At an undisclosed, off-site location during the Dodgers-Cardinals Wild Card Game, the Giants convened for a watch party and poker night.
Some players and staffers were more focused on the poker game than their potential opponent playing on the television. Manager Gabe Kapler, for instance, went all the way to the final round, losing heads-up to front office executive Yeshayah Goldfarb.
The cards were all on the table again in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Kris Bryant played first base for the first time as a Giant. Tyler Rogers, the MLB leader in appearances, faced more batters than he has all season. Rookie Camilo Doval became the only rookie to ever record at least a six-out save without allowing any baserunners in the postseason.
The Giants took every risk, every aggressive maneuver they could in Game 3, knowing how big of a swing in a five-game series it has proven to be. Each move paid off, and now SF has two chances to eliminate the defending world champion Dodgers.
“The game kind of dictated it to some degree,” Kapler said postgame.
For the Giants, the situation demanded the win-now approach. Tied 1-1, the series shifted to Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers had won 15 straight games. And they had eight-time All-Star Max Scherzer on the mound, a then-flawless recipe for winning; LA had won all 12 of Scherzer’s starts since trading for him midseason.
So SF stacked their lineup with as much pop as they could. That meant featuring three left-handed hitters in the outfield in LaMonte Wade Jr., Steven Duggar and Mike Yastrzemski. The trio made Bryant the odd man out, and required him to move to third base.
The Duggar-Yastrzemski-Wade Jr. outfield doubles as SF’s optimal defensive threesome. Wade Jr. has more experience playing first base than Bryant, but his glove in the outfield is more valuable.
At first, Bryant only had to make a couple plays. Wade Jr. had to collect two scorched Trea Turner line drives in left, making a quick read on his sixth-inning jolt to the left-center warning track.
Bryant went 1-for-3 on the night, but his placement in the field was Kapler’s big pregame gamble. Had Bryant made a fielding error, people would’ve second-guessed Kapler for not getting Bryant any in-game reps at the position before the playoffs.
Kapler’s first in-game move was inaction. In the fourth inning, when starter Alex Wood walked two batters, Kervin Castro began warming up in the bullpen. Pitchers have shorter leashes in the postseason, but Kapler let Wood work out of the jam by inducing a 6-4 fielder’s choice.
It’s possible Castro could’ve entered the 0-0 ballgame at the time and helped SF escape. But they didn’t need to use him. Instead, Kapler weaponized the most reliable arms in his bullpen.
The Giants went to Rogers when Mookie Betts came to bat in the fifth inning. SF didn’t want Wood to face Betts a third time.
“[Betts’] swings in his second at-bat were really good,” Kapler said. “He’s a threat to hit a home run at any given time. And so when you make a decision to go to the pen early like we did, I think you know that you’re going to have to stretch somebody, maybe two people.”
By making the call to Rogers, SF chose to extend him. Rogers, one of SF’s most reliable relievers all year, got Betts to ground out and end the fifth. He went back out for the sixth and faced a season-high eight batters, pitching through hard contact including a 107 mph jolt from Chris Taylor that Duggar bolted to in the gap.
After Rogers, Kapler tapped McGee. He’d only pitched one MLB inning since returning from an oblique strain, but was now being thrust into a 1-0 NLDS game. With the help of Brandon Crawford’s miraculous catch, he retired both batters he faced in the seventh.
Then came the now-famous Doval call. Doval had already drawn Francisco Rodriguez comparisons entering the postseason, and tossed a perfect ninth inning in Game 1. When Kapler told him the last six outs were his, the Dominican Republic native said, “I got it, papi. I’m ready.”
The result: Doval recorded a perfect six-out save. SF bested Scherzer for the second time in the playoffs. Buster Posey caught his 14th postseason shutout, six more than any other catcher ever. The Giants inched one step closer to the NLCS, the National League pennant and the World Series.
SF will likely suffer in Game 4 because of how aggressive it was on Monday. Doval almost certainly won’t be available, same as Rogers. Anthony DeSclafani is starting, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts signaled Walker Buehler could be part of the game plan — a sense of urgency similar to what SF showed.
The potential consequences of Game 3 aggression would’ve only mattered if the Giants lost. Winners of the third game of a best-of-five go on to advance 72% of the time. San Francisco has two chances to win one game, including one back home at Oracle Park, if applicable.
Scherzer said he lost Game 3 “on one pitch,” referring to the middle-up 0-2 fastball he served to Evan Longoria.
That’s how small the margin for error was for the three-time Cy Young winner. One pitch. For the Giants, the difference between winning and losing was an inch, on Brandon Crawford’s vertical leap, or the bizarre, Candlestick Park-esque wind beating down what everyone in the building thought was a Gavin Lux game-tying home run.
Those breaks went San Francisco’s way. But great teams make their own luck. Kapler and the Giants did that by pushing all their chips into the middle of the table.