Courtesy of Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have been the surprise baseball team of 2021. Certainly nobody, not even the most ardent Giants fan would have predicted the orange and black would have the best record in baseball tied with their long time rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers in early September.
Despite having to resort to bullpen games for Saturday and Sunday, the Giants emerged with two wins and a one game division lead.
More importantly, Sunday's win was the regular season finale between the two teams and the Giants won the series 10-9. If the two teams were tied after 162 games, a one game playoff would be held at Oracle Park.
"I knew we were tied but I didn't know the consequences of it whether it would be home field advantage in a one game playoff," said Brandon Belt who homered on the first pitch from Walker Buehler on Sunday. "Yeah that's pretty huge for us. Honestly this is one of the most fun series I've been a part of all year so I could imagine in the playoffs it'd be that much more intense."
Unfortunately, the Giants are missing two important members of the starting rotation. Lefty Alex Wood tested positive for COVID so he is out ten days while recovering from a fever and chills. And veteran Johnny Cueto is on the 10 day injury list with a right elbow strain.
The Giants won a marathon game on Friday 3-2 in 11 innings when Buster Posey grounded to second but the throw by Trea Turner was high. It forced Will Smith, normally a catcher, to reach for the ball and in doing so, his foot wasn't on the base.
While that should have elicited an on-field celebration, the play was reviewed so the Giants went into the dugout to await the outcome.
When it was officially decided in favor of San Francisco, it touched off an unusual celebration.
Posey said he didn't have to worry about getting hurt in a post-game celebration.
"Fortunately no licks...34-year old catcher they know they need to be careful with me. Once I knew the game could be ended I was like, let's go in the dugout. I don't think we've ever had a walk-off win celebration in the dugout so, that was a first."
Saturday's game was forgettable. Because of the aforementioned absences of Wood and Cueto, the Giants were forced to go with a bullpen game and Jay Jackson got the ball for his first career start. But Jackson only lasted 1/3 of the first inning. Turner atoned for his game ending blunder on Friday taking Jackson deep to center for the leadoff home run. Austin Slater playing center field tried to make a play on the ball and collided with the outfield wall. Before Sunday's game, Slater was placed on the seven day concussion list. That means under the protocols for a concussion, Slater must miss all seven games and cannot return any sooner to the active roster.
In the series finale televised on ESPN for Sunday Night Baseball, the Giants had to go with another bullpen game. Dominic Leone got the ball for the start against Cy Young contender Buehler who had never lost to the Giants and entered the game with a career 7-0 mark vs. SF with a 1.83 ERA. In fact, Buehler was almost Sandy Koufax-like in his dominance vs. the Giants having never allowed more than three runs in any outing.
But it ended up being Walker Buehler's day off (pun intended). In three innings pitched, Buehler allowed six runs and seven hits.
"Not a whole lot was very good, probably the worst I've thrown in a long time and we'll get back to the drawing board and improve but it was a tough day for me today," Buehler said. "They hit balls hard, they hit balls soft, I didn't get ahead in the count. That's one of the big things this year is getting ahead and I didn't do that today. I mean we have a month left. This was a big game and a Sunday night game, tight in the division and all that, but what it boils down to is playing a better month of baseball than they do. That's our goal and my goal so I think that's what we need to do."
After Belt's home run on the first pitch with one out in the first inning, the Dodgers managed to tie it up 1-1. But Steven Duggar was recalled to replace the injured Slater and hit a clutch two-run triple down the right field line and when he slid into third, he gestured emphatically and got congratulations from third base coach Ron Wotus.
Duggar knew the importance of this series.
"I was just really excited to be back. Obviously the last few weeks (I was) down in (Triple A) Sac (Sacramento) just waiting," Duggar said. "Just preparing the same as if I were here and was extremely fortunate to get an opportunity here tonight to help this team win in a pretty big game, Sunday Night Baseball and this incredible rivalry and tonight the good guys came out on top."
The Dodgers made it interesting with this two-run homer from future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols but it wasn't good enough.
The series couldn't have gone any better for the Giants who are off to Colorado to face the Rockies while the Dodgers also had to take a red eye flight to take on the St. Louis Cardinals on Labor Day. We'll all be scoreboard watching the rest of the month and you wouldn't want it any other way.
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Reliever Dominic Leone after the Giants 9-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLDS on October 9, 2021.
Third Baseman Kris Bryant sat down with the media before Sunday's game to discuss what it feels like to be traded to San Francisco.
Manager Bruce Bochy after the Giants 9-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 29, 2019. This was his final game as Giants manager.