MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Giants-Dodgers a classic September matchup

Giants-Dodgers a classic September matchup

LOS ANGELES -- This is the kind of game that a baseball season can bring. It is one of the reasons why we keep watching. It requires some mighty patience, the beginning of April until the last week of September, but here it was, on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.

Two teams, the Giants and the Dodgers, both battling for postseason spots. Their rivalry added an edge to an already intense competition. And then there was the pitching matchup, two of the game's best, the Giants' ace, Madison Bumgarner, and for the Dodgers, a man, Zack Greinke, who would be the ace of any other staff but the Los Angeles staff, which has the ace of aces, Clayton Kershaw.

"I look forward to games like this, I do," said San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy. "You're going to see great pitching, and it should be great. You're going to see two of the better pitchers in the game go at it, with two rivals. It's a fun thing for everybody. It should be. It's why you play the game."

In an atmosphere for which the term "playoff intensity" would probably be an understatement, the Dodgers prevailed, 4-2. They reduced their magic number for clinching the National League West to one. The Giants, meanwhile, fell to 4 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the division, missed a chance to clinch an NL Wild Card berth and fell one game behind the Pirates for the top NL Wild Card spot.

There wasn't much previous evidence that either team could do much damage against the other pitcher. In four starts this season against Los Angeles, Bumgarner was 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA. Greinke, meanwhile, in four starts against San Francisco, was 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA.

And there were long stretches of this game in which both were totally in command.

"Both pitchers settled in," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Those guys, they make pitches. They get outs."

But visions of a 0-0 stalemate were quickly erased. Justin Turner led off the first with a homer. Then Bumgarner hit Yasiel Puig with a pitch. The two have, as they say in these matters, "some history."

Puig advanced toward the mound with what appeared to be considerable anger. Bumgarner threw down his glove and appeared to invite Puig to keep coming. The benches emptied. The bullpens emptied. But cooler heads prevailed. There was no violence. There were no ejections. There were, as the game progressed, no repercussions, either. There was too much at stake for the extraneous stuff to take over the evening.

"It's too early to let that thing get escalated and not play baseball," said Mattingly, who told Puig, "We're going to play these guys again [on Wednesday night] and then probably after that [in the postseason], and the best way to be strong is to do it with your bat, do it with your glove."

Matt Kemp, on his 30th birthday, gave himself and the Dodgers a present by following the incident with a two-run homer. This three-run outburst in a single inning against Bumgarner was highly unusual, seeing that the Dodgers had not scored more than two runs in any of his four 2014 starts against them.

The record will show that Bumgarner settled in nicely after that -- until Turner gave the Dodgers a valuable insurance run in the eighth with another solo homer. Of Greinke, it could fairly be said that of his 118 pitches on Tuesday night, only one created a problem.

That happened in the third inning, with one on and one out, against Bumgarner. A slider on an 0-2 count caught more of the plate than Greinke intended, and Bumgarner clobbered it over the wall in left-center. Greinke bent over at the waist in a gesture that combined astonishment and dismay.

"It wasn't a perfect pitch, but it was pretty good," Greinke said. "The scouting report going into the game [said Bumgarner] had no hits on offspeed pitches for the season, hit fastballs pretty good, so we were just going with offspeed against him.

"When he first hit it, I thought it was just going to hang up in the air and be an out. It just shows you how strong he is, to take kind of like a fight-off swing and still be able to hit a homer off it. I was just amazed that it went that far."

Bumgarner can hit. So can Greinke, for that matter, but the home run gave Bumgarner 15 RBIs for the season, the most by a Giants pitcher since Juan Marichal in 1966.

Greinke was given plenty of chances to say how big his own performance was, but in his own matter-of-fact way, he declined. Did he feel a major responsibility, pitching a game of this magnitude?

"Not really," Greinke said. "Any time I try to do more than I'm capable of, it backfires, so I just try to do the normal stuff, and not try to get overamped, because that doesn't work for me."

Eight innings with two runs allowed on six hits and no walks is truly impressive in a game that brought your team to the edge of a division championship. Presented with that line of thinking, Greinke chose instead to detail the many contributions of his teammates.

"We scored some runs off a really good pitcher," he said, "so it was just a well-played game all the way around."

It was that, but it was also a classic late-September matchup; for what was at stake, for the rivalry, for the real quality of the pitchers involved.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.