By Arnie Leshin
Once again, the Dodgers and Giants step onto the main stage. That’s right, while the Atlanta Braves, with the worse record in these playoffs, made their way to the National League best-of-seven championship and now await the survivor of Major League Baseball’s two best records.
It’s 64 years since the two left Brooklyn and Upper Manhattan for the West Coast, but they still remain rivals, still pack in the big crowds, and still manufacture headlines. Yes, time goes by but the blue and white and orange and black are still in business.
And so Thursday night in San Francisco, the two will play the deciding game in the best-of-five first round playoffs. One carries on, the other packs its gear and heads for the golf courses. The reason the Giants get to host the decider is because they had 107 wins, the Dodgers 106.
And the reason for this is because San Fran did a little better in the final days of the regular season. The two were tied twice in the last week, but the Giants won one more than their rivals in Southern California. And before the other three playoff games wound up, Los Angeles had to dispose of the surging St. Louis Cardinals in a one-game playoff.
That put the Dodgers back in the ball game and now it comes down to another one game after San Francisco won games one and three via shutouts, and LA hung around by winning games two and four, the key one Tuesday night when the die-hard fans at Chavez Ravine in Anaheim cheered a 7-2 victory.
Now Atlanta waits after claiming the NL Division Series. It didn’t claim the top spot in the Eastern Division from the New York Mets until late September when it moved ahead Philly and the faltering team from the borough of Queens.
The Braves won three of the four games over the favored Milwaukee Brewers. Clutch pitching, hitting and defense did the trick after losing game one, 2-1, in
Milwaukee, winning game two, 3-0, at the Brewers, and then games three,
3-0, and four 5-4, thus outscoring the Central Division winners 12-6, in four tight contests.
The big blow came as the fans chanted “MVP, MVP, MVP” when popular first baseman Freddie Freeman came to bat with the score 4-4 and two out in the bottom of the eighth. And it got louder and added “Freddie, Freddie, Freddie” when he caught up with the first pitch, an 84-mph slider and launching it 428 feet into the seats in left-center.
When the celebration continued in the clubhouse, Freeman also got a call from his friend, Don Mattingly, the former New York Yankee first baseman and presently manager of the Miami Marlins.
“That was neat of him giving me a call,” Freeman said. “He supported me when I tested positive for COVID-19, which he also had before that, and he’s just a great guy, Donny Baseball.”
Atlanta still has one more big test in the best-of-seven. It hasn’t been to the World Series since 1999 and hasn’t won it all since 1995 when they reigned supreme over its division. But this team that floundered under .500 until August 6 when it overcame adversity to clinch its fourth straight division in the final week, also beating out second place Philadelphia, and with new confidence, quality pitching, key hits, and the leadership of Freeman.
Manager Brian Sniker said he didn’t care who his Braves played next, adding he has nothing to do with that and will watch game five on the tubes.
It doesn’t matter that the Dodgers and Giants already know what lies ahead, It’s still the blue versus the orange, with a slight edge to home field San Francisco. That’s where the Giants won game one, 4-0, and the visitors game two, 5-4. Then it was game three with strong pitching from both sides and a 1-0 triumph on the road by San Francisco.
Then game four in Los Angeles and the home team led from the start with clutch hitting that included home runs from outfielder Mookie Betts and catcher Will Smith. And with the final out of the 7-2 win, the crowd of 52,935 took a collective big breath as the series headed to a deciding game about 500 miles up north.
In the championship series, the Braves get the home field advantage in games one, two, six and seven because they won their division while the Dodgers and Giants are now playing in a wild card tiebreaker for the Western Division title. The opener is scheduled for Saturday on TBA, which is the Turner Network and Ted Turner once owned the Atlanta Braves.