LOS ANGELES – Every rivalry worth its odium finds itself eventually in the sandbox, dragging everyone back to second grade with it, and so Madison Bumgarner and Yasiel Puig on Monday night at Dodger Stadium found themselves screaming over who eyeballed whom first.
It pretty much deteriorated from there, as it has in the past, these two more than once engaged in lengthy debates, often while being restrained, usually one accusing the other of looking his way for too long or with the wrong intentions. Somebody’s gonna have to pull this car over right now.
On the bright side, the entire San Francisco Giants bullpen came rushing onto the field and when it retreated the Giants still had a 1-0 lead, a windfall that lasted another 20 or 30 minutes.
Bumgarner and Puig have a history that includes hit by pitches, bat flips, staring contests, dropped gloves, semi-heartfelt “come on” gestures and various exercises that amount to paste eating, which has little to do with the Giants’ eighth blown save of September and their 29th of the season, or the Dodgers lowering their magic number to clinch the NL West to seven, or a recovering Clayton Kershaw inching another six innings toward October, but there we were anyway, sorting through the latest between young masters Bumgarner and Puig.
As it turned out, in fact, neither Bumgarner nor Puig was anywhere near the ninth inning, when the Dodgers scored twice against the Giants when their relievers were forced to enter one at a time, a possible point of contention among China Basin denizens. Bumgarner was removed from the game after seven innings and 97 pitches, immediately after the dust-up with Puig, though the two are believed to be unrelated. He’d allowed one hit (a second-inning double by Puig, of course) and struck out 10 and held that one-run lead, and by then appeared as though he could have pitched until Thursday, especially given the alternative.
Well, first he was dragged from the field by teammates and coaches, and then the bullpen door reopened, and then the reason the Giants find themselves playing desperately to hang onto a wild-card spot (along with an offense that has been anemic) happened again. The result was a two-run bottom of the ninth for the Dodgers, and a lot of shouting and celebrating on the field and in the bleachers, and an ashen Bochy observing, “We’ve let too many of these get away. … But we gotta deal with it. Somehow we’ve got to persevere and keep coming.”
Everybody’s got problems, man. As Buck Showalter likes to say, “Half the people don’t care and the other half are glad you got ’em,” and Buck didn’t make that up but it sounds folksy when he says it, so he gets the credit.
The Giants, for example, came to town, and as of dinnertime they had themselves a playoff spot, and the best manager in the business has been throwing darts at the late innings for a month. The man finesses a bullpen like a traveling salesman works an expense account, and still the numbers come up a bit too imperfect.
“It’s been no question a difficult year,” Bochy said. “The bullpen decisions, trying to get this thing in order, and sometimes overthinking it a little bit because of our struggles there. I think, I have to be honest, trying to get the closing thing together. To be honest, it hasn’t gone very well. … It’s been the most trying season for me, far as that goes.”
So, yeah, problems. A whole season balances on a breath of luck – good or bad. It teeters on a slab of maple wood. It could fit inside, say, a spinal disk, assuming that disk was attached to a certain Clayton Kershaw, who most definitely is attached to whatever happens for – or to – the Los Angeles Dodgers from here.
Two-plus weeks from a presumed postseason start, Kershaw, held up against, you know, Kershaw, that Kershaw, wasn’t quite that. Not yet. But he was on the mound, in the flesh, at Dodger Stadium for the first time in three months, and he was fine. Not precise. Not blowing through a lineup. But still the guy who’d set his jaw and get after a game like almost nobody else.
“Batting ninth, on the mound, No. 22, Clayyyton Kerrrshaw …” the man behind the mic said, and that would do for a Dodgers team trying to finish off the Giants. And here’s the thing about the Giants: Unless the sun comes up and there’s a stake through their hearts, the job’s not done. Not close. Maybe they don’t always look so hot in September, but they always look good in the parade.
So Kershaw reached the center of the infield, pounded his glove twice with his fist, hiked up his pants, took a big breath and got on with the business of pitching against the Giants and Bumgarner and a herniated disk and the grogginess of eight innings since June 26. He threw 88 pitches. He gave up a run on a scratch single, a stolen base, an error and a wild pitch. His fastball was good and reliable. His breaking balls less so. He has time for two more regular-season starts.
“Physically,” he said, “I feel good. No complaints.”
The Dodgers did take great satisfaction from their victory. Not only did it push the Giants another game back, not only did they win a game started by Bumgarner, but they’d also rallied behind Puig, a man they not long ago were happy to have removed from their clubhouse, and on Monday night were flying from their dugout and bullpen to defend.
It began on a roller from Puig’s bat up the first-base line, which brought Puig and Bumgarner to within a few feet of each other, which could end only one way. Puig was out. Bumgarner stared. Puig stared back.
“Don’t look at me,” Bumgarner said.
“What?” Puig said.
“Don’t look at me,” Bumgarner said, pointing to his own eye.
“Why you look at me?” Puig snarled.
“Don’t [freakin’] look at me,” Bumgarner snarled back.
And, yeah, grown men.
“Every time I face him,” Puig said afterward, “it seems like we have the problems.”
By the end, they were surrounded by something like 80 people, all looking at each other.
“That wasn’t Puig’s fault,” Kershaw said. “We all know Bum’s pretty intense out there. He definitely stirred the fire on that one. He was asking for it.”
Bumgarner felt otherwise. But then, that’s what a rivalry’s supposed to be about. Nobody quite sees eye to eye.
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