Dodgers, Giants renewing rivalry with high stakes

Clubs battling for NL West title down the stretch for first time since 2004

Dodgers, Giants renewing rivalry with high stakes

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's the Dodgers and Giants down the stretch with a National League West title at stake, and don't take it for granted, because it doesn't happen often.

It's been 10 years since Steve Finley -- a former Giant, no less -- walked off into Dodgers history with a clinching grand slam, which was the last time the division came down to the California rivals. But only three times in the past 33 years have the two teams gone down to the last week of the season to see which finishes first.

The Dodgers and Finley did it on the next-to-last day of the 2004 season. In 1997, Barry Bonds did his pirouette homer and Brian Johnson hit a walk-off homer in a two-game sweep that propelled the Giants to an eventual title. Joe Morgan broke the Dodgers' hearts in the three-team thriller that Atlanta emerged from on the last weekend of the 1982 season, one day after the Dodgers eliminated the Giants.

The Dodgers have juggled their vaunted starting rotation, assuring that Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and ace Clayton Kershaw line up to pitch the six remaining games between the teams, beginning in San Francisco on Friday night, with three more games Sept. 22-24 in Los Angeles.

Ned Colletti came to the Dodgers as general manager nine years ago after assisting then (and current) Giants GM Brian Sabean. Still friends during the offseason, the two barely talk during the season. A nail-biting finish isn't exactly a dream come true to them.

"It's great for the game and great for the rivalry," said Colletti. "That said, I'm sure he wishes he was 10 games up, and so do we."

The Giants were up by 9 1/2 games in early June. Three weeks later, the lead was gone and the Dodgers didn't even need a head-to-head series to make it happen. The Dodgers' biggest lead was 5 1/2 games in mid-August, and it's 2 1/2 games as this series gets underway. Another remarkable comeback for the Dodgers, but nothing like the 13 1/2-game deficit the Giants erased the final five weeks of 1951, culminating in Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World."

The teams traded 1-2 finishes in 1952 and '54, then both came west after the '57 season. In their first 13 years in California, they had September dogfights for five pennants.

In 1962, for example, it took a three-game playoff for the Giants to advance to the World Series instead of the Dodgers. When the Dodgers won the World Series in 1965 and lost the World Series in '66, the road to both of those Fall Classics went through San Francisco, the Dodgers clinching both times on the last weekend of the season.

Colletti said a September duel can harden a club for a successful October.

"Many times, teams who have to play hard and stay focused to the end of the regular season do very well in the postseason," he said. "This can be that type of finish, with two teams who know each other very well."

The gravity of the series even had Dodgers players this week admitting they had been looking ahead.

"Obviously, they've been marked on our calendar for awhile," Kershaw said of the September series. "It's nice to know they're my next start. I don't have to keep it in the back of my mind now."

The Giants hold a narrow 7-6 advantage in the season series this year, but they're 2-6 in games started by Ryu, Greinke or Kershaw. In their only meeting since May, the Dodgers swept the Giants in a three-game series at the end of the July, when they moved into first place. They've been there ever since.

The Dodgers have reached the postseason in four of Colletti's eight years, the Giants winning two World Series in the same span. At least one, if not both, will be playing this October, too.

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