Heavy winds whipped the assembled flags located in centerfield. Palm trees swayed to and frow. Debris blew across the diamond like withered leaves across the backyard on an Autumn day. For nine relentless innings, the Santa Ana winds ripped through Dodger Stadium, and with it, the Dodgers offense disappeared into the night sky.
Evan Longoria's fifth inning homer was the only offense on the night and it lifted the San Francisco Giants over the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. The Giants can now close out the best-of-five series on Tuesday.
"The wind was a huge factor," said Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts after the game of the conditions. "But those are the elements that both teams had to play with and that's baseball."
Game 3 of the NLDS featured a good ol' fashioned pitcher's duel. On one side was future Hall-of-Famer Max Scherzer, on the other was former Dodger Alex Wood. Both starters took turns matching zeroes for the better part of five innings.
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The shutouts for both teams changed with the rapidity of a child's kaleidoscope in the top of the fifth inning. Scherzer got ahead of Longoria with two quick strikes. However, Scherzer couldn't put away the wily veteran on his next two pitches—both of them fouled off—on the fifth and final pitch of the at-bat, catcher Will Smith asked for a fastball high and away. Scherzer left it over the heart of the plate.
"I was trying to go fastball up, trying to get above the zone, probably didn't get above the zone," said Scherzer of the pitch. "But it is what it is. You got to figure out why you didn't execute that pitch and then turn the page and move on. It sucks, but you get to the postseason you can always lose by one pitch. That comes into play. Tonight I lost it on one pitch."
The wind, which killed fly balls like a swift serpent throughout the night, was no match for Longoria's scorcher that landed in the left-field seats. It was Longoria's first postseason home run since Game 3 of the ALDS in 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays, and it turned a scoreless tie into a 1-0 Giants lead.
"I knew I got every bit of it as far as how hard I could hit a baseball," said Longoria. "But, yeah, I mean, I wasn't quite sure that it was going to go out. I mean, the conditions tonight were crazy. I mean, we were talking about it coming over. It's like, I don't think I stepped out of the box as many times in my career as I have mid-at-bat tonight. A couple times I felt like I was going to get blown over by the wind, a lot of dust in the eyes. And so it was definitely a little bit more difficult environment to hit in and play in tonight. But, yeah, I was thinking, if that ball didn't go out tonight, I was, I might have just cashed it in."
Longoria didn't need to cash it in, and as it turned out, his home run was the only run the Giants would need on this uncharacteristically gusty night in Southern California.
"Yeah, not even close. I hardly even remember light breeze here most nights," said San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford when asked if Monday was the most windy conditions he's ever seen at Dodger Stadium. "So the wind was definitely pretty crazy tonight and, I mean, it was a factor in the game, for sure."
Neither team will use it as an excuse, but scientifically speaking, Crawford was correct, the wind played a huge factor in the outcome of the game.
In the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs and a runner on first, Chris Taylor crushed a four-seam fastball from Tyler Rogers 107 MPH at a 23-degree launch angle to deep centerfield.
San Francisco center fielder Steven Duggar chased the ball down at the wall for the inning-ending catch.
Then, in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, pinch-hitter Gavin Lux smoked a 99.5 MPH fastball from Camilo Doval to straightaway center with an exit velocity of 107MPH off the bat, and a launch angle of 22-degrees. It died at the warning track to end the game.
According to the stats, on balls hit between 106 to 107 MPH at a 22-degree launch angle or greater this year at Dodger Stadium, all four previous iterations left the ballpark. The two such examples on Monday night, did not.
"I think on any other night the CT [Chris Taylor] ball, the Gavin Lux ball, would have been home runs," said Roberts.
Even their rivals agreed.
"I thought it was hammered. I thought it was hit really well. No surprise. Lux is a good hitter and he got a good fastball to hit and he drove it," said Giants' manager Kapler of his reaction on Lux's ball off the bat. "There were several balls knocked down by the wind tonight. We have seen balls get out of Dodger Stadium kind of in that like 95 to 100 MPH range."
His players thought the game was going to be tied.
"I think we both thought the ball was going out," said Longoria of Lux's ball for the final out of the game as seen by himself and Crawford. "My stomach pretty much sank when he hit it. I couldn't believe that it didn't, but I guess it was just our night tonight."
It was Wood's night as well. The former Dodger dominated the Los Angeles lineup, allowing just two hits, with two walks and four strikeouts in 4.2 shutout innings of work.
"Top to bottom, they're just a really great group of professional hitters," said Wood fo the Dodgers' lineup. "That's always been one of my favorite parts of being a pitcher and being a starter is that chess match going back and forth. But the biggest thing for me against a lineup like that was just execution. I think we execute for the most part tonight. So I felt good, any time you go up against Max Scherzer you know it's going to be a long night, so just keep it close and give our guys a chance to scrape a run across."
Both of the Dodgers hits against Wood came off the bat of 41-year-old slugger Albert Pujols, who became the oldest player since Julio Franco (45) in 2003 to have a multi-hit game in the playoffs.
"I enjoy every moment that I'm out there, I enjoy every moment that I'm in the dugout. And to have this opportunity to be in the postseason, obviously it's something really special," said Pujols of his first start in the postseason since 2014. "That's what every player that play in the big leagues hopes for, being one of those 18 to be able to be in the postseason, hopefully we have a chance to win a championship."
The 21-year veteran was also asked if the windy conditions were the worst he's ever played in, and Pujols had a more diplomatic answer.
"Hey, it happens. That's something that you cannot control. It's part of the game," Pujols said of the windy conditions. "You can't think it was cold. You can't think the wind. Hey, it is what it is, you know. So you can't blame it on the wind because we lost the game tonight. It's just part of the game, it's Mother Nature, and you have to respect that."
Speaking of old-timers, the 37-year-old Scherzer became the oldest Dodgers' pitcher to strike out 10 or more hitters in a postseason game since Sal Maglie in Game 1 of the 1956 World Series.
Scherzer was equally dominant, allowing just the one run on three hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts in seven strong innings. Unfortunately, he suffered his first loss since joining the Dodgers at the trade deadline on July 31.
"After that first inning I thought he was really good," said Roberts of Scherzer. "That first inning, obviously just kind of trying to deal with the conditions and messing with his balance through the delivery, but after that I thought he was good. The changeup, the life to the fastball, the cutter, the slider was back, so he threw a heck of a ball game."
The excuses were plentiful after the game, the wind, Wood, the Giants' stout defense, but at the end of the day the Dodgers offense has been inconsistent all season long.
Less than 48 hours after a nine-run explosion, they wilted in the wake of a familiar foe. Now their backs are against the wall as they face elimination for the first time since Game 5 of the 2020 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves in the Bubble.
"Just win tomorrow," said Roberts of his message to the team. "Everything's on the table and our focus has to turn to tomorrow and whatever it takes to win tomorrow and then we'll kind of pick up the pieces after that."
The Dodgers better pick up the pieces from Monday's loss quickly and put together a new offensive plan that will actually work in Game 4.
If they don't, their season will be over.