts for the Dodgers.
The ballpark was sold out, in part because the Dodgers and Giants were real again, in part because Fernando Valenzuela bobbleheads were handed out at the door, and finally because a cool breeze – the first here in at least a few weeks – could be felt in the top deck.
The Giants would win again, the Dodgers would score but one run again, and new Dodgers owner Mark Walter would visit the manager's office postgame, almost certainly for a handshake and a go-get-em-tomorrow for Don Mattingly.
But the game, the rivalry renewed, would not pass without one of those moments that draws folks to a ballpark, and pulls them from their seats, and reminds them why this could all be great again.
Kemp, who's never been anything but a Dodger, against Lincecum, who's never been anything but a Giant. The sixth inning. The Giants up four. The bases loaded. Every one of 56,000 people standing, shouting, waving. Begging.
Kemp was hitless in his last 21 at-bats. Lincecum would throw his final pitch of the game, then and there, win or draw.
This was the theater that had been boarded eight years earlier, since the Steve Finley grand slam and the party that followed. The Giants apparently will have to pitch their way to the top of the NL West. The Dodgers seem capable of hitting their way there. Lincecum, who leads the league in losses, must perform. Kemp, whose hopes for a 50-50 season and another run at league MVP was lost in a bad hamstring, must perform.
Strike one was a fastball, a little away, a little up. Kemp took it. Lincecum would come back with something different. Kemp would not wait for strike two, not amid this slump and with such an opportunity at hand.
"I could tell from the first slider I threw him earlier in the game," Lincecum said, "if I threw him the same pitch or somewhere in that vicinity, somewhere off the plate, somewhere close to the black, hopefully I'd just get a pop fly."
Kemp thought as much. The slider was away. To the delight of the masses, Kemp swung and sent the ball toward right field. Hunter Pence turned and shuffled toward the wall.
Afterward, Kemp shoved his feet into his shoes. Across his back, a tattoo reads, "Living for the Moment."
Here it was. Maybe he got it. Maybe he didn't. He thought he did. He hoped he had.
"I hit it good," Kemp said.
The crowd bellowed.
"And he just misses that ball," Mattingly said.
"It just didn't go anywhere," he said.
He watched Pence drift to the edge of the warning track. Then Pence stopped.
"It was just a fly ball," Kemp said.
One run scored on the sacrifice fly. The Giants would win, 4-1.
"There's a ton of stadiums around the league that ball is way back," Mattingly said. "This just isn't one of them."
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Maybe that's true, and maybe the pitch was better than they'd allow, and maybe Kemp isn't quite right.
"I mean, I didn't come through," Kemp said. "I got one run. It would have been better to hit one over the fence and tie the game. But I didn't."
Even as Juan Rivera crossed the plate, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was off the top step, headed to the mound. Lincecum had thrown 87 pitches, two runners remained, the left-handed Andre Ethier waited on deck.
"It wasn't about getting the strikeout there," Lincecum said. "I knew I was in a situation where if I get a sac fly we're still in a good situation. I wasn't trying to compound the problem. I was just trying to get one out."
It was the very one he needed, the one the Dodgers needed to avoid. This is where they are again, back to moments like these, when two cities lean in and the baseball becomes honest and taut. The Giants' lead is 1½ games. Six weeks are out there still.
"We're going to be fine," Mattingly said later. "We're not going anywhere."
Neither, it seems, are the Giants. So maybe it's special again. Maybe it's personal again.
"It's hard not to [get hyped up] just because of the rivalry here," Lincecum said. "Obviously you kind of come in here with the expectation with the Giants and Dodgers, it's going to be big, especially with the hunt we're in. All things considered, they are big games so you treat them that way."
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