Giants vs. Dodgers. Bumgarner vs. Kershaw. Enough said.
Adrian Gonzalez knocked in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth and the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the hated San Francisco Giants, 2-1, in dramatic walk-off fashion on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.
Los Angeles stroked four consecutive singles to start the bottom of the ninth as the Dodgers stole the opening game of the pivotal pennant race.
Andrew Toles led off the Dodgers' ninth-inning with a single off Derek Law. After a pitching change, Corey Seager followed with a single off Javier Lopez.
Following another pitching change, Justin Turner tied the game with a single to right field off San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland.
"I snuck one past Belt to tie it up and set the table for Gonzo to have some fun," Turner said smiling. "We always knew if we had outs left, we'd have a chance to win."
Strickland stayed in the game to face Gonzalez, who promptly hit it off the wall in right-center and the Dodgers secured their sixth walk-off victory of the season and Gonzalez's 10th of his career.
"He's a power pitcher," Gonzalez said of Strickland. "He threw me two fastballs down so I think he was trying to get a ground ball out of me. At that point I wanted something up in the zone to elevate it. I was able to get a slider and connect on it."
Fittingly, Gonzalez's last three walk-off hits have all come against the rival Giants at the end of the season (Aug. 31, 2015 and Sept. 12, 2013).
"The fact that this is a big series and that they need to come in and win two of three if not sweep us, means we put ourselves in a good position," Gonzalez said of the sensational finish. "We just have to continue to put together good at-bats."
It was another rough night for the San Francisco bullpen who has struggled in the second half of the season and have now blown saves in two consecutive opportunities.
"Obviously Madison threw a really good game against us and we weren't able to score runs," finished Gonzalez. "You definitely want to get the starter out of the way."
Tonight was the Giants ninth loss of the season when leading after eight innings, that's the highest total of blown leads by a bullpen in a single season in franchise history.
"We had the lead going into the ninth and we couldn't hold onto it," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after the game. "No matter what, I will never lose confidence in these guys."
On the flip side, the Dodgers bullpen was lights out as Pedro Baez, Grant Dayton and Joe Blanton pitched three perfect innings of relief.
"They've had a tough go of it in their pen the second half of the season," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "But I like to focus on our guys and what we're doing and our bullpen has been terrific."
Overshadowed in the climatic conclusion to the game, was the pitcher's duel on the mound between familiar foes, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner.
The two southpaws each threw gems as they matched up for the tenth time, surrendering a combined four hits in 13 innings between them. Not surprisingly, the Dodgers and Giants have an even record of 5-5 when the two aces go head-to-head.
"That was such a fun game to be a part of," Kershaw said after the the walk-off victory. "Madison was really really good tonight. He dominated us for seven innings, but at the same time it was fun to watch us compete."
Kershaw allowed an unearned run on three hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in six innings. It was just his third start since he injured his back on June 26 in Pittsburgh.
"I've been feeling good," Kershaw added. "In New York I felt really good. Today, it wasn't like that, but physically I feel good. Arm feels good and my back is good."
As great as Kershaw was, Bumgarner was better. The 2014 World Series MVP was brilliant throwing an unhittable combination of blistering fastballs to go with his ballooning breaking ball.
Bumgarner did not factor in the decision, and left with the lead after allowing just one hit to go with with his 10 strikeouts and no walks in seven dazzling innings.
"Bumgarner had our number through seven innings," added Roberts. "But we would not be denied. We continued to compete and found a way to win. This is the biggest win of the year."
The greatest rivalry in baseball boiled over as Bumgarner left the field after recording his final out.
Yasiel Puig hit a groundball down the first base line that Bumgarner fielded cleanly and threw to first in a bang-bang play. Bumgarner was pumped at getting the final out of the inning and glared at Puig as he walked to the dugout.
"I got him out and he tried to stare me down," Bumgarner said later. "That's what it looked like to me."
After a few seconds, the 6-foot-5-inch Southerner said, "Don't [expletive] look at me." To which Puig replied, "What are you going to do about it?"
"Maybe because I had the only hit against him he got angry," Puig said in the locker room after the game. "Every time I face him we have those problems, but it seems to work out because we win."
Bumgarner charged at Puig like a bull going after a matador, and the two nearly came to blows before they were separated by teammates in a benches clearing incident.
"That wasn't Puig's fault," Kershaw said of the incident. "We all know Bum's pretty intense, but he definitely stirred the fire on that one."
The Giants only run of the game came in the top of the third inning when Eduardo Nunez reached base on a squib single with two outs.
A couple pitches later, Nunez stole second, but Yasmani Grandal's throw sailed into centerfield, allowing Nunez to advance to third. Two pitches later, Kershaw's slider slipped past Grandal to the backstop and Nunez scored.
Other than the error and the wild pitch, Kershaw was magnificent and appears to be close to regaining his Cy Young Award winning form after returning from the disabled list last week.
Thanks to the dramatic ninth-inning comeback, Kershaw remains undefeated in his last six starts against the rival Giants.
The Giants and Dodgers have played to an identical 7-7 record against each other this season with eight of the 14 games decided by one-run.
Los Angeles steals the opener, and inches closer to clinching their fourth consecutive NL West Division title. Their lead extends to six games over San Francisco and the Magic Number to clinch the division drops to seven games.
Players of the Game:
Adrian Gonzalez: Game-winning RBI.
Madison Bumganer: One hit over seven shutout innings.
Clayton Kershw: Three hits over six innings.
1. Can You Read Lips? The benches cleared in the bottom of the seventh inning after Madison Bumgarner and Yasiel Puig nearly came to blows in front of the Giants dugout. The best part of the brawl? Vin Scully's call as he tried to read both players lips.
2. He Did What? Clayton Kershaw walked just his 10th batter of the season when he issued a free pass to Gorkys Hernandez in the fourth inning. Despite the base on balls, Kershaw still has an MLB record 162 strikeouts to 10 talks ratio on the season.
The shocking 10th walk of the season for Clayton Kershaw came 157 strikeouts into his season. — Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) September 20, 2016
3. Left Hand. Right Brain: The Los Angeles Dodgers season-long struggle with left-handed pitching was under a spotlight on Monday night. The Dodgers offense mustered just one hit against southpaw Madison Bumgarner as the Giants threw lefty-after-lefty at them out of the bullpen. The Dodgers are batting .213 against left-handers on the year, dead last in baseball.
Whatever team the Dodgers face in the playoffs should just carry 13 lefty pitchers, doesn't matter who. — Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) September 14, 2016
Giants (79-71): Johnny Cueto gets the call in the middle game on Tuesday.
Dodgers (85-65): Lefty Rich Hill looks to lower the magic number for LA on Tuesday night at 7:10PM PST.