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Bring on the Dodgers and Giants

Bring on the Dodgers and Giants

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Los Angeles Dodgers' Max Muncy, right, runs to first as he hits a solo home run while San Francisco Giants.
Dodgers‘ Max Muncy runs to first after hitting a solo home run off San Francisco Giants pitcher Kevin Gausman on June 29 at Dodger Stadium. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Three more outs on that sunny Saturday, then one more victory the next day, and the San Francisco Giants would force the Dodgers into a tiebreaker for the National League West championship.

In 1951, when the bitter rivals called New York home, the Giants beat the Dodgers in a tiebreaker for the league championship. In 1962, after the teams had migrated to California, the Giants won another tiebreaker from the Dodgers.

On Oct. 2, 2004, the Giants never secured those three outs. Steve Finley belted a game-ending grand slam, lifting Dodger Stadium into delirium and leading new Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt to dance together on the field.

“In all the storied history and glory, frustrations and heartbreak that both of these teams have inflicted upon the other, this one had to be a killer,” Vin Scully said on the air.

Fifteen days later, the New York Yankees needed three outs to sweep their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox, out of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees never secured those three outs. Dave Roberts’ stolen base ignited the Red Sox to a comeback in the series, and then to Boston’s first World Series championship in 86 years.

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Boston Red Sox's Dave Roberts, left, slides home to score the tying run against the New York Yankees.

Boston Red Sox’s Dave Roberts, left, slides home to score the tying run against the New York Yankees in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. (Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

“Stephen King is a Red Sox fan,” Roberts said. “He was in attendance for all those games. I don’t think he could have written a better novel.”

On Friday, as the Tampa Bay Rays threaten to run away from the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East, the Dodgers and Giants face off in San Francisco. The Dodgers and Giants are tied atop the NL West, positioned for what could be the closest Dodgers-Giants pennant race since 2004.

The managers: two of the outfielders on the 2004 Red Sox — Roberts for the Dodgers, Gabe Kapler for the Giants.

In the 21st century, the Yankees and Red Sox have been touted as baseball’s best rivalry. This weekend’s series kicks off a frantic final month in which the Dodgers and Giants could reclaim that title.

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“You could argue we’re the two best teams in baseball, and we have been all year long,” Roberts said.

“I think the fans have been waiting for it: not just ‘I hate the Giants’ or ‘I hate the Dodgers’ but now, both teams are really playing for something in the same year.”

In the 2000s, the Yankees and Red Sox combined to win four World Series championships, with one of the teams representing the American League in the World Series more often than not. The teams occupied the top two spots in their division every year but two.

“We definitely felt the intensity,” Kapler said. “Fenway and the old Yankee Stadium rocked in those games. Fans were extremely invested. Media was extremely invested. And I think the players were as well.

“You saw that intensity in the way the games played out.”

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In 2003, Yankees coach Don Zimmer — at age 72 — charged Boston’s Pedro Martinez, who deflected a punch and pushed the old man to the ground. In 2004, Boston’s Jason Varitek shoved his mitt into the face of the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, an incident so prominent in the rivalry that a Red Sox fan and national political reporter hung a picture of it on his wall, where America could see it regularly on a cable news channel last year.

New York Yankees' Roger Clemens looks after bench coach Don Zimmer, who had been thrown to the ground by Pedro Martinez.

New York Yankees’ Roger Clemens, left, looks after bench coach Don Zimmer, who had been thrown to the ground by Boston Red Sox’s Pedro Martinez. (Al Behrman / Associated Press)

“Like most Americans,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a 2007 presidential debate, “we love our sports teams and we hate the Yankees.”

If familiarity breeds contempt, October amplifies it.

From 2002-05, the NL West had a different winner every year. The Yankees won the AL East every year, with the Red Sox second every year. In 2003 and 2004, the teams played seven-game thrillers in the ALCS.

Said Kapler: “The intensity was at its peak in 2003 and 2004.”

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The regional rivalry went national, flamed by the personalities of Martinez, Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, then sustained with the generous assistance of ESPN.

“I just think that, if you look at the rivalry, and I have a short 20-year look, the Yankees and the Red Sox consistently performed better,” Roberts said. “The stakes were higher every game. If you look at the Dodgers and Giants, one year one team has thrived and the other team hasn’t.”

From 2010-20, the Dodgers and Giants combined to win four World Series championships, but the first half of the decade belonged to the Giants and the second half to the Dodgers.

The Dodgers' Julio Urías pitches against the Giants on July 27 in San Francisco.

The Dodgers’ Julio Urías pitches against the Giants on July 27 in San Francisco. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

For the Dodgers and Giants, this is their chance to remind the East Coast that the phrase “storied rivalry” is not reserved exclusively for the Yankees and Red Sox. If the Dodgers and Giants assert themselves at the same time, that would be good for baseball.

And, if the team that finishes second in the NL West wins the wild-card game, the Dodgers and Giants could meet for the first time in a postseason series, the event that launched the Yankees and Red Sox beyond prominence and well toward notoriety, beyond sports and into pop culture.

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If the Dodgers and Giants face off in October, that would be really good for baseball.

“I’m shocked that it hasn’t happened, even in the short time that the wild card has been in existence,” Roberts said.

“I think baseball needs it.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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