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‘I lost on one pitch’: Max Scherzer and the Dodgers find themselves on the brink against the Giants

One pitch was all it took: The Giants’ Evan Longoria hits a solo home run off Dodgers starter Max Scherzer in the fifth inning of San Francisco’s 1-0 win Monday night. (Marcio Sanchez/AP)
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LOS ANGELES — Maybe if the wind hadn’t been gusting like it did all night, the flyball Gavin Lux hit nearly 107 mph into the air with two outs in the bottom of the ninth would have traveled out to tie the score. Maybe the ball Chris Taylor hit nearly as well a few innings earlier would have gone out, too.

Or maybe, just maybe, the 2021 San Francisco Giants are built to withstand baseball’s whims, whether weather or luck or anything in between.

Because Monday night, they turned one of the few mistakes Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer made into a run when Evan Longoria hit an 0-2 fastball out to left, then turned that run into a gutsy 1-0 win on a gusty night at Dodger Stadium.

The team that bested the defending champion Dodgers for the National League West title and still entered this series as underdogs is now one win from the National League Championship Series. Maybe, just maybe, the Giants are well constructed for October nights such as these.

“You work hard all offseason for things to culminate in moments like these,” Giants starter Alex Wood said. “For it to go my way tonight and our team’s way after the work that we put in all year and I know those guys do day in and day out is really special.”

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The night seemed likely to belong to the Dodgers on paper, in part because Wood was matched against Scherzer, who had been literally unbeatable as a Dodger. Since they traded for Scherzer at the deadline, the Dodgers had not lost a single game he started. And after Scherzer experienced uncharacteristic struggles in his past three outings, he pitched like a man rejuvenated Monday — like someone who wasn’t ready to see that unbeaten streak end now.

Scherzer threw seven impressive innings. He walked one, the first batter he faced, while he was adjusting to the gusting winds pushing him out of his delivery. After that, he was nearly perfect. He allowed three hits and struck out 10, becoming the first pitcher in history to strike out 10 hitters in a postseason game with three different teams.

The one mistake he made came in the fifth, when he got ahead of Longoria, the Giants’ third baseman, 0-2. Longoria had hit some weak foul balls on soft stuff away and swung through a fastball.

Instead of going to any of the many breaking balls he had at his disposal all evening, Scherzer thought he would try a fastball up in the zone — change the plane, give Longoria a different look after all the balls down and away. He didn’t get it up enough, and Longoria, who said later he had never stepped out of the box as much as he did as the wind blew dirt into his eyes Monday night, crushed the pitch through the wind and out to left.

“You get to the postseason, you can always lose by one pitch. That comes into play,” Scherzer said. “I lost on one pitch.”

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But a one-run lead never seemed safe against the Dodgers, who have so much postseason experience, such extensive history of finding a way this time of year. Wood pitched for the Dodgers from 2015 to 2018, then again in 2020. He knew what the Dodgers’ lineup was capable of, and he said he expected the game to come down to execution because almost everyone in their lineup knew him so well. He also said he was impressed when his old team added Scherzer and Trea Turner to their already formidable lineup at the trade deadline.

“Is it the straw that broke the camel’s back?” Wood said Monday, wondering aloud if the deal was the one that would make the Dodgers untouchable this October. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Scherzer and Turner weren’t enough to push the Dodgers past the Giants on Monday. Through 4⅔ innings, Wood outdueled Scherzer and held Turner (and every other Dodger but Albert Pujols) hitless. Giants Manager Gabe Kapler came to get him before he began his third time through the order, but Wood allowed no runs on just two hits, both by Pujols, and struck out four.

Inning after inning seemed likely to be the inning in which the Dodgers came back. Inning after inning passed without that happening. Much like they did all season, the Giants held the Dodgers off over and over, play after play, bending like the palm trees that blew in the unusually strong winds at Chavez Ravine on Monday night — bending but never breaking.

At times, the Giants’ trademark stellar defense came through in big moments. Donovan Solano made a great play ranging at second base. Steven Duggar tracked a flyball into deep right-center that ended the sixth. With two men on in the seventh, Brandon Crawford made a leaping grab on a Mookie Betts line drive that seemed destined for the gap. When the Giants needed big plays, they got them.

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And when they needed help from their bullpen, they got that, too. Tyler Rogers, former Dodger Jake McGee, then fire-balling rookie Camilo Doval held. Doval threw two scoreless innings to end the game, though Lux nearly tied it with a shot to dead center that somehow stayed in for Duggar to secure.

Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts, who has managed at Dodger Stadium since the start of the 2016 season, said he thought that ball would have been out “any other night.” Kapler, who grew up in the area, called the weather “super strange.” Longoria said his stomach sank when he saw Lux hit the ball because he was sure the ball was headed out, then realized it must have just been the Giants’ night. Crawford noted that though the wind was a factor for the Dodgers’ hitters, it was a factor for the Giants’ hitters, too.

“You can’t blame on the wind that we lost the game tonight,” Pujols agreed. “It’s part of the game, Mother Nature, and you have to respect that.”

Wind or not, the Giants have now held the Dodgers scoreless twice in three games, thereby outpitching two of the starters that have made the Los Angeles rotation so mighty all year: Scherzer and Walker Buehler.

Roberts would not commit to a starter for Game 4 with his season on the line Tuesday, but he said “everything is on the table,” including Buehler. The Giants will go with right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, a less heralded option — though these 2021 Giants know better than anyone that less heralded need not mean less successful, wherever the baseball winds decide to blow.