2006 has been unkind to the Giants, especially in the final months of the year. Saturday's game was another chance for San Francisco to stick it to their hated rivals as the race for the National League West lead as well as the wild card kept up. Los Angeles took the lead in the third inning and never looked back, winning 4-2 and celebrating their playoff berth on enemy turf.
Greg Maddux has been here before. He allowed two runs over seven innings pitched, one in the first inning and later in the third on a Lance Niekro home run. He was his usual economical self all afternoon, utilizing only 71 pitches to get his team into the playoffs. He had four strikeouts and limited the Giants to three hits.
After Niekro's home run Maddux and the relievers who followed shut down the Giants, retiring every batter faced. Closer Takashi Saito struck out two in the ninth inning to cement the win, his 24th save of the season.
Kenny Lofton caused plenty of problems for his former club. The man who won the National League pennant for the Giants in 2002 scored twice and had three hits. He scored an odd run in the important third-inning rally, going from third base on a popup to second base.
The game was won in the third inning. Rafael Furcal doubled with one out and would score on Julio Lugo's double. JD Drew popped out to Ray Durham at second with the infield fly rule in effect. Lofton surprised everyone watching when he scored on the play.
It was that kind of day for Matt Cain. The nearly 22-year-old Rookie of the Year candidate went 5 2-3 innings with four strikeouts and allowed all four Dodger runs. He pitched well enough, but allowed nine hits and his defense failed to pick him up.
The Dodgers scored another run in the fifth inning when Jeff Kent barreled through a stop sign from the third base coach on Drew's double. Ray Durham's throwing error allowed Drew to get to third base.
Maddux had a day with the bat and on the basepaths as well. He singled in the fourth inning and stole second base without a throw. Lofton stole third in the ninth inning on a play that was dangerously close to being defensive indifference.
Some stars sat out this one. Nomar Garciaparra was unavailable after suffering an oblique strain. The injury was re-aggravated on Friday night when the Dodger first baseman struck out swinging. He went down to a knee in obvious pain.
Barry Bonds was benched of course on a day game following a night game. He is expected to play in Sunday's season finale.
San Diego also won to join Los Angeles in the playoffs. What's left to determine is the exact positioning of the ball clubs. The teams began play tied for the division lead and the Philadelphia Phillies were officially eliminated from the wild card race with the Padres' win. The Dodgers are back in the playoffs following a 71-91 record last year. They beat the Giants on the last day of the 2004 season to win the West. San Diego repeats their playoff appearance from last season as 2005 division champions.
The final game of the season is a Sunday match up with the respective aces going. Jason Schmidt faces the probable Derek Lowe, although since the Dodgers clinched a playoff spot with the win they may save him for game one of the divisional series. No changes have been announced.
Notes: Linden started in left and batted leadoff after Randy Winn was a late scratch with a strained left calf... Eliezer Alfonzo's hard knock month is drawing to a close, although not before he took another hit. He was hit in the catcher's mask and left the game with dizziness. After Mike Matheny's head injury problems, the team refuses to take situations like these lightly... Cain will finish the season as the Giants leader in wins with thirteen, and he currently leads all San Francisco pitchers with 179 strikeouts. Fellow power pitcher Schmidt trails him with 173 but with one more start ahead.
SFDugout's Player of the Game: Maddux disabled the Giants bats with frightening efficiency, but Todd Linden came through. Of the three Giants hits, he had two. He hasn't had many chances to play since coming up from AAA Fresno in July but plays hard when he does get a look.
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. 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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