Pitching in spotlight of Giants-Dodgers rivalry
LOS ANGELES -- Welcome to the National League West, where pitching continues to rule. The Dodgers and Giants appear determined to take the game back to the 1960s when Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal routinely made offenses disappear.
"With these two teams," Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said following the Giants' 3-0 decision Tuesday night, "it's always about pitching. It's why the Giants won the World Series two of the last three years. That's why we're in a position to make a great playoff run, with our pitching."
Two games into the new season, the Dodgers are hitting .153 with one homer by Clayton Kershaw, their ace, and all four of their runs coming in one inning on Opening Day. The Giants are batting .219, all 14 of their hits singles, two of their three runs unearned.
Those Giants runs arrived Tuesday night in support of Madison Bumgarner, who was just as good as Kershaw, the Dodgers' superb southpaw, had been in Monday's shutout of the champs.
Bumgarner yielded two-out doubles to Andre Ethier in the second inning and A.J. Ellis in the eighth, and absolutely nothing else. North Carolina's gift to the Giants' reign wasn't as close to perfect as the Rangers' Yu Darvish in Houston, but he was close enough to frustrate the Dodgers.
When Sergio Romo, in October form, mowed down the Dodgers in the ninth inning, the Giants had the first happy ending as reigning World Series champions for the second time in three years.
"We have to defend it," Giants catalyst Angel Pagan said following another two-hit effort and airtight defense in center field. "This was a good start. We don't expect anything less from [the Dodgers]. They have a good team."
Hyun-Jin Ryu had an impressive debut for the Dodgers, but he ran into the wrong lefty in the 6-foot-5 Bumgarner, one of the game's best young pitchers.
Ryu distributed 10 hits without a walk in 6 1/3 innings, showing mental toughness with the ability to make quality pitches under duress. He escaped jams in the first and second innings before three consecutive hits in the fourth -- starting with reigning NL Most Valuable Player Buster Posey -- gave Bumgarner a lead he would not surrender.
In search of his power stroke, Gonzalez had three encouraging at-bats against Bumgarner, driving balls deep to right and center with a third out to left. But he had nothing to show for it.
"It's the nature of hitting," Gonzalez said. "Even if you have good at-bats, you can go 0-for-3. Pitching wins games. [Bumgarner] got ahead of us, and any pitcher who has command early in counts is going to be tough. Our guy did a great job, too."
Bumgarner was at his best when threatened. After Ethier cracked a double to right in the second, Ellis went down swinging. In the eighth, after Ellis, the Dodgers' catcher, stroked a double to right, Bumgarner caught pinch-hitter Nick Punto looking at a third strike. Punto was hitting for shortstop Justin Sellers, whose two errors on throws in the seventh accounted for the unearned insurance runs.
Both third basemen, the Giants' Pablo Sandoval and the Dodgers' Luis Cruz, were handy with the leather, and Pagan used his wheels to run down several drives in center. Apart from Sellers' miscalculations, it was high-caliber baseball by a pair of contenders with big plans.
"It's a pitching-rich division," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "In these ballparks, you'll see a lot of these games. Both these clubs have great starters and bullpens. Both sides made plays defensively."
Bumgarner, in control of all four pitches, was precise with 76 strikes in 101 deliveries. Ryu was in the strike zone with 55 of his 80 pitches.
"He was good," Pagan said of Ryu, a 26-year-old South Korean import who has been the best pitcher in his country for several years. "He had everything -- good fastball, breaking ball, very good changeup. Obviously, his changeup is his out pitch."
The Giants, dead last in home runs in 2012, are looking for their first extra-base hit in 2013.
"This team is not recognized by hitting a lot of homers," Pagan said. "We understand our ballpark and our role. We see gap to gap and keep the line moving. There are some teams that like to focus on three-run homers, but we like playing right baseball, smart baseball -- running the bases, going first to third, grinding out at-bats."
The Giants have Tim Lincecum lined up in Wednesday night's series finale against Josh Beckett. These are pitchers with tremendous resumes looking to rebound from substandard seasons.
Lincecum appears relaxed and confident, having shown in a dominant World Series performance out of the bullpen that he still has the right stuff. Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have continued to express confidence in the two-time Cy Young Award winner, knowing a return to something close to prime-time "Freak" form by Timmy would be a huge lift.
"I'm a firm believer that you put last year behind us," Bochy said. "It's a new slate. It's how he has to look at it. I think he's fine. He's going to give us a good year."