Carl Crawford #3, Yasiel Puig #66 and Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the San Francisco Giants 4-3 at AT&T Park on July 27, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
On May 7, the Dodgers hosted the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium in a four-game series with a chance to move up from third place and erase their rivals 2 1/2 game lead in the NL West.
The season was barely 35 games old but, even then, Dodger manager Don Mattingly felt the need to prove a point.
"We have to establish that we can play with them. They have a good club and we knew they were going to be tough," Mattingly said before the May series.
The Giants won three out of four, left town with a 4 1/2-game lead in the division and buried the Dodgers deeper into their third place hole.
The Dodgers went to AT&T Park July 24 for a three-game series trailing the, then, first place Giants by 1 1/2 games and their big three starters lined up: Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The closed-door, early season "come-to-Jesus" team meeting, Mattingly calling out his players for being soft and their warp speed erasing of a nine-game Giants division lead before the All-Star break would mean nothing if they couldn't stand up to the bully on the block.
The Dodgers not only swept the series to reclaim first place and a 1 1/2 game lead, they won each game in a different, equally impressive manner.
Game 1 was the offense. The Dodgers pounded out 15 hits, including a franchise record tying five triples, and scored eight runs in a dominating 8-1 victory. Greinke (12-6) went seven innings, only allowed four hits and struck out 10 to pick up the win.
Game 1 was Kershaw (12-2). On Saturday, the fastball, the curve, the devastating slider, all of it worked. He tossed a complete game, three-hitter. The one shocking moment came in the bottom of the fifth when he walked Michael Morse. He has 15 all season in 112 1/3 innings. Kershaw also lowered his Major League leading ERA to 1.76 and joined Greinke in the 12 win club. He got some help from Adrian Gonzalez who went 3 for 5 with an RBI.
Game 3 was the complete package. Down, 2-1, in the fifth the Dodgers went to work. Gonzalez swung and missed at a ball in the dirt for strike three, which was also the second out in the inning. But, he was smart enough to run to first base and force a throw to get him out. Giants catcher Buster Posey obliged and made the throw. Problem for him was, Dee Gordon was on third. As soon as Posey released the ball to first, Gordon raced home. If the return throw to home beat him, the inning was over. Instead, Gordon slid in safely to tie the game, 2-2.
His teammates then clutched up. Hanley Ramirez singled home Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford followed with a triple to score Ramirez, which gave the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. The Dodgers have come up big in those spots all season. As a team, they're hitting .261 with runners in scoring position and two outs, that's tops in the majors.
Posey hit a home run in the bottom of the fifth to close the gap to, 4-3.
But, Dodger relievers J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson and closer Kenley Jansen picked up Ryu, who went six innings and allowed three runs on six hits. They combined to shut the Giants out the last three innings to preserve the win. Jansen provided the exclamation point by striking out Brandon Crawford on a 96 MPH fastball. Ryu joined Greinke and Kershaw by picking up his 12th win and Jansen got his 30th save, good for second in all of baseball.
You’d have to say it was the first series that LA's record-setting $234 million payroll earned their money. Sure, the club has won games but in that series, in that environment and against that team, they earned it.
However, there are a couple of points Dodger fans need to be aware of before they consider the Giants done. First, they beat newly acquired Jake Peavy, who came into the start with a career 14-2 record and 2.21 ERA against the Dodgers. He wasn't bad in Sunday's outing but he'll likely be better the next time around.
Second, the Giants are not the same team without center fielder Angel Pagan. It's clear they miss his speed and precense at the top of the order, much like the Dodgers would without Gordon. They'll be a much improved team once he returns The Dodgers can count on it.
The Dodgers left Los Angeles two weeks ago as the hunter. They return to Chavez Ravine Monday as the hunted.
We’ll see if after a couple of home cooked meals they’re still hungry for October.