In the twisted DNA of the Dodgers-Giants’ heated and hated rivalry, one team should always have the opportunity to mutate, mangle or mame the other’s chances of clinching a playoff spot at least one series every September.
As it has played itself out for 2013, the Dodgers’ opportunity to count down what remains of any magic number combination and lock up the NL West isn’t likely to happen in front of the visiting Giants, last season’s World Series champions.
These Giants, simply fighting to stay out of the NL West basement, are set against allowing it to happen. They’ve said so.
Just as Dodgers wouldn’t have any part of it 20 years ago, when rookie Mike Piazza pounded two home runs in a 12-1 win over San Francisco on the last day of the season to thorougly thwart the Giants’ attempt to catch Atlanta for the NL West title.
That particular triumph, for what it was worth, evened the Dodgers’ season at a crisp 81-81.
“That was our playoff game,” said Tim Wallach, the Dodgers’ third baseman that day, after the current Dodgers’ third base coach hit fungos to Mark McGwire’s kids next to the batting cage during Saturday’s batting practice. “That was our season.”
If it’s happened once, it’s happened a thousand times. Or, at least it’s seemed that way.
Really, the Dodgers and Giants have bashed each others brains out – sometimes as closer to literal as possible – nearly 1,000 times since planting their West Coast business beachheads some 55 years ago, after both found it financially appealing to pull up stakes in New York and promote expansion.
Saturday’s Dodgers-Giants meeting at Dodger Stadium was No. 978. With the 2014 schedule already posted, the 1,000th meeting will occur, barring any rain out, earthquake or rhubarb, on Sept. 23, a Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, taking place with only four more games remaining on the Dodgers’ regular-season schedule after that.
Joe Konte has already done the math. And based on history, chemistry and physics, he expects nothing but something explosive to take place on that day.
“All it really takes is one incident that inflames it,” the self-created historian of this lethal partnership based on all the exhaustive research he put in for his new book, “The Rivalry Heard ‘Round the World: The Dodgers-Giants Feud from Coast to Coast” (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.95, 312 pages).
“Maybe it’ll be something Yasiel Puig does. Or Hanley Ramirez ticking someone off with the goggles things he does. And you never know what Brian Wilson will do.”
Konte, a native San Franciscan who attended his first Dodgers-Giants game as a kid in 1958 at Seals Stadium, did more than a forensic study of how these two have exchanged lineup cards and punches with each other through time.
Box score after box score, one newspaper story after another, Konte was compelled to script this rivalry bible, whose genesis goes back to their first bite in the Big Apple way back in 1889 and whose venomous hate-hate relationship survived every Matt Cain and Able encounter up through today’s technological Twitter fan feuds.
Coming into this series, several Giants were quoted as saying there was no way they’d allow the Dodgers to pop corks while they were in town.
“Being a Giants fan, I was taught at a young age not to like the Dodgers,” Giants shortstop and former UCLA standout Brandon Crawford told the San Francisco Chronicle.
As for that 1993 Dodgers-Giants finale, Crawford said he was 6 years old living in the Bay Area and “I remember my dad being upset about it.”
That’s what makes this weekend seem incomplete. By the time these two meet again next weekend in San Francisco, the Dodgers might be more focused on not injuring themselves than how they give a black eye to the other team’s legacy.
“A good rivalry isn’t just two teams battling the last day for a title,” said Konte, a news editor and former sports editor at the Marin Independent Journal. “A real rivalry is when you have one team going no where, but they will ratchet it up against the other team if they are in a position to do something.”
Willie Mays once said, according to a quote that Konte uncovered and included in the book: “There’s so much pride involved. We try as hard against all the other clubs, but somehow, some way, we feel all the bad breaks, or sloppy games or mistakes – if any – will be forgiven by the fans if we beat the Dodgers.”
Ron Cey, who saw enough of the rivalry during the ’70s and ’80s while manning third base for the Dodgers, said Saturday he could forgive fans if they didn’t see as much pride in the the rivalry reveal itself over the last 25 years because of how the game, and rosters, have changed over so much.
Juan Uribe, a key member of the Giants’ 2010 World Series championship team, was batting cleanup for the Dodgers against San Francisco for the second night in a row Saturday – and also made a strange error that helped the Giants take a 3-0 lead before the Dodgers even came to bat.
Wilson and his Just For Men-polished black beard, who recorded the last out for those Giants to set off the celebration, ended up as the winning pitcher in the Dodgers’ 10-inning victory over the Giants in the series opener Thursday.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our fans now may not know what the fans back then saw on a regular basis, when the lineups didn’t change much,” said Cey. “But I can see that coming back to an extent and carrying over as long as both teams are in the mix.”
Picture this: In one of the hallways that leads from the Dodgers’ locker room to the field, an array of moments captured by team photographer Jon SooHoo line the walls. The players themselves can see the Dodgers’ Eric Gagne staring down the Giants’ Barry Bonds. There’s another of the Dodgers’ 2004 late-season rental, Steve Finley, with his arms stretched out after hitting a game-winning grand slam against the Giants to clinch a playoff spot at their expense.
On a page of photos from Konte’s book, there’s a shot of the Dodgers’ Ramirez celebrating a key hit in a game at San Francisco just after he was acquired by the team last year. Below that, there’s Giants relief pitcher Sergio Romo buried in confetti as he soaks in the 2012 championship parade.
Spoiler alert: We’re not going to tell how how the Dodgers and Giants will genetically engineer in the closing moments of 2013, and then set the stage for 2014. Just know this isn’t a rivalry about to unravel any time soon before the next thousand close encounters take place.