Two pitches put this game out of reach for a quiet Giants offense.
I can’t say there was much about this game that will be memorable in the annals of history. But there is one moment that stands out to me. It came in the bottom of the second inning. But first, some context.
Kevin Gausman got off to a bit of a shaky start, and had just allowed two runs to the Dodgers in the top of the inning. With two outs and Chris Taylor on second, they decided to walk A.J. Pollock intentionally to get to Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías. Makes sense on paper. You’d rather face the pitcher to get the third out. But they didn’t get a third out. Instead, Urías hit a single that scored Taylor after Austin Slater’s throw home pulled Buster Posey way too far off the plate to make a play at either home or third base. Mookie Betts got Pollock home with a line drive to left. Not great.
The Giants countered in the bottom of the inning, though. Wilmer Flores worked a full count against Urías and took a low pitch with nerves of steel and got the call from home plate umpire Angel Hernandez (more on him later). Brandon Crawford fouled four pitches in a row before hitting a line drive single to left field. Evan Longoria flied out to left, advancing Flores to third.
And now we’re back to the moment that stands out to me. With Donovan Solano at the plate, Tommy La Stella had initially gone out on deck in lieu of Gausman, indicating that manager Gabe Kapler was ready to pull his starter after two innings to get a runner home. Ultimately, Solano got a sac fly to score Flores, and Gausman hit for himself. But I thought back to that moment several times throughout the game.
Gausman ended up having a solid night, going nine up and nine down after the two runs in the second inning. He gave the Giants 5.1 innings, with four hits, three walks and seven strikeouts. But he was pulled in the sixth inning after allowing a leadoff double to Trea Turner, striking out Justin Turner, and walking Will Smith. At that point, the Giants were still in it. There was still hope. And while we’ll never know what would have happened if Kapler had left Gausman in to finish the inning, we certainly know what did happen after he pulled him out.
Dominic Leone, who had been a solid option for the Giants in relief, as well as opening and closing games, entered for the first time in a week. He was facing Taylor, who hit a foul pop up that Flores tried, but ultimately could not succeed at catching. That was the first sign of incoming danger. Because Leone then watched strike three be called ball three in one of several questionable and inconsistent calls from Hernandez for both teams throughout the game. Now, I’m not saying those were the determining factors of tonight’s loss. But they sure didn’t help. Because instead of getting out number two, Leone walked Taylor to load the bases with one out.
And then, in the span of two pitches, the game went from competitive to out of reach. Leone gave up a first pitch double to Cody Bellinger, scoring both Turner and Smith (both runs charged to Gausman). And immediately gave up a single to Pollock, allowing the other two runners to score. In the blink of an eye, a Giants offense that was already struggling tonight went from a deficit of one to a deficit of five to try to make up for.
And friends, let me just say, they did not. But they did try! Kind of.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Giants had something of a rally brewing. With one out, LaMonte Wade, Jr. entered the game, replacing Slater. He got a four-pitch walk from Joe Kelly, who had entered to replace Urías. Posey followed that up with a line drive single to right field, which gave him sole possession of the most hits of any Giant in the postseason, a record he had previously reached earlier in the game, tying Pablo Sandoval with 53 (Posey would end the night at 55, and stern looks of disappointment for the rest of his team).
Flores followed that by grounding into a force out, which got Posey at second, but allowed Wade and Flores to reach third and first safely. Things were flowing, the line was moving. Everything was going well. Crawford kept the line moving with a line drive single to right field, scoring Wade. It was at this point when Flores decided it would be a good idea to test Mookie Betts’ arm and run for third. Spoiler alert: Betts was not having it. He threw an absolute rocket and had Flores out by about three feet to end the inning with a TOOTBLAN (for those new here, that’s “thrown out on the basepath like a nincompoop”).
Just a ridiculously good throw from Mookie Betts. pic.twitter.com/YpKh684AGM
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) October 10, 2021
Zack Littell entered in the eighth inning, replacing Jake McGee, who had a clean seventh inning. And things only got worse. Littell immediately gave up a home run to Smith, followed by a single to Taylor. After striking out Bellinger, Littell allowed two more singles to Pollock and Matt Beaty. At this point, broadcaster Duane Kuiper (on radio) said “This game is starting to get away from the Giants” and I choked on my salsa. I guess you have to love the optimism, but it was unwarranted, because Jarlín García entered at this point and immediately gave up a single to Seager to give the Dodgers their final 9-2 lead.
Again, I keep thinking back to that moment in the second and imagining how much worse things could have been if Kapler had pulled Gausman then. Or how much better things could possibly have been if he’d left him in to finish the sixth. Or if they hadn’t walked A.J. Pollock intentionally. Or if Flores hadn’t tried for third.
These decisions aren’t made easily, even if it’s easy to judge them in hindsight. When they work, it’s business as usual. When they don’t, well, you’re left with a soul crushing blowout loss to your franchise rivals on the national stage.