LOS ANGELES -- Mookie Betts’ second-inning single had only just snuck under Brandon Crawford’s glove when Gabe Kapler was off the top step of the visiting dugout. The Giants' manager walked toward the Dodger Stadium mound, raised his left arm and pointed his index finger at the right-field bullpen.
It was only the second inning. Starter Anthony DeSclafani had only recorded five outs. This was going to get weird.
If the Giants were going to win Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday night, it was going to take an impeccable performance from their entire bullpen. But if they couldn’t come from behind and win it? Well, there was still a Game 5 to be won.
A balance needed to be struck. For nine innings, Kapler delicately walked the tightrope, putting everything he had into winning Game 4 -- while ensuring he still had a fresh enough pitching staff in the event that a Game 5 was necessary.
Sure enough, it’s necessary. This series between NL West heavyweights is headed for a winner-take-all showdown on Thursday night at Oracle Park. The Giants hung around for most of Tuesday night, keeping the game close enough to make things interesting, before Will Smith’s late two-run home run broke open a 7-2 Dodgers victory.
As for the state of the Giants’ pitching staff? Well, Kapler believes he and his staff managed to walk that tightrope. Even after using a franchise-record-tying eight pitchers in a postseason game, Kapler said he expects his full contingent of arms to be fresh and available for Game 5.
“We're going to be in really good shape with our bullpen,” Kapler said. “I anticipate that everybody will be up and ready to pitch.”
The Giants get a day to reset their weary relief corps. Of course, without that travel day, it’s likely that Kapler would have managed Tuesday’s game quite a bit differently.
San Francisco trailed from the outset, falling behind in the first inning on Trea Turner’s RBI double against DeSclafani. But until Smith took Jake McGee deep in the eighth, the Giants’ win probability was high enough for Kapler to at least roll the dice with some of his best arms.
Facing a two-run deficit in the second, San Francisco was still alive. So Kapler lifted DeSclafani in favor of left-hander José Álvarez, who got Corey Seager to fly out to center field. With DeSclafani out of the game, the Giants then counted on right-hander Kervin Castro to give them length. But Castro struggled, too, walking two of the three hitters he faced in the third, which prompted earlier-than-expected outings from Jarlín García and Dominic Leone.
The Dodgers worked deep counts and made things difficult on the San Francisco relief corps. But despite a lot of traffic on the bases, those Giants relievers kept the game much closer than it felt.
“The scoreboard is the only thing that matters, and they were still in it to the end,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. “These guys, the Giants, they do a great job of limiting damage, keeping their club in it, and then they kind of prey on momentum.”
The Giants used eight pitchers in a postseason game for only the third time in franchise history -- and, in doing so, they pushed a few of them past their usual limits. That includes Tyler Rogers, who faced a season-high eight batters in Monday's Game 3 win, then faced three more Tuesday in a big spot in the fifth. McGee was also used for the second night in a row. Zack Littell pitched two scoreless frames.
But if there’s any external concern that fatigue might play a part in Game 5, Kapler isn’t buying it. First, there’s Wednesday’s off-day, combined with the fact that Rogers, Littell and McGee all kept their pitch counts low. On top of that, the Giants avoided using Camilo Doval, the electric 20-year-old right-hander who closed Game 3 with a six-out save.
Right-hander Logan Webb will be fully rested for his Game 5 start after a dominant performance in Game 1. Right-hander Kevin Gausman, who started Game 2, is also available. Even left-hander Alex Wood -- who has plenty of experience pitching in relief in the postseason -- might be called upon after his strong showing in Game 3.
“It's nice,” Kapler said. “You’ve got Webb with a full slate, Gausman with a full slate. I don't think using Alex Wood at some point in the game would be completely out of the question. We've got all of our relievers up and ready to pitch.”
All hands on deck. The Giants' pitching staff has been one of the best in baseball in 2021. With the stakes higher than they’ve been all season, Kapler should have that entire host of arms at his disposal, raring to go.