LOS ANGELES -– It was eight days short of a decade ago when Steve Finley’s grand slam clinched an NL West title and engulfed the Giants in blue noise as Dodger Stadium shook.
The Dodgers clinched another division title against their archrivals Wednesday night, but this one could not be distilled into one game-ending swing against one journeyman lefty. The lowlights were scattered pixels this time as the Giants made a string of mistakes afield and on the bases -- any one of them good as a garrote with Clayton Kershaw on the mound.
Kershaw threw eight dominant innings, found a way to lower an already microbial ERA, made a dazzling behind-the-back stop of a ground ball and even hit a tying triple as his Renaissance man effort defeated the Giants 9-1.
Yasiel Puig hit a tiebreaking home run off Tim Hudson in the sixth and the Giants bullpen was nearly as toxic as that night here 10 years ago. And because the Dodgers broke it open, they decided to tap former Giant Brian Wilson for the final three outs. Gregor Blanco grounded out to second base and Wilson made the crossed-arms pose that is all too familiar to Giants fans as the Dodgers rushed the field.
The stadium shook again.
Kershaw struck out 11 in eight innings, and his do-it-all effort in such a visible victory might sway NL MVP voters into selecting the first pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968. Making undoubtedly his final start of the regular season, Kershaw lowered his ERA three points to 1.77 – the lowest by any qualified major league starter at season’s end since Greg Maddux (1.63) in 1995.
The Giants unconscionably helped Kershaw get outs, as Gregor Blanco made two critical mistakes on the basepaths. Tim Hudson pitched with Kershaw into the sixth before a high fastball to Yasiel Puig turned into a bad idea, and a four-run rally against the bullpen became a bad dream.
The Giants did not even back into a wild card berth because the Milwaukee Brewers won. The Giants will be assured a place in the play-in game with their next victory or the Brewers’ next loss. The Giants also missed a chance to move back into a tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates atop the wild card standings, which could have brightened their outlook for gaining home-field advantage.
Starting pitching report
Hudson used every scrap of guile to pitch with Kershaw into the sixth inning. He established his sinker, avoided the four-run pelting that took the Giants out of his two previous starts in the first inning, and expanded the zone for four strikeouts.
He used a double-play grounder to escape a touchy second inning and got Puig to roll over a grounder to short to strand a runner at third base in the third.
But he hit Carl Crawford with a curveball to start the fifth inning, and continuing a trend from Hudson’s recent starts, the Dodgers were aggressive on the basepaths. Crawford ran first move on the first pitch, stealing second base without a throw.
Hudson got two fly outs and was on the verge of another escape, but his 1-1 cutter to Kershaw floated over the plate and he did not get away with it. Kershaw’s line drive skipped on the infield dirt but it still split the outfielders and rolled all the way to the wall for his first career triple.
Hudson struck out Dee Gordon to strand Kershaw and preserve the 1-1 tie, but the Dodgers took the lead soon enough. Puig led off the sixth inning and catcher Andrew Susac called for a high fastball on an 0-2 count. It’s the same pitch that has stung Hudson several times this season, including one instance in June when Adam Dunn clocked a three-run homer on Chicago’s South Side.
Puig extended his arms, gave his bat a signature toss and raised one arm as he admired the ball’s flight into the right field pavilion.
The next two batters hit Hudson nearly as hard. Adrian Gonzalez flied out to deep right field and Matt Kemp lined a double to right-center. Hudson had thrown 71 pitches, but in Bruce Bochy’s estimation, the 39-year-old had given all he could give.
It wasn’t quite the bullpen meltdown of 10 years ago, but the Dodgers broke the game open almost as soon as Bochy went to his relievers.
Javier Lopez issued an intentional walk to Hanley Ramirez, but the left-on-left matchup with Carl Crawford didn’t pan out. He doubled to drive in two runs, and the usually placid Lopez fired his glove upon returning to the dugout. Juan Uribe capped the four-run rally with a single off Jean Machi.
The Dodgers scored three more in the eighth against Erik Cordier and Juan Gutierrez, although Joaquin Arias fumbled what should’ve been an easy double-play grounder to make it a 1-2-3 inning. Instead, the Dodgers sent 11 batters to the plate against three pitchers and scored four more runs. Cordier hit Crawford with a 98 mph fastball to prick ears in the home dugout, then Uribe lashed a two-run hit before … oh, you really don’t need to know the rest.
At the plate
Against Kershaw, you just cannot minimize chances.
The Giants taxed Kershaw at times, drove his pitch count past 100 in the seventh inning and the bottom of the order scratched out one run against him. But mistakes on the bases and one very ill timed double-play grounder kept them from a more meaningful lode.
They scored a run in the third inning when Joaquin Arias beat out an infield single, Gregor Blanco followed with another hit and Kershaw’s second balk of the season – it appeared shortstop Hanley Ramirez was telling him something has he came set – advanced the runners.
Hudson, no longer in a sacrifice situation, hit a sharp grounder up the middle and Kershaw blindly threw his glove arm behind his back in the hopes of nicking horsehide. Remarkably, he ended up with the ball in his webbing and threw to first base as the runners held.
Hunter Pence followed with a chopper to third baseman Juan Uribe, who opted to throw home. Arias slid ahead of the tag to score the game’s first run, but Blanco somehow failed to make it from second to third. That mistake cost the Giants a run, because Blanco stopped at third when Joe Panik singled to load the bases.
Then it was a showdown between the 2012 NL MVP, and the pitcher who is a leading candidate to win the honor this season. Posey had faced Kershaw more than any pitcher in his career and was 11 for 56 (.196) with one home run against him. It was a 1-1 count after two fastballs, then Kershaw threw one of his long, looping yet serrated curveballs that resulted in a 6-4-3 double play.
The Giants had another chance in the sixth when Pablo Sandoval and Susac hit two-out singles, then advanced on a wild pitch. But Chris Dominguez tapped back to the mound.
Suddenly down four runs, they had baserunners in the seventh but then Blanco made an even bigger mistake on the bases. He hit a one-out single and tried to go from first to third on Matt Duffy’s pinch single, but Puig threw him out on a play that wasn’t particularly close.
It was the latest of several occasions this season when Blanco inexplicably got thrown out at third base with his team behind by multiple runs on the scoreboard.
Maybe the Giants shouldn’t try running on Puig anymore.
The Dodgers announced 53,387 paid. The NL West champions will play host to the NL Central winner – either the Pirates or Cardinals in an NL Division Series.
The Giants finish the regular season with a four-game series against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park. Yusmeiro Petit (5-5, 3.63 ERA) takes the mound against Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner (5-7, 2.21) in the series opener on Thursday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. PDT. It’ll be Ryan Vogelsong (8-12, 3.96) against Padres right-hander Ian Kennedy (12-13, 3.76 ERA) on Friday. The Padres haven’t named starting pitchers for Saturday and Sunday, while the Giants are tentatively scheduling Jake Peavy (6-4, 2.20) and Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98).