MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Dodgers-Giants rivalry matches up with any

Dodgers-Giants rivalry matches up with any

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Dodgers and the Giants are at it again. Starting Friday night at AT&T Park, they will face off six times in the season's final 17 days with the National League West title on the line.

For those with long memories, such as Don Newcombe, the revival of this great rivalry brings a sense of déjà vu. Big Newk fondly recalls the days when his manager in Brooklyn, Chuck Dressen, threatened to fine his pitchers $50 -- serious money at the time -- if Giants star Willie Mays hit the first pitch.

"I told Willie that," Newcombe said through a smile, "and he said, 'Fine. I'll hit the second pitch.'"

While the Yankees and Red Sox have come to represent baseball rivalries at their most intense, the Dodgers and Giants also go way back -- to their origins in Brooklyn and upper Manhattan, connected by the New York subway system.

Their move west together in 1958, dramatically altering the geography of baseball and making it a true national pastime, did little to diminish the passion. San Francisco and Los Angeles are separated by freeways, not subways, but these distinctly diverse cities inherited the same love of the teams that had engulfed New York.

"The fans in Brooklyn and New York created the rivalry with the way they cheered for their teams," Newcombe said. "It wasn't the players as much. We were professionals; we didn't have time for that.

"Of course, when [Giants pitcher] Sal Maglie would knock down one of our guys, I'd do the same thing to the Giants -- and so would Ralph Branca. You backed up your teammates."

Ah, Branca. The man fated to throw the pitch Bobby Thomson launched at the Polo Grounds to win the 1951 pennant. Newcombe started the game and handed Branca a 4-2 lead in the ninth with one out and two on, setting the stage for the most memorable finish in the game's history.

"In a 10-year period, we won six [NL] championships and should have won eight," Newcombe said. "The Phillies beat us in '50, and Bobby Thomson beat us in '51. Those were tough, but we were strong. We always fought back."

Personal animosities simmered. Dressen and Giants manager Leo "The Lip" Durocher. Former football stars Jackie Robinson and Alvin Dark. Robinson and Durocher. Jackie, always in the middle of everything.

Just as Robinson was the spirit of the Dodgers, Mays, his legend starting to build, was the soul of the Giants.

"They were the greatest athletes on the field," Newcombe said. "You couldn't hit Jackie or Willie [with a pitch]; their reflexes were too good. Jackie wasn't the greatest baseball player. Branch Rickey knew that when he chose him [to integrate the sport in 1947]. Jackie could do so many things, on and off the field.

"He couldn't hit the ball the farthest or throw it the hardest, but he could do so many things to help you win. Fierce competitor."

When the teams moved, the Giants remained Mays' team, assembling a tremendous collection of talent around the incomparable one.

Mining their farm system with the "Boys of Summer" glory days over, the Dodgers unveiled new stars: Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis and Frank Howard. The California powers slugged it out at a remarkably high level.

The horrific scene at Candlestick Park in 1965, the great Juan Marichal taking a bat to Dodgers catcher John Roseboro, was an aberration. There was deep mutual respect. But just as in the New York days recalled by Newcombe, tempers occasionally flared and fastballs arrived in scary locations.

"There was nothing better than beating the Giants in San Francisco," said Tommy Lasorda, who succeeded fellow Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston late in 1976 and celebrated his first of seven NL West titles in '77 at Candlestick Park.

"What I remember about that night was Rick Monday hitting a tremendous home run," Lasorda said.

"I remember it, too," Monday said, grinning. "It wasn't the dawning of an era as much as the payoff for a lot of guys who were coming of age."

That was the era of the infield that endured -- Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey -- and a dynamite rotation featuring the likes of Don Sutton and Tommy John. Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser were on their way. Those Dodgers clubs had too much firepower for the Giants in the post-Mays era.

Yet for every glowing memory, there's one that still burns in the gut of Lasorda.

In 1982, little Giant Joe Morgan launched a three-run homer on the season's final day to beat the Dodgers and hand the division title to the Braves.

"I was standing there hoping for a severe downdraft," said Monday, the Dodgers' right fielder that afternoon.

In 1991, with a whole new cast, the Dodgers finished the season at Candlestick, once again in a division duel with the Braves. When Bud Black and Trevor Wilson handcuffed Eddie Murray, Darryl Strawberry and Co. in the first two games of the series as Atlanta was handling Houston, the Braves celebrated.

Two years later, in the debut seasons of Giants manager Dusty Baker and superstar Barry Bonds, San Francisco went to Dodger Stadium for a final four-game series deadlocked with Atlanta. The Giants took the first three before Mike Piazza homered twice in a Sunday rout, enabling the Braves to seize the NL West.

"It still hurts," said Black, the Padres' manager who missed most of the last two months with elbow issues.

The heartbroken Giants went home with 103 wins. The Wild Card didn't come soon enough for that great team.

"Man, that was hard to take after the way that team battled down the stretch," Baker said.

The emotional leader along with Reggie Smith of that 1977 Dodgers outfit and those that would follow, Baker understands the rivalry from both sides, in its full scope.

"Baseball at its best," he said, "out West in the Golden State."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.