When Logan Webb handed the ball to Gabe Kapler, his manager told him to take it in. All of it.
He’d just shut down the Padres in the regular season finale and hit his first career home run, sealing the NL West title with San Francisco’s franchise-record 107th win.
“Hold on a second,” Kapler remembers telling Webb. “Take a pause when you walk in. Be fully present. Appreciate this moment and take it all in. Absorb it…And Buster looked to me and said, ‘I just told him the same thing.’”
Five days later, after Webb put the finishing touches on his next start, a 7.2-inning masterpiece in Game 1 of the NLDS, he took a deep breath. The 24-year-old looked around at the standing Oracle Park crowd and waved on his way to the dugout. He’d one-upped his season finale moment, and absorbed it.
Then on the 106th pitch of the most important game of his life, Webb struck out Cody Bellinger with a slider in the dirt. He clenched both of his fists and screamed before walking toward the dugout with his head down.
There wasn’t time to take it all in. He pitched masterfully, but in a 1-1 game, Webb could only put on a sweatshirt and watch. Watch as the previously unimpeachable Camilo Doval hit a batter and allowed two singles to turn a 1-1 stalemate into a 2-1 ninth inning deficit.
He could only helplessly watch the bottom of the ninth, as Max Scherzer surfaced from the bullpen. Not even Late Night LaMonte Wade Jr. could get to him as he coldly sealed San Francisco’s season by striking out him and Wilmer Flores.
San Francisco’s 2-1 loss to the Dodgers caps a season of growth, and certainly one to soak in. Either 109-team had to advance out of the NLDS, and after three hours and twenty-eight hours of an instant classic, the Dodgers celebrated on the Oracle Park infield. The Giants’ historic season ended in a historically memorable instant.
This was the season finale of baseball’s best show of 2021. Dodgers vs. Giants, the two best teams in MLB, Vol. 24. Vin Scully, who was at the Polo Grounds when Bobby Thomson hit the “Shot Heard Round The World” and then at countless other contests, weighed in definitively: Game 5 was the biggest game in Giants-Dodgers history.
No two teams as successful in a season to this point had ever met in a postseason. The Dodgers and Giants each brought 109 wins to Oracle Park Thursday, along with 131 years of rivalrous history. It lived up to all the hype.
And between chants of “Beat LA” from the sold out crowd of over 42,000 — including Stephen Curry, George Kittle and Barry Bonds — baseball was played. Webb carved up the Dodgers by throwing more changeups than ever in Game 1, but reverted back to his primary sinker-slider mix in the elimination game. The result was the same: domination.
The Dodgers countered by giving the first inning to opener Corey Knebel and the second to Brusdar Graterol. They each allowed traffic on the basepaths but pitched scoreless innings. The moving chess pieces threw SF’s lineup out of whack.
Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts was LA’s only offense for the majority of the game. He had all three of the Dodgers’ first three hits. Between his single to leadoff the fourth inning and his next single in the sixth, none of the eight Dodgers to step in the batter’s box hit a ball past the pitcher’s mound and two struck out.
But Betts stole second after his sixth-inning line drive, and then trotted home on Corey Seager’s double. It was the first run Webb surrendered in 13 innings.
Webb escaped the inning, and the Giants immediately responded. Darin Ruf, who had hit two flyouts of 378 and 377 feet, clobbered a solo home run into the center field netting to lead off the bottom of the sixth.
Ruf’s 452-foot blast left his bat at 110.1 mph, tying his home run against Pittsburgh in May for the 23rd hardest-hit homer by a Giant since 2007. It traveled further than any other 2021 playoff homer. More importantly, it was the first game-tying home run in a sudden death postseason game in franchise history.
Webb exited after striking out Bellinger for his seventh punch out of the night. He pitched seven one-run innings against arguably the most talented lineup in baseball. Three of the four hits he surrendered came off Betts’ bat.
Bellinger’s next at-bat, he saw only sliders from Camilo Doval. He sent the fourth one out of the infield at 101 mph. The former MVP who went 2-for-48 against the Giants in the regular season killed them all NLDS, but never more than with his go-ahead single.
It was the first run Doval allowed since returning to the Giants on Sept. 5. It was also the last run of SF’s 2021 campaign.
The season had it all. A rallying cry around a self-proclaimed captainship, a four-run ninth inning comeback, a pitcher knocking the game-winning hit, a no-name robbing a first-ballot Hall of Famer to save a game, and many other Late Nights with LaMonte.
The Giants set the MLB record for pinch-hit home runs in a season (18) and led the National League in home runs while allowing the fewest long balls in baseball. They spent 151 days in first place of the best division in baseball, never relenting the top spot despite the star-studded Dodgers surging at a record pace of their own. They tore through every month at at least a .600 winning clip.
SF ended Los Angeles’ run of eight straight NL West titles with their ninth division crown. The Giants did it as Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA preseason projections pegged them as a 75-win team with a 0% chance at winning the division.
It was possible only with career-years from Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Kevin Gausman, and Anthony DeSclafani, plus the emergences of LaMonte Wade Jr., Tyler Rogers and Webb.
About an hour after Webb’s regular season finale moment, Posey sat in the dugout as a horde of reporters huddled around him. He was as honest and candid as he has been all year, explaining how much it meant to him to look up at the crowd and see people sharing a joyous experience together after two hard pandemic years.
He also said he doesn’t consider the playoffs World Series or bust. After a franchise record 107 wins defied all of anyone outside the clubhouse’s wildest expectations, it was fair to take everything one step at a time.
After Scherzer’s wild fist pump and the Dodgers’ dog pile, there are no more steps to take. But there were still plenty of chances to soak in and appreciate 2021’s moments.