LOS ANGELES – The Giants spilled out of their dugout and stood in solidarity Tuesday night, ready to do battle with a common foe. They are holding team meetings, reading from the same script and galvanizing their clubhouse now because they know from experience: that’s usually what it takes to stay intact through the fires of three postseason series.
Either that, or they really, really wanted an up-close view of a fistfight between Yasiel Puig and Madison Bumgarner.
It would have been a Pay-Per-View moment – isn’t that how people down here watch the Dodgers on TV, anyway? – but the violence did not extend past Puig’s posturing and Bumgarner’s balled fists. No punches were thrown, nobody wrestled anyone down by their cranium or shoved anyone in the back. Puig, once plate umpire Adrian Johnson moved in front of him, backpedaled faster than a strong safety. Order restored, all that.
The first-inning fracas between the Giants and Dodgers measured a low rumble in a rivalry that has seen its share of seismic events.
The only shift that mattered following the Giants’ 4-2 loss was in the standings, where the Dodgers reduced their magic number to one to clinch the NL West. The Giants, through the gift of the incredibly shrinking Milwaukee Brewers, also saw their magic number decrease to one to clinch a spot in the wild card game.
You’re probably swift enough to figure out the rest, but we’ll spell it out anyway: If the Dodgers win behind Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday, and the Brewers lose again, both the Dodgers and Giants will clinch postseason berths on the same day and on the same field. And in that awkward instance, you can be assured only one clubhouse would be spraying their cares away.
For the Giants, their goal on Wednesday would be the same whether they were two out or 20 out. If the Dodgers’ celebration cannot be stopped, at least the Giants want to be comfortably removed from having to watch it. I mean, holy hell. The Dodgers might bring in an above-ground pool, or something.
The Giants are 9-9 thus far against the mega-rich Dodgers in a season series that has not disappointed: There was Puig’s home run, flipped bat and slow trot around the bases on May 9, to which Bumgarner provided running commentary from between the mound and third base. There was Puig’s hard, late and wide slide into shortstop Brandon Crawford in a Sept. 13 game with the Dodgers up 8-0. There was Jake Peavy’s purpose pitch in the first inning Monday night, which resulted in a glare from Puig but little more.
Then there was Bumgarner’s back-foot cutter in the first inning Tuesday night.
It was a cell phone spark at the fuel pump.
The pitch did not appear the least bit intentional. But Puig, somewhat understandably given the flammable context, was on edge after the pitch hit his left shoe and knocked him to the dirt. Still seated in the batter’s box, he glanced backward and glared.
Bumgarner fessed up: yes, he opened the dialogue. Something Travis Bickle might have said, maybe.
“He turned around and looked at me like he had something in mind,” Bumgarner said. “I probably said something first. He’s sitting there staring at me.”
Said Puig: “I just reacted to what he said.”
The rest was reflexive. Benches emptying, Bumgarner throwing down his glove and appearing to say, “Let's go,” some milling about, Don Mattingly whispering coping mechanisms to his frowning player…
Then it was back to baseball. Then Matt Kemp hit a two-run home run. And the way the middle of the Giants lineup is swinging on this road trip, a 3-0 deficit in the first inning against Zack Greinke made the next eight preordained -- with the notable exception being Bumgarner’s fourth home run of the season, a two-run shot in the third.
It was not nearly enough. Justin Turner began Bumgarner’s night with a home run leading off the first inning and he ended it with another solo shot in the eighth.
With warnings issued, neither side wanted to risk a suspended pitcher for a playoff game. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he didn’t even need to remind Bumgarner to be smart out there.
“We didn’t want our guys to play any different. Just stay with the game plan,” said Bochy, who blamed Puig for escalating the situation. “Bum gave up a home run and he’s probably upset with himself and yanks a slider, and the hitter creates a little drama there.
“Sometimes I wonder why guys don’t go to first. They create the drama. But hey, it’s over and (things) settled down.”
Mattingly had a different view, saying he couldn’t understand why Bumgarner opened his mouth.
Neither side, in retrospect, believed the pitch to be on purpose.
“He’ll know if it’s on purpose,” Bumgarner said. “I make sure of that.”
And to think, these two will face each other at least a dozen times each year at least through another Presidential administration. Is there room for a peace accord? To become friends?
“I don’t think so,” Bumgarner said. “I don’t think that’s in the cards for us.”
The loss also shuffled out any chance for Bumgarner to become the Giants’ first 20-game winner since 1993. He remained stuck at 18 victories, and if Sunday’s season finale with the Padres holds no playoff repercussions, he’d almost certainly be scratched anyway.
He’s probably happier to become the first Giants pitcher to hit four home runs in a season since 1936. The wins he really wants are dead ahead, in October, even if it appears they’ll have to survive a wild card elimination game first.
They turned over six of them before hoisting a trophy two years ago.
“This team has been through a little bit of everything,” Bumgarner said. “I’m not worried about anybody. If we find a way to get into the playoffs, everybody knows how dangerous we are. And it doesn’t matter where it is or who we’re playing.”