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Giants-Dodgers: September Showdowns

One of the marvels of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry in its more than 120-year history is that while the clubs have had only a handful of late season head-to-head pennant races, the rivalry still thrives. The teams are engaged in a high-stakes race for the flag now, though we’ll have to see how things shape up over the next two weeks before 2014 becomes a rare September to remember for the rivalry. The chase this year is for the NL West title, since the consolation prize will likely be a one-game do-or-die wild-card game that both teams wish to avoid.

How rare are these September showdowns?

The Giants and Dodgers franchises began regular season play in 1890, but it wasn’t until 1924 that they had their first down-to-the-wire battle. Brooklyn, which trailed first-place New York by 13 games on Aug. 9, went on a 24-4 run to tie the Giants for first on Sept. 4. Brooklyn slipped after that surge, but came back to gain a virtual tie with New York in the final week of the season. The Giants, propelled by a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh, clinched the pennant Sept. 27. It would be 15 years until Brooklyn would experience another late pennant race.

In the 56 years since coming to the West Coast, there have been just 10 seasons  which both clubs were involved in a September bid for the post season.

1959: A three-way pennant battle involved the Giants, Dodgers and the Braves, who were gunning for their third straight NL crown. On Sept. 19, as the Giants and Dodgers prepared for a crucial three-game series, first-place San Francisco led Los Angeles by a game and Milwaukee by 1-1/2. In the biggest series in the young West Coast rivalry, the Dodgers stunned the Giants with a three-game sweep. The Giants never recovered, and the season ended with the Dodgers and Braves in a tie. The Dodgers took the flag by defeating the Braves two games to none in a playoff. SPECIAL NOTE: The third game of that series against the Dodgers was the last game played at Seals Stadium, as the Giants would move into Candlestick Park in 1960.

1962: The Dodgers had a one-game lead with one to play, but were barely hanging on after losing nine of their last 12. The Giants forced a three-game playoff by beating Houston while the Dodgers fell to the Cardinals. The Giants outlasted the Dodgers in the playoff, winning the flag by rallying from a 4-2 deficit in the ninth inning of game three. SPECIAL NOTE: Sandy Koufax was sidelined for much of the stretch drive because of a circulatory disorder in the forefinger of his pitching hand. Older Dodger fans still swear that their team would have won the title outright had Koufax, who still went 14-7 with a 2.54 ERA, not gone down.

1965: The season always will be known as the one when Giants pitcher Juan Marichal put a gash on Dodgers catcher John Roseboro’s head in their infamous clash, but it also was a year of a red-hot pennant race. The Giants held the lead as late as Sept. 28, but they were sliding while the Dodgers were soaring. The Dodgers won 15 of their last 16 games to edge the Giants out by two games. SPECIAL NOTE: The Dodgers allowed only five runs in their last nine games while tossing five shutouts.

1966: Pittsburgh made it a three-team race for the NL title, and led the Giants by a half-game and the Dodgers by 1-1/2 in early September. The Dodgers tried to pull away with an eight-game winning streak. The Pirates faded but the Giants stayed close. The Dodgers needed to lose their final game to Philadelphia, which would have required the Giants to play a rain makeup game against Cincinnati for a shot at a tie. But the Dodgers got past Philadelphia to clinch the pennant. SPECIAL NOTE: During a tense August series, the Dodgers put on a shift to the right side with Willie McCovey at bat and Willie Mays at first. McCovey beat the shift with a run-scoring double to left, and the Giants went on to a big victory.

1971: Twenty years after Mays broke in during the legendary 1951 New York-Brooklyn pennant race, the clubs were again involved in a classic duel. The Giants led the Dodgers by eight games on Sept. 6, and had the chance to eliminate their foes in the five head-to-head matchups between then and Sept. 14. Los Angeles refused to blink and won all five hard-fought games. On the final day of the season, the Giants defeated the Pirates to win the flag. A loss would have forced a playoff with the Dodgers. SPECIAL NOTE: A Sept. 13 matchup turned ugly when Marichal and Dodgers pitcher Bill Singer engaged in a deck-the-batter exchange. After Marichal hit Bill Buckner, he headed toward the mound holding the bat up, evoking memories of the Marichal-Roseboro moment. Cooler heads rushed onto the field before Buckner and Marichal could tangle.

1978: The Giants rejoined the pennant race following a six-year hiatus, and led Cincinnati by a half-game and the Dodgers by 2-1/2 as San Francisco and Los Angeles prepared for home-and-away four game series over the next 11 days. The teams split the eight games, which was enough of a moral victory for the Giants to energize them for a September run. But the Dodgers were too strong, winning 30 of 40 from Aug. 5 through Sept. 16, and the Giants were eliminated on Sept. 23. SPECIAL NOTE: While this season might not qualify as a true deep-into-September race, it was a year when the rivalry had a revival. The fans certainly thought so, as the two August series drew 193,954 in San Francisco and 207,570 in Los Angeles.

1982: Never mind September showdowns. This battle went into October. The Giants and Dodgers went into their last head-to-head weekend series trailing first-place Atlanta by a game. Rick Monday single-handedly put the Giants’ hopes into the coffin in the opener with a tie-breaking grand slam, and the Dodgers used a team effort to add the nail in a 15-2 trashing the next day. The Giants’ Joe Morgan gained revenge the following day with a dramatic home run that ended the Dodgers’ quest and gave the pennant to the Braves. SPECIAL NOTE: Morgan’s heroics were no fluke. The veteran had a key role in five earlier Giants wins over the Dodgers this season.

1997: A two-team race. involving the Giants and Dodgers, had developed by mid-July with San Francisco holding a four-game lead. In most years, the teams might have at least another nine games against one another. But a scheduling shift starting in 1993 dramatically cut their head-to-head contests from 18 to 12 or 13. That left the teams with only one two-game series in San Francisco the rest of the way, which began with the Dodgers two games in front. The Giants won them both, highlighted by catcher Brian Johnson’s now famous 12th-inning walk-off homer for a 6-5 win on Sept. 18. The blast had the effect of sending the Dodgers on a tailspin and the Giants on a tear, with San Francisco clinching the crown on Sept. 27. SPECIAL NOTE: To this day, the Dodgers still can’t figure out how this one got away. In the  Sept. 18 game, they had the bases loaded and none out in the 10th but failed to score. Overall for the season, the Dodgers outhit the Giants .268 to .258 and outpitched them 3.62 ERA to 4.39.

2002: Arizona’s dominance had left the Giants and Dodgers having to battle for a wild card as the only road to the post season. The Giants held a one-game advantage in the wild-card race over the Dodgers on Sept. 15, and maintained the lead as the teams split a hard-fought four-game series. The Giants won their next eight straight , and clinched the wild card Sept. 28 though the Dodgers didn’t go quietly, winning six of their last nine games. SPECIAL NOTE: Rivalry gamesmanship was on display early in the season. The Giants opened at Dodger Stadium, and requested that the time of the final game of the three-game series be moved up so the team could get back to San Francisca earlier to get ready for its home opener the next day. The Dodgers declined.

2004: Post-season berths through a division title or wild card were both at stake in the final 10 days of the season, and the Giants and Dodgers would be meeting six times. The first-place Dodgers led the Giants in the division race by 1-1/2 games, while Chicago and Houston were contending for the wild card. The Dodgers took two out of three against the Giants Sept. 24-26, and led by three games heading into the final weekend’s three-game series against the Giants. The Giants won the first, but their post-season hopes crumbled the next day as Steve Finley’s grand slam in the ninth put them on the ropes. Houston supplied the knockout punch by clinching the wild card the next day while the Giants and Dodgers were playing, as Dodger Stadium fans cheered the demise of their rivals. SPECIAL NOTE: The Dodgers, having been pounded by Barry Bonds the previous few years, finally discovered that avoiding him was the best strategy. In the last six games between the clubs, Bonds walked 14 times and had only 10 official at bats.

Will 2014 join the list of classic Giants-Dodgers finishes?

The Dodgers lead the Giants in the division race by three games with 19 to play, and the teams will meet six times over the next 17 days. Another page of the 124-year-old rivalry awaits to be written.

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