LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have been in a staredown contest for the past 188 days.But then again, it’s been that way for the last 121 years.
This has always been one of the greatest rivalries in sports. It has brought us Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world” at the Polo Grounds, the Juan Marichal-Johnny Roseboro bloody brawl at Candlestick Park, Joe Morgan’s homer at the ‘Stick, and, of course, Jackie Robinson’s decision to retire rather than accept a trade from the Dodgers to the Giants.
And now, it’s here again.
The Giants won a franchise-record 107 games this year. The Dodgers won 106. It forced the Dodgers to play a frenzied wild-card game Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, where Chris Taylor saved their season with a two-run, walk-off homer in a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
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Now, these heavyweights will meet one last time this season in a best-of-five National League Division Series beginning Friday night (6:37 p.m. ET, TBS) at Oracle Park.
Call it a World Series before the real World Series, with both teams believing they are the two best in baseball.
“It’s what baseball wants,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said late Wednesday night. “Giants-Dodgers. One of the best rivalries in sports. And it’s happening.”
Oh, baby, is it ever.
Who would ever have envisioned that 17 years after Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler were teammates on the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that ended their 86-year World Series curse, the managers would be pitted against one another in the West Coast version of Yankees-Red Sox.
If the Giants win, it will go down as one of the greatest seasons in franchise history, regardless if it ends in a World Series trophy.
Winning the most games in franchise history, capturing the division over the Dodgers, and then ending the reigning World Series champion’s season, you’re talking about Giant fans’ ultimate fantasy.
And, for the Dodgers, as sweet as it was winning last year’s World Series, their first since 1988, they never played a single home game in front of their fans. There would be nothing better than crushing the Giants’ dreams in front of a sellout crowd.
Said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, “I was telling [Dodgers second baseman] Trea [Turner] when we were standing on the line for the anthem, you haven’t really felt Dodger Stadium until you’re here for a playoff game. I was like, just wait until you see a homer. Just see how loud this place gets.”
Justin Turner provided a glimpse of that playoff atmosphere with a home run in the fourth inning, but it was Taylor’s two-run, two-out blast in front of 53,193 fans that had the stadium literally shaking.
“Obviously, it doesn’t get much louder than that swing, the walk-off homer,” Justin Turner said. “You see the fans going crazy, beers going, flying, everything on the field after the game.
“Just for 50,000-plus to be screaming, jumping on their feet up and down in excitement in one moment, it’s something you don’t forget.”
Now, for the first time in their glorious history, these two teams that combined for four World Series championships and six pennants since 2010, will technically meet for the first time in a postseason.
Remember, the postseason was not even invented until 1969 when the National League and American League split into two divisions, creating the two championship series. The wild-card game began in 1994 when the leagues realigned into three divisions. So, although they played tiebreaker games in 1951 and 1962, it was for the NL pennant.
Now, after playing 2,535 games against one another, they finally meet in a postseason .
“You could argue that we’re the two best teams in baseball,” Roberts said, “and we have been all year long. The fans have been waiting for it.”
These two teams, as much as their fanbases may cringe at the mere thought, are a lot alike. Their front offices rely heavily on analytics. Their teams are deep with interchangeable parts. The benches are constantly relied upon in crucial situations, evidenced by Taylor coming off the bench Wednesday in the seventh inning. The two teams will even be without their starting All-Star first basemen with the Giants’ Brandon Belt and the Dodgers’ Max Muncy out with injuries.
“They think a lot of the way we think as far as getting platoon and matchup advantages,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of familiarity, which makes it fun, even more challenging.”
Certainly, it has the makings of a classic, with these two teams winning more than 100 games in the same season for the first time since 1962, and going with their two young aces in Game 1: Walker Buehler of the Dodgers and Logan Webb of the Giants.
This is a Dodger team that was supposed to be here, winning the past eight NL West titles until this year, with a $270 million payroll buoyed by the trade acquisitions of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. The Giants were supposed to be an afterthought, picked to win about 75 games by the Las Vegas oddsmakers and Baseball Prospectus, only to win their first division title since 2012, hitting a franchise-record 241 homers, including 18 pinch-hit homers.
Now, here they are, with the Giants winning the season series, 10-9, but knowing that the only ones anyone will remember are the next five games.
“They’ve been a great team,” Scherzer said. “They won the division. They beat us. Now we have an opportunity to get them where we want them. That’s winning the postseason. …
“Here we go, let’s play some baseball.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dodgers-Giants NLDS levels up rivalry: ‘It’s what baseball wants’