LOS ANGELES -- The National League West race between the Dodgers and Giants was one for the ages. Los Angeles tied a franchise record with 106 wins, but still finished behind San Francisco, which set a franchise record of its own with 107 victories. It marked the first time a division featured two teams with at least 105 wins.
Their head-to-head matchups were also pretty epic. The Giants took the season series, 10-9, by winning the last game, which ultimately turned out to be the difference in the division. But that still doesn’t fully capture just how close the battles have been between the two teams.
So many games came down to the wire, delivering plenty of drama. It was a season series that featured blown saves, a missed check swing, a clutch home run robbery, and defensive mistakes that decided games late. There was also plenty of stellar baseball played between the two best teams in the sport.
After six months of battling each other, both teams were rewarded with the first postseason meeting in the storied history of their rivalry. The series has certainly lived up to the hype. And after a 7-2 Dodgers win over the Giants on Tuesday in Game 4 of the NL Division Series at Dodger Stadium, it’ll all come down to a winner-take-all-game on Thursday at Oracle Park.
It’ll be the third winner-take-all game between the Dodgers and Giants in the history of the rivalry, the first since Oct. 3, 1962, at Dodger Stadium.
“This is what baseball wants,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, with a smile. “As I understand, all the series are done and so we’re going to be the only show in town. So 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.”
With the Dodgers facing elimination on Tuesday, the only show they cared about was the one Walker Buehler put on out on the mound. After Game 2, Buehler told Roberts that he wanted to start Game 4 on three days’ rest after tossing 99 pitches in Game 1. Buehler had never started a game on short rest. He gave Los Angeles everything it needed and more.
Buehler allowed one run and struck out four over 4 1/3 strong innings. He had plenty of adrenaline, averaging 96.1 mph on the four-seam fastball, almost a full mph more than his season average. He was pulled after 71 pitches and was welcomed into the home dugout with a well-deserved standing ovation.
“He was attacking the zone. He was using four different pitches, getting them over for strikes, and expanded when he needed to,” said Giants catcher Buster Posey. “He just did a good job keeping us off-balance.”
After years of learning and watching veterans guide their teams to postseason success, Buehler established himself as the team’s ace this season. He had delivered plenty of stellar postseason performances up to this point, but never on short rest. That’s a box he can now check off his list, proving once again why he’s a worthy ace. He kept the Dodgers’ season alive in the process.
“I just know when our backs are against the wall, we got a guy named Walker Buehler that ends up getting us out of it,” said Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts. “So he did it again today. But we got one more game.”
While Buehler took care of the Giants’ offense, the Dodgers’ lineup put their Game 3 struggles behind them and did early damage to chase right-hander Anthony DeSclafani after just 1 2/3 innings. Trea Turner got the Dodgers on the board with a first-inning RBI double. The Dodgers tacked on another run in the second on a Chris Taylor sacrifice fly. Once they got into the Giants’ bullpen, it was Betts’ turn to deliver another signature moment in this series.
Betts smacked a two-run homer off left-hander Jarlín García in the fourth inning to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead. He also added a sacrifice fly in the fifth. But Betts wasn’t alone in the attack as the top three hitters in the order went 6-for-14 with four RBIs on Tuesday after going 0-for-11 in Game 3, The bottom of the order, led by Gavin Lux, also chipped in. The former top prospect went 2-for-2 with two walks and earned himself another start in Game 5.
In the eighth, Will Smith delivered the final blow, hitting a two-run homer of his own to extend the lead. The Dodgers needed their stars to step up. They got exactly that.
“The playoffs are all about momentum,” Buehler said. “I’ve talked about that kind of, almost too much, but I think it’s huge, and a win like this for us, especially the fashion we did it, is huge for us in two days.”
While the Dodgers avoided elimination for the second time this postseason, their season will be on the line yet again on Thursday. They’ll have left-hander Julio Urías on the mound. The Giants will counter with right-hander Logan Webb.
After 23 matchups this season, there will be no secrets between the two teams. They’ve thrown everything they have at each other for nearly seven months. Both teams have recorded 109 wins this season when you include the postseason. The team that wins No. 110 will move on to the NL Championship Series to face the Braves.
Was there ever any doubt that it was going to come down to this?
“For us, it’s just going to be going out and playing our game,” Smith said. “They know us. We know them really well. And it’s just going to come down to who wants it a little more and who is ready to go that day.”