There's already talk of the National League West sending two representatives to the post-season, and that in itself is a step up from the dismal display the division put on last season. This five-way race is tight, and even as early as July, it's not wise to count any one of these clubs out. So looking at this series becomes more than win-loss records, statistics and fantasy implications, on top of the usual goings-on of a Giants/Dodgers series.
Noah Lowry had the advantage right away. He pitches well in Southern California, and behind him he has the luxury of two bats any team would take right now. Second baseman Ray Durham has a hot bat of late, and he took an eight game hitting streak into the game.
Moises Alou has returned from a series of injuries that significantly limited his playing time, but not his offensive production. Saturday was his third game back from the disabled list and he took three hits, three runs scored, and two RBI into the contest.
Dodger starting pitcher Derek Lowe has had less luck lately. He endured a horrible outing against Minnesota on June 27 where he allowed nine runs in five and one third innings. But with freshly minted All-Star Nomar Garciaparra and his league leading .360 batting average, and a host of overachieving rookie callups, Lowe's chances for a win looked as probable as his counterpart's.
Lowe struggled through the first inning, where he allowed five consecutive hits, and the first four batters of the game all scored. Randy Winn, Omar Vizquel and Moises Alou each singled, and Winn scored before Durham came to bat. The second baseman crushed a pitch into the right field bleachers, good for a quick 4-0 lead.
The Giants would need to keep up the scoring because Lowry wasn't as sharp as he has been in the past. The Dodgers scored three runs against him in the bottom of the second, on a similar barrage of hits as Lowe surrendered before him. Ramon Martinez got aboard with a base hit, and Cesar Izturis hit a ball to deep right, which Alou badly misjudged. The ball bounced over the wall, possibly saving a run, but the debate on whether the run would have scored became moot when Toby Hall singled to score both infielders. Rafael Furcal collected a base hit and an RBI after Hall, and the boys in black and orange realized this one wasn't as easy as it looked in the first inning.
Durham had another big day, scoring four runs, and he turned a one-out walk into a run in the fourth. The Giants offense barely stopped to breathe the whole afternoon. Lowry clubbed a ball into left for his first career home run, and it was Durham scoring again in the fifth inning. Lowe never looked comfortable against the Giants and was lifted after four and two thirds innings. Odalis Perez may be the forgotten man for the Dodgers, but he came in and silenced the scoring threats, if just briefly.
Lowry couldn't keep the Dodgers down completely, and things got messy after the starter was taken from the game in the sixth inning. He allowed a base hit to Martinez, who would score thanks to a bases-loaded walk from reliever Jonathan Sanchez. Young Sanchez's perfect ERA was no longer after this outing, as he allowed that run plus another in the seventh inning. Matt Kemp singled off him and scored after a pair of hits by Izturis and Hall.
Brian Wilson was on the mound for both hits, and the right-hander's troubles kept on in the eighth. He walked Furcal and pinch hitter Olmedo Saenz touched him up for a home run. This tug-of-war scoring can be solved by sending in the closer. A stopper. A man who is used to the high-pressure situations and does battle armed with a fastball and a stone-eyed glare.
The Dodgers don't have a closer at all since Eric Gagne underwent back surgery to put him out for the season. The problem has become paramount to them, as they really have no viable option for the role, and the resolution to go with closer by committee just isn't working. The Giants proved it by scoring three runs off big Jonathan Broxton. Winn doubled and Vizquel bunted him over, and Durham took an intentional walk. Pedro Feliz singled to bring Winn home, and then the 40-year-old who plays like he's 30, Steve Finley, banged a pitch into the gap for his ninth triple of the year. With a four run cushion for their embattled closer, it still wasn't enough to put the Giants faithful at ease.
The Giants have a man who is a closer in name only. Still, Armando Benitez was summoned to stop this parade of hits with eyes, and do what he's paid to do. Give the man credit; he may give his followers a heart attack every outing, but he's saved four in a row without allowing a run, and had pitched scoreless innings in four straight games before blowing a save June 23 against Oakland. Saturday was no different. With Izturis on second, Hall hit a ball that would have easily scored the speedy infielder, but Finley made a tumbling catch to save the game.
Nothing is easy with this team, but it cannot be said that they'll lie down and die. In this, the most competitive division in the league this season, it may be enough to get to October.
Game Notes: Prior to the game, Lowry had allowed eight homers in his last eight games. He kept the ball in the ballpark Saturday... Former Giants Jeff Kent and Kenny Lofton sat out with injuries. The Giants have yet to see Kent in this series and he probably won't play in Sunday's finale... Great defense was overlooked by the offensive flurries. Furcal showed he belongs at third after the switch from shortstop when he speared a hard hit ball off Alou's bat in the third inning.
SFDugout's Player of the Game: Durham keeps up his hot hitting, as well as finding his speed and playing good defense at second base. He stole a base in the fifth inning and played fine defense behind Lowry all day. As the lineup fluctuates from day to day with Alou's aches, Barry Bonds' need for days off, and the general old age of the club, the Giants need to lean on consistent production from the heart of the order. As long as Durham hits like he does, the Giants will take it.
Chris has been a Giants fan since her days in utero. She loves baseball and writes about whatever she can get her hands on…even the Athletics. She's a Bay Area gal through and through. This is her 24th season of fandom and first where she's had the honor to write for the Giants on SFDugout.com. Love/hate mail can be sent to email@example.com, where the love mail gets top priority and the hate mail gets used for kindling.
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