LOS ANGELES — A loose napkin fell off the left field upper deck of Dodger Stadium. By the time it completed its descent during the National Anthem, it had traveled all the way to center field, landing in the middle of the oversized American flag.
The dust particle-laden sky and wind gust of 22 mph provided unexpected wrinkles into one of the most intense games of one of the most historic NLDS series ever.
The franchise-record 107-win Giants stacked up against an unbeatable mercenary starting for the defending World Series champions — on a battlefield where it hadn’t lost in 15 games. Only this time, that battlefield was more breezy tundra than “Blue Heaven” for a pivotal Game 3 in the split NLDS.
“We knew we weren’t going to walk over these guys,” third baseman Evan Longoria told KNBR Sunday. “Obviously the season series has been split so evenly. It’s going to be blow for blow until the end… we knew we were going to have to win games here to win the series. We’re right where we need to be.”
Dodgers starter Max Scherzer, who led LA to 12 consecutive wins since joining the team, fell off the mound in the first inning, seemingly blown over by the wind. Between pitches, a Dodger bat girl sprinted from the right field wall into center to pick up debris in center field in front of Chris Taylor. LA’s 2020 World Series Champions flag blew from left to right the entire night.
The last team standing through the adverse conditions was the one that out-dueled Scherzer with a strong start from Alex Wood, coupled with a band of relievers. It was the one with Evan Longoria’s slump-busting home run and brilliant defensive plays all over the diamond. And the one with flame-throwing rookie Camilo Doval heroically disarming the last six Dodgers of the game to earn the save.
San Francisco’s 1-0 win in Game 3 brings them one win away from the NLCS. SF has another chance in Game 4 in Dodger Stadium and another back in Oracle Park to eliminate their defending World Series champion rivals.
In Game 3, Scherzer and Alex Wood cut through the wind by throwing dueling gems. Wood no-hit the Dodgers through the first two innings, pitching exclusively sinkers and sliders to contact even as LA grinded through deep at-bats. Scherzer, meanwhile, used his five-pitch arsenal to strike out five Giants through two innings, but allowed more traffic on the basepaths.
Scherzer’s fourth of 10 strikeouts on the night came on a full-count fastball that Evan Longoria waved through. The punch-out dropped SF’s veteran third baseman to 0-for-8 in the NLDS and one for his last 34.
Giants fans felt like the 14-year veteran was choking. In fairness to him, the Los Angeles air quality was generously rated “fair” in AQI, and the pregame fireworks didn’t help. Longoria said after the game he felt like the wind was almost blowing him over. There was dust in his eyes, and he never stepped out of the batter’s box more to compose himself than he did Monday night.
The conditions were most severe in the first two innings. They got less biblical in the third inning, but both offenses still suffocated.
To start the bottom of the third, 41-year-old Albert Pujols dropped a bloop single into shallow right field for LA’s first hit of the night. The left-to-right wind from 20 minutes earlier may have blown it foul. Pujols made it all the way to third on a sacrifice bunt, then a passed ball, but was stranded there.
Then, miraculously, Longoria busted out of his slump. In an 0-2 count, Scherzer served him a fastball up and over the middle of the strike zone, and Longoria crushed it at 110 mph off the bat. A hurricane wouldn’t have batted the shot down.
It was only the second time in 2021 Scherzer allowed a home run on an 0-2 count. Longoria had only two career hits against Scherzer prior to Monday, but one of them was a homer in 2011. He told KNBR the day before Game 3 that while Scherzer is as accomplished and as they come, SF could study every possible pitch he had to throw. They game-planned for his deception, and in doing so, the goat turned hero.
Meanwhile, Wood continued to retire his former teammates. He faced the lineup twice, allowing two hits — both singles to Pujols — and dealing 4.2 scoreless innings. Tyler Rogers navigated the heart of LA’s order with 1.1 scoreless innings out of the pen. Center fielder Steven Duggar picked him up by darting through the wind and robbing Chris Taylor of an extra base hit in the right-center gap.
Scherzer kept pumping past 100 pitches through the seventh, though. He picked up his 10th strikeout and retired Longoria to end the inning on his 111th offering. The winner of Game 3 of a five-game series advances 72 percent of the time. The Dodgers wouldn’t have preferred anyone else on the mound.
But the Dodgers’ offense wasn’t going to just peter out of a 1-0 game. Wood admitted LA had “arguably the most talented team in baseball” even before trading for three-time Cy Young winner Scherzer and batting champion Trea Turner.
“I mean, you look at their lineup the last two days, you look at every position, and it’s All-Star, All-Star, MVP, All-Star, All-Star,” Wood said a day before his strong start.
LA knocked Tyler Rogers out of the seventh with two consecutive singles. Jake McGee relieved Rogers with two men on and one out. He fanned righty Austin Barnes on three pitches, then the Dodger Stadium crowd chanted “Moo-kie! Moo-kie!” as Mookie Betts stepped up.
On the second McGee pitch, Betts blasted a line drive 100.4 mph off his bat toward left-center. Had it dropped in like its expected batting average of .870 said it would, the Dodgers would have at least tied SF 1-1. Instead, Brandon Crawford tested his vertical leap and reached as high as his 6-foot-1 frame would let him. He came down with the inning-ending catch.
From there, it was rookie Camilo Doval’s game to close. He’d only become San Francisco’s closer in the last week of the regular season, but pitched 14.1 scoreless innings in September — plus a flawless ninth in Game 1. Here, the 24-year-old was tasked with a six-out save against the heart of the Dodgers’ order.
Doval induced a groundout to Trea Turner. He forced Corey Seager and Justin Turner into flyouts. He forced Chris Taylor to fly out, got A.J. Pollock looking and slapped his chest when Steven Duggar corralled the final out on the center field warning track. The wind may have kept it in the park.
Now the team full of MVPs, All-Stars and future first-ballot Hall of Famers is one loss away from booking flights far away from the bizarrely unpleasant “Blue Heaven” climate. The LA skies closed, and so could the Dodgers’ season.