SAN FRANCISCO — They have controlled the National League West for nearly a decade now, but on Monday, the teams that have won eight of the past nine division titles were merely searching for their place in the sports pecking order.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are supposed to be setting the NL West pace, not lagging behind it as upstarts in Colorado and Arizona take flight. These California coastal teams should be titans, not tomato cans.
The usual powerhouses can normally draw attention simply from the energy given off by the jammed-packed stadium. At AT&T Park on Monday, though, both teams brought a sub-.500 record into the matchup and were both feeling the sting of recent injuries.
Before the game, the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner addressed the recent dirt bike accident that landed him on the disabled list with an injured shoulder, while the Dodgers were on the other side of the ballpark placing center fielder Joc Pederson on the DL with a right groin strain. The Dodgers also held a throwing session for Rich Hill to assess his blister issue.
With the somber news out of the way, the Giants’ Matt Cain and the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu turned back the clock and engaged in a pitchers’ duel worthy of their prime. Ryu gave up one run over six innings, while Cain countered with six shutout innings on two hits.
Cain’s Giants got the best of it with a 2-1 nail-biting victory, as the right-hander won his first game against the Dodgers since May 5, 2013. When Giants catcher Buster Posey picked off the Dodgers’ Justin Turner from second base to end it, San Francisco closer Mark Melancon pumped his fist in order to supply the exclamation point.
But with both teams well below their standards it raised the question: How much of Monday’s tightly played game was very good pitching and how much was sub-par offense?
“These teams, these are two winning teams in recent years and these teams are not going to lie down,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts insisted. “But yeah, right now, we’re both under .500. Those guys aren’t going to quit over there and we certainly aren’t.”
In proving how these two teams never do anything quietly, the game also featured Sergio Romo pitching at AT&T Park for the first time as a visitor. After nine mostly successful seasons as a Giants reliever, the right-hander pitched a scoreless inning in enemy blue.
What Romo could not do was help the Dodgers’ offense. The Dodgers had just two hits entering the eighth inning and were trailing 2-0 when a Chase Utley walk, an Enrique Hernandez single and a ground ball from Chris Taylor brought home a run. Taylor was then thrown out trying to steal second base with Corey Seager at the plate as the go-ahead run.
The Taylor judgement error, combined with the Turner pickoff at second base as the tying run, only added to the Dodgers’ frustration as they lost the first meeting of the rivals this season.
Turner appeared to get a Dodgers rally started when he singled with one out in the ninth. After Yasmani Grandal struck out, Turner made a good read on a Melancon pitch in the dirt and advanced to second. But it hardly mattered when he was picked off after drifting too far off the bag on his secondary lead with Adrian Gonzalez at the plate.
“With Melancon he spikes a lot of his breaking balls in the dirt and I’m just trying to read it out of the hand early,” Turner said. “I saw it down and took off. That was a good baseball play. A couple of pitches later was a very bad one.”
After making just one start in the past two seasons because of shoulder and elbow surgeries, Ryu made the best start of his comeback. He gave up only a sacrifice-fly RBI to Joe Panik in the second inning and seemed to supply himself with a healthy dose of confidence moving forward.
“It was definitely a long road back, but I was glad I was able to put up the performance I did today,” Ryu said through an interpreter. “I was able to make a quality start. It would have been better if I was able to do this from the start of the season, but it took me four games to do it. I hope to build on this performance.”
The Dodgers are in a midst of a stretch in which they will use six different starting pitchers in six consecutive games. When that run is complete, somebody will exit the rotation. That somebody does not appear to be Ryu, especially with the way he handled the club’s rival on the road.
“I thought the curveball was good, the changeup, he held velocity,” Roberts said of Ryu. “I think that tonight he showed, even late, the backdoor cutter to right-hand hitters. He showed his complete mix and for him to be stressed a little in the sixth inning, but to be able to get through it, that was good. Every time he takes the mound, I feel good, so for him to put it together, that was good for him moving forward.”
Perhaps the rivalry helped Ryu’s focus. Perhaps everybody’s intensity was a little more heightened on this day. The teams might still be on the hunt for a winning record, but it felt like old-time Dodgers and Giants, for the most part.
“When you get us two together, I think the intensity ramps up a little bit,” Roberts said. “There was a lot of focus and even after that save, you could see the exhale and excitement from Melancon. It was a big game for them and conversely a tough one for us, but we have to regroup tomorrow.”