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Giants vs. Dodgers: Feels like 1960s

Giants announcer Duane Kuiper is credited as coining the phrase “Giants baseball: Torture” during the dramatic 2010 championship season. In fact, the word torture was actually used three years earlier in an account of a Giants-Dodgers game in a story April 7, 2007, by San Francisco Chronicle Giants beat writer Henry Schulman. New Giants skipper Bruce Bochy was managing his first game, with the Dodgers as the foe. The last time Bochy managed against the Dodgers, while a San Diego Padre, Los Angeles whacked four solo homers in the 9th inning to tie the game, and one more in the 10th to win it. So when the Giants lost Bochy’s initial game to the Dodgers 2-1 while placing 15 runners on base with 12 hits, Schulman wrote: “Bochy led his new team against the Dodgers for the first time and experienced a different type baseball torture.”

Giants and Dodgers fans shared in the baseball torture these last three days April 15-17 at AT&T Park, with the Giants coming out on top two games to one. The cumulative score of the three games was Giants 6, Dodgers 5. The opener, on Tuesday night, lasted just six minutes short of five hours, eventually won by the Giants 3-2 in 12 innings. The Giants bullpen was just a bit better than the Dodgers bullpen in game two, as San Francisco squeezed out a 2-1 win. Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu kept the Giants batters off balance and confused in game three, and set-up man Brian Wilson and closer Kenley Jansen survived high-wire acts to prevent an embarrassing sweep in a 2-1 Los Angeles victory.

The three games were reminiscent of the great rivalry battles of the 1960s, where it seemed every at bat, every inning and every game was crucial. It’s still early, but this series had the feel of those memorable games of hardball. This is looking like a two-team race for the NL West division, and perhaps, another September to remember.

Other notes on the series:

* The first game, appropriately, occurred on Jackie Robinson Day, marking his major league debut in 1947. Giants announcer Jon Miller, in a pregame interview with Giants manager Bochy, said there was a plan to have Giants and Dodgers players shake hands before the game as a way to show solidarity for Robnson’s great achievement. Fortunately, that bad idea never materialized. Robinson played the game hard, and his on-the-field clashes with the Giants added to the lore of the rivalry. One such moment came in April of 1952. Robinson was upset at brushback pitches thrown by Giants pitcher Sal “The Barber” Maglie, so named for giving batters a close shave. Robinson bunted to the right side, and crashed into the Giants second baseman as he covered first base. Giants shortstop Alvin Dark charged across the diamond to express his outrage to the aggressive play. Dark got his revenge an inning later when he slid hard into Robinson at third. There was no mention of this in the stories and coverage of Robinson day during the Giants-Dodgers celebration, but it is worth noting that Robinson’s first major league homer came on April 18 against the Giants in the Polo Grounds. On Dec. 13, 1956, Robinson was traded to the Giants for pitcher Dick Littlefield and $35,000 cash. Some have tried to say that Robinson chose retirement rather than join the enemy, but the truth is that by then, Jackie had given all he had, and felt it was time to step down.

* The AT&T Park Boo-ometer had Dodger teammates Yasiel Puig and Brian Wilson in a dead heat. Wilson, once beloved for his heroics in San Francisco, burned the bridge with his bizarre, classless post-game stalking of Giants president Larry Baer last year in search of his World Series ring. Puig draws venom for his on-and-off-field adventures. He is fast becoming a cartoon character with his mix of brilliant talent and bozo execution. In the series windup, he got so nonchalant with a lazy popup to right, that the ball bounced off his glove. Yet, he used his powerful arm to force a helpless Brandon Belt at second. Later, he hit a high fly ball to medium-deep right. He barely ran, stopping well short of first base. This followed his being benched by manager Don Mattingly for not running out a ball in the first game. I’m growing weary of an attempt to explain all of Puig’s screw-ups on the experience of being a Cuban defector. Is that why he has decided that the speed limits and hustling somehow don’t apply to him? The Dodgers, no doubt frustrated, are stuck with putting up with Puig. And he provided an example of the Dogers’ dilemma right after botching the popup, making a remarkable running overhead catch of a deep twistng drive by Gregor Blanco

* I’m not sure why the boos for ex-Giant Juan Uribe (“Boo-Ribe”). The Giants didn’t want him anymore, so he found a job with the Dodgers, and didn’t trash his former employer. I loved  Uribe’s businesslike game that helped the Giants to the World Series, and good for him that he still has game.

* Baseball wants to speed up the game. Here are three ways: (1) Find batting gloves that fit so hitters don’t have to step out and adjust them even after not even swinging; (2) Put Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett on the clock — he took so long between pitches in the first game, there was enough time for Wilson’s beard to actually grow some more; (3) Set a time limit on the New York Command Center for making a decision on a replay challenge. It took nearly five minutes to uphold the pickoff of Matt Kemp in the opener. Plus, the fans are being limited in the number of replays they are shown. Only two actual-speed replays of the disputed pickoff were shown on the AT&T Park screen. Viewers watching the game at home on the local Giants channel got six replays, including some in slow motion and closeups. Dear MLB: Show more respect to your customers who buy all your pricey MLB products, and show them everything. And, if MLB brass would sit in the stands instead of the suites, they would have heard the boos and the disgust I heard as the replay review dragged on.

* After the three games, the Giants and Dodgers are tied for first at 10-6. Yet, it stills feel a bit like David vs. Goliath. The heart of the Dodgers order is Puig, Ramirez, Kemp and Gonzalez. The bullpen is stingy. Once their ace returns from injury, the top three in the rotation are Clayton Kershaw, Zack Grienke and Ryu. And there is a bunch of cash in the vault to replenish the roster if necessary. The Giants rotation has settled in, and two hitters they are counting on heavily — Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval — are hitting below .200. The bullpen is phenomenal, but how long can that last with starters not going deep enough. But for at least three days in April, it was the 1960s all over again — the Giants and Dodgers in gut-wrenching battles, and first place on the line.


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