I've been waiting to post this entry to see how the NLCS finished. It was either going to be a very depressing "the Dodgers knocked the Giants out of the NLDS and now they're going to the World Series and are probably going to win it" post or a less depressing "the Giants didn't beat the Dodgers but at least the Dodgers didn't win the pennant" which, I admit, I didn't ever think I'd actually write. I fully expected to write an entry where I was going to be begging the AL pennant winner to please just stop a Dodgers legitimate World Series victory for the first time since 1988. After the Dodgers broke our collective hearts, a Dodgers/Astros World Series rematch felt inevitable. In fact, no matter who won the AL pennant, the Red Sox or Astros, it just felt destined the Dodgers would make it there and have their revenge on one of those two teams that won a championship against them and give LA their first non-asterisked World Series in 33 years and essentially render the Giants nearly perfect 107 win magical season moot.
It would have been a very tough pill to swallow for Giants fans. How could you possibly take any silver linings away from a record setting 107 win season, the first NL West title since 2012, and breaking the Dodgers 8 consecutive NL West title streak if the Dodgers beat the Giants in the playoffs anyways and then went on to win a championship? You would look at the 2021 season and want to throw up first and foremost, turning everything magical into "but it meant nothing!"
But now? The Braves completed an NLCS series victory they couldn't finish in 2020. Sure, they probably should have swept the Dodgers out of the playoffs, but they had to make things interesting and remind everyone of their 3-1 choke job from a year ago and threaten to repeat it. The Dodgers didn't fold, they fought to a Game 6 before mercifully giving way to Atlanta's well deserved National League pennant, their first since 1999. You want to talk about silver linings? From potentially not really being able to rationally have any silver linings had the Dodgers won a World Series Championship in a legitimate season to now having at least a few. The best feeling is that the Dodgers were clearly beat up after the month long dogfight for the division in September and then even more beat up after their Giants clash in the NLDS. We as Giants fan sure wish we had more than silver linings to enjoy this October, we most definitely wish we could have been the team to face the Braves and potentially advance to a World Series that felt fated after a truly awesome regular season where everything the Giants did came up aces. Nothing seemed more destined than this fairy tale season ending with a mythical World Series title that would have perhaps taken the mantle for the greatest of four San Francisco titles because of where expectations started, the grind of beating out the Dodgers in 162 games, and then besting perhaps the greatest Dodgers team in history en route to winning a title, especially if that trophy came against Dusty's Astros. There was so much poetry to be written about a 2021 Giants World Series championship that it is still hard to accept the season ending in the Division Series, especially the way it did. The Cody Bellinger at-bat will haunt my nightmares for years. Posey's refusal to call anything but a slider in that at bat, the fact that Bellinger couldn't hit at even Neifi Perez levels all season but found a way to poke a game winning RBI single in the top of the 9th against Camilo Doval, who had been nearly unhittable for weeks, if not months, until that frame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with one out, an error by Justin Turner put Kris Bryant on and brought to the plate Late Night LaMonte, a growing Giants legend, against Max Scherzer, the guy the Giants really wanted at the trade deadline but failed to acquire, then watched as he went to Los Angeles and dominated down the stretch to keep the Dodgers neck and neck with the Giants so that the NL West came down to the final day of the season. It was all storybook stuff. Late Night LaMonte was all set to deliver the epic finale to this 2021 Giants/Dodgers showdown. After playing essentially to even all year long, it felt inevitable that Wade was going to hit a 2 run walk off homer to send the Dodgers to the offseason and the Giants on to continue their imminent march to a World Series championship. It really did feel that way. And it nearly happened. LaMonte lit up a pitch on the inside corner, turning on it viciously, and sent it hurtling towards McCovey Cove. The crowd rose in anticipation! Except it quickly became apparent the pitch had been just a little bit too inside, that despite Wade's swift turn, there was no way that ball was going to stay fair. It was laser'd painfully foul. If that pitch had leaked just a few centimenters towards the middle of the plate, the prophecy would have been fulfilled. It would have most definitely been a walk off home run. Instead, Scherzer made the pitch he had to, it went foul, and then Wade harmlessly struck out. The Giants weren't finished though, they had Wilmer Flores left to try to walk it off. Flores may have historically struggled against Scherzer, but this was Game 5 of the NLDS, the bottom of the 9th, and he represented the winning run. This is what every kid envisions when they fantasize about a specific at bat. A walk off homer against your rival in the bottom of the 9th in the playoffs. In theory, most of those scenarios are in the World Series, but this WAS the World Series. The two best teams in baseball going head to head in a five game series that had gone the full five games, that was tied 1-1 going into the 9th inning before Cody effing Bellinger. We all know how it ended. It ended with the 1st base umpire yanking the bat out of Wilmer Flores's hands and gift wrapping an NLCS berth to the Los Angeles Dodgers just like the home plate umpire did to Austin Slater to end the Giants playoff hopes in 2020. It's hard to imagine a team's season ending on borderline (and obviously incorrect) umpire calls once, let alone twice, and let alone twice in two consecutive seasons. The "strike" to Austin Slater was not a strike, and the check swing that Wilmer Flores was rung up on was clearly not a swing. It is the worst way to lose. It is even worse when it's in the playoffs. It's unforgivable when it's the two best teams in baseball and those two teams are the biggest rivals in the sport and are facing each other in the playoffs for the first time in modern history.
We're not here to talk about those calls though or how the Dodgers and Giants got stuck with, perhaps, the worst umpiring crew to umpire a playoff series in history. It was a beyond tragic ending to a season that felt like it would end with anything but, but that's baseball. When the Giants lost, it felt like the Dodgers would have all the momentum and waltz right into the World Series and the championship.
Except! It didn't happen that way! There's those silver linings, remember? The Giants broke the Dodgers. It was akin to Commodus stabbing Maximus in "Gladiator" before their final fight. Commodus might have died, but he wound up killing Maximus anyways. Sure, likening the Giants to a coward who killed his adversary by effectively cheating isn't the greatest metaphor, but it does adequately sum up how it feels the Dodgers went into that series versus the Atlanta Braves. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled out all the stops to try to beat the Giants, inclusive of using Max Scherzer in relief just a few days after he started Game 3. That emptied Scherzer's arm to the point where he was relatively ineffective in his start versus Atlanta in Game 2 and essentially forced him to not participate in the rest of the NLCS. While Julio Urias dominated the Giants in their Game 2, he was used non-traditionally as a bulk innings reliever in Game 5 and while he was still plenty effective in quieting the Giants bats, he had nothing left for Atlanta, who hit him hard in all of his appearances in the NLCS. Justin Turner's hamstring gave way. Joe Kelly's arm fell off. Turns out, playing a full 162 schedule and a grueling playoff schedule is a lot harder than, say, playing a 60 game season and a handful of games in an "expanded" postseason.
The Giants lost to the Dodgers in the NLDS, and that is something the Giants and us fans will have to live with forever. Nothing will erase the fact the Dodgers ended our season in the playoffs in the first matchup of the two teams in history. Nothing will remove Cody Bellinger's game winning RBI single from memory or the Dodgers celebrating on the Giants home field as Giants players painfully looked on and wondered what could have been. But the next best thing if the Giants can't win a World Series, is if the Dodger don't either. This Dodgers team was made up of All Stars, Cy Young's, MVP's, and Hall of Famers. Theoretically, the Giants had no business hanging around with them, let alone beating them for the division title. The fact that LA was so depleted after their battle with their rivals and couldn't muster enough to beat the Braves, who played extremely good baseball in the NLCS, except for Luke Jackson all series and Max Fried in Game 5, counts for something. Giants fans can't gloat per se, but we sure can take solace in the fact that on some level, the Giants had an assist in ending the Dodgers season prematurely. The Giants won the division, which forced the Dodgers into the wildcard, which forced them to use Scherzer for that game, which forced them not to use Scherzer until Game 3 of the NLDS, which made him unavailable for the rest of the series except a relief appearance that both helped the Dodgers advance but also may have helped in their demise. It forced them to use Walker Buehler on short rest in Game 4 to avoid elimination, which may have made him less effective against the Braves in Game 3 and Game 6.
The Dodgers lost. Now Giants fans can sit back and enjoy a World Series that features beloved ex-manager Dusty Baker trying to win his first ever World Series ring or see a bunch of ex-Giants win a World Series in their stead, guys like former closer Will Smith, former outfielder Adam Duvall, former shortstop of the future Ehire Adrianza, former backup catcher Stephen Vogt, and the beloved Panda himself, Pablo Sandoval, who can win a 4th World Series ring for being part of the Braves early and who was traded for the eventual NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario. I mean, the Giants really did have their hands all over this NLCS even having been eliminated.
The Giants didn't beat the Dodgers in the NLDS, they didn't win the NL Pennant, and they definitely aren't going to be winning the World Series, which it all kind of felt like was going to happen, didn't it? But they did win 107 games, they did win the NL West, and they did have a hand in their rivals not winning a championship. At the end of the day, a team that was expected to win 70-odd games and finish 3rd or 4th in the NL West instead set a franchise record with 107 wins, broke the Dodgers NL West dominance, and can go into 2022 on the upswing. Meanwhile, the Dodgers assembled maybe one of the most talented rosters in the history of the sport, failed to win the division, failed to win the pennant, and most definitely failed in winning a legitimate World Series ring for the first time in 33 years.
It's not quite what we Giants fans wanted or hoped and dreamed on, but it makes those silver linings feel like gold.
Thank you Giants for a truly unforgettable season.