LOS ANGELES — Jake McGee tied a Giants franchise record they had no interest in matching.
McGee jogged from the right field bullpen to the Dodger Stadium mound in the bottom of the eighth inning to become the eighth pitcher San Francisco used in a playoff game, a grim milestone.
Even through more aggressive managing that resulted in pitching changes that would make a scorecard overflow, even after Mookie Betts’ two-run home run and Walker Buehler pitched 4.1 strong innings on three days’ rest, the Giants hung around. They were never totally out of Game 4.
Until Dodgers catcher Will Smith took McGee deep, sending a first pitch fastball 396 feet to center. His two-run shot turned a 5-2 Giants deficit into a breathable five-run cushion for LA.
Nobody in the Giants clubhouse was surprised when the Dodgers beat the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game to face SF in the NLDS, and nobody is shocked that the two teams on a high-speed collision course all year will meet for a final time — with both seasons on the line.
The Dodgers have been chasing the Giants for almost the entire 2021 season. Now they’ve finally caught them. Their reward? A do-or-die final showdown. The oldest rivalry in baseball that happens to feature the two best teams of the 2021 season will come to a climax Thursday in Oracle Park.
The Giants won a franchise-best 107 regular season games. The Dodgers, hot on their tails, matched their franchise record with 106. With the Dodgers’ pull-away, 7-2 Game 4 win, the rivals are deadlocked through four NLDS games, splitting the first two games at each home park.
It took the Dodgers 10 minutes after first pitch to score the first run with Trea Turner’s double driving in Corey Seager from first. LA added another run in the second and loaded the bases in the third, but LaMonte Wade Jr.’s leaping grab at the left field wall robbed Chris Taylor of at least three RBI.
LA’s lead remained 2-0, but it took four Giants pitchers to record the first nine outs of the game. Anthony DeSclafani gave up so much solid contact that couldn’t get out of the second inning. Jarlín García, the third in line after José Álvarez and a seemingly overwhelmed Kervin Castro, allowed a two-run opposite field blast to Mookie Betts in the fourth.
DeSclafani was the right choice to start Game 4, despite an abysmal 7.33 regular season ERA against the Dodgers. He dealt six scoreless innings in his final matchup with the Dodgers and finished the season strong with five scoreless frames against San Diego. DeSclafani enjoyed 10 days before his first career postseason start, and SF didn’t have any other truly viable traditional starter options, anyway.
The Giants had chances to make up for DeSclafani’s poor start. SF put runners on first and third with one out in the second but came away empty. They loaded the bases with one out in the fifth while knocking Buehler out of the game, but knocked in just one run.
After DeSclafani came Álvarez and Castro. Then Jarlin García for an inning. Dominic Leone allowed a run. Tyler Rogers pitched again a day after setting a season-high in pitches (29) and batters faced (8). Zack Littel dealt two scoreless innings before passing the baton to McGee.
As pitchers shuffled in and out, SF’s offense was stifled. Kris Bryant, though, back in the outfield after starting Game 3 at first base, went 2-for-3 with a walk, improving to 6-for-13 in the NLDS. Two of Bryant’s hits left his bat at over 103 mph.
But the permutations of batters hitting behind him repeatedly failed to drive him home, and he drove in Brandon Crawford in the eighth but couldn’t do real damage.
As a team, SF went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. As much as Gabe Kapler mixed and matched his bench in search of matchup edges, a rally never came.
While Game 4 didn’t feature much drama, there has been no shortage of memorable moments between the rivals in 2021. There was The Mike Tauchman Heist. The Cody Bellinger Throw. Logan Webb’s Game 1. The Ghosts of Candlestick and Air Crawford in Game 3. Los Angeles’ 7-2 Game 4 victory sends the series to a rubber match and provides an opportunity for another capital M Moment.
The Dodgers have been in hot pursuit of the Giants since June. The finish line is on Thursday at Oracle Park, where the Giants have one more chance to stave LA off for good.