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Seasons on the line, Dodgers and Giants tap young aces

© D. Ross Cameron | 2021 Oct 8

Before the most important start of Logan Webb’s life on Thursday, he’ll slam three Red Bulls. 

One right when he arrives at the ballpark. Another when he starts stretching with a team trainer. And the final leg of the trifecta at the end of his warmup. That’s almost five Peets espresso shots worth of caffeine. 

While the habit of drinking caffeinated beverages might sound excessive or even alarming, athletes in all sports consume energy drinks, including coffee, routinely. 

Webb’s loved Red Bull since he played travel baseball with his brother as a kid, and he’s drank it before every start for the past couple years. So why would he treat Game 5 any differently? 

The starter who struggled to rise through the minors before learning the value of routines has settled into one — to the tune of a 19-2 record since May 11. 

The Giants have been nearly unbeatable with Webb on the mound, going 23-5 in his 2021 starts. But the Dodgers have been equally if not more stout with their Game 5 starter, Julio Urías, who’s recorded 12 straight wins since Aug. 1. They meet in the do-or-die game of the first official postseason clash between the Dodgers and Giants — MLB’s two best clubs of 2021. 

One of their hardly blemished resumes won’t look as squeaky clean after Thursday. Game 5 is the first winner-take-all postseason matchup between two pitchers that entered the game with at least a .800 team winning percentage in their starts. The Giants are 7-3 in winner-take-all games since moving to the Bay. LA is 9-8 all-time. 

They each enter with 109 wins, but one loss will end either’s historic season. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, no stranger to epic rivalries, has repeatedly said the rivalry series is “what baseball wants” 

“I think for me in any sport when you’ve got generational rivalries playing a meaningful series, and in this case, a very meaningful game, it just brings the old, the new, the rivalries, and all that kind of talk back to life,” Roberts said. “So I think that where baseball has kind of gone, you know, you’re playing to the younger players, the fan base, but those generational rivalries are kind of the foundation of this sport and what made it America’s pastime.”

The Giants and Dodgers rivalry spans back to the 19th Century. Fans like Gary Mintz and Harvey Weinberg, who have loved the Giants since they played in New York, are scattered around the country, born decades ago into an epic feud that moved 3,000 miles across America. Now they’ll see Webb, 24 and the youngest Giant to ever start a winner-take-all game against Urías, 25, to decide the season. 

Routine has also been a key aspect of Urías’ ascending star career, though in a less quirky way. He entered the big leagues in 2016 as a 19-year-old starter, but mostly came out of the bullpen three years later. He’s returned full-time to the rotation since, but finished the 2020 World Series with 2.1 scoreless relief innings. He made two playoff starts and four relief appearances in last year’s title run.  

“I think the only thing that’s really changed is the routine,” Urías said Wednesday. “Going from a starting reliever is obviously just routine-oriented…But nothing for me mentally has changed. No, my focus has stayed the same.”

It would be asinine to think of Urías as anything but a full-fledged starter now. He led MLB in 2021 with 20 wins in 32 starts, recording a 2.96 ERA. In Game 2, he shut SF’s offense down with five one-run innings. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he saw glimpses of Urías rising to the occasion when he was a rookie and that only confirmed itself with his heroic playoff performances in 2020. 

The past four games have been grueling, tense battles. SF shut the Dodgers out twice, including with Webb’s Game 1 gem, but LA countered with offensive bursts against Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani. Webb said he gets so stressed watching games, he paces “the entire game” in the dugout. 

He’ll have nowhere but the mound to wander Thursday. Webb has, at times, allowed bad bounces or calls get to his head and affect his performance. But against the San Diego Padres, he overcame multiple early errors. He took another step up in the regular season finale, and then another in his NLDS start. It appears the mental hurdles are in the past. 

Webb and Urías will take the Oracle Park mound in front of what the home club expects will be a sold out crowd of over 42,000. With the stakes and history swirling around this game, they’ll need space to anxiously pace more than Red Bull adrenaline.

  • A similarity between Webb and Urías: both can rake. Webb’s home run in the regular season finale will be an iconic moment of the 2021 season, and Urías slapped an RBI single into right field in Game 2. The latter hit .313 with a .790 OPS in the regular season for the Dodgers — about 200 points better than 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger. 
  • Tommy La Stella’s Achilles acted up again in Game 4, but he’ll likely be available in the series finale off the bench, SF manager Gabe Kapler told reporters. Donovan Solano will start at second base against the lefty Urías. 
  • Brandon Belt ran wind sprints in the Oracle Park outfield Wednesday. The NLCS remains the goal for his return, though Kapler didn’t have any further updates.

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