They played nine, but the Giants only needed one.
Thanks largely to an astounding six innings of one-hit ball from San Francisco’s bullpen, it only took a half inning for the Giants (59-34) to do all the damage necessary in a 7-2 series-opening win over the Dodgers (58-37) on Monday.
It was a game that began as a fireworks show before petering out, only to be ignited again late by San Francisco. It also began as a showcase for Buster Posey (2-for-5), who made his return after two weeks away with a thumb injury, and wasted no time launching a two-run, line-drive home run off Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin to open the game.
In his first at bat since the 4th of July…
BUSTER BOOOOOOOOOMB pic.twitter.com/9lqDWIoyBM
— KNBR (@KNBR) July 20, 2021
That blast, and the one from Wilmer Flores that immediately followed, was all the Giants needed to beat their rivals in the first game of the crucial four-game set at Dodger Stadium, one that extended their lead to two games over Los Angeles in the NL West.
With fellow All-Star Kevin Gausman also making his return, needing only a three-run cushion for victory shouldn’t seem all that surprising. Yet it was the Giants’ bullpen that got the win Monday, thanks to the rare sight of Gausman being run early due to a high pitch count.
Twenty-nine of Gausman’s 80 pitches came in the first inning when the Dodgers did their best to match the Giants’ first act, with Max Muncy and Justin Turner launching back-to-back homers of their own off San Francisco’s ace, cutting the lead to 3-2. For Muncy it continues a scorchinig-hot stretch against the Giants this season, where the first baseman has eight home runs in 10 games.
When the dust cleared, Gausman and Gonsolin had combined for 61 pitches after one, and a whopping 100 after two, both offenses hinting that the game might look something like what took place last Monday in Colorado.
Despite the abbreviated performance, Gausman didn’t come to the park without his stuff. His splitter contributed heavily to the four strikeouts he notched in the five instances that the Dodgers had runners in scoring position against him (0-for-5), including a massive fanning of Will Smith with the bases loaded in the second. But the Dodgers made Gausman work, living up to the statistics that show they chase pitches outside the zone less often than any team in Major League Baseball.
The Giants, who see more pitches per at-bat than any team in the National League, matched Los Angeles grinding-at bat for grinding-at bat, chasing Gonsolin after he threw 80 pitches himself in 3 and 1/3.
From there it became a bullpen game, and the Giants relievers — who have the best WHIP (1.15) in the NL — showed why they are the class of the league. Zach Littell (1.2 innings), Jarlin Garcia (1.1), Dominic Leone (1.0), Jay Jackson (1.0) no hit arguably the best offense in baseball for five innings, striking out five and walking just one, with Jack McGee giving up the lone hit in his scoreless ninth.
They had to do so against some familiar names, old friends Jimmie Sherfy and Phil Bickford put in shifts as the game descended into a bullpen showcase. It was Bickford who the Giants touched up first in the seventh, a Jason Vosler sac fly ending five consecutive innings of scoreless baseball to push the lead to 4-2. Victor Gonzalez who took the haymaker later in the inning, when Thairo Estrada (2-for-4, 2 RBI in his first night taking over for Brandon Crawford) and Austin Slater RBIs added three more to put the game out of reach.
Littell was the lone Giants reliever who had to get out of a (self-inflicted) tight spot, getting five big outs while punching out Turner and Will Smith in the fifth after opening the inning with a walk to Muncy.