LOS ANGELES – Mookie Betts’ second inning single had just snuck under Brandon Crawford’s glove when Gabe Kapler stepped off the top step of the guest dormitory. The Giants manager walked up to the hill of Dodger Stadium, raised his left arm and pointed a forefinger at the bullpen in the right field.
It was only the second inning. Starter Anthony DeSclafani had only five outs. That was going to be strange.
If the Giants won Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday night, it would demand an impeccable performance from their entire bullpen. But what if they couldn’t come from behind and win it? Well, there was one more game 5 to be won.
A balance had to be struck. For nine innings, Kapler carefully walked the tightrope, betting all he had to win Game 4 – while making sure he still had fresh pitching staff in case game 5 was necessary.
Sure enough, it is necessary. This series between the heavyweights of NL West leads to a winner-take-all showdown in Oracle Park on Thursday evening. The Giants hung around for most of Tuesday night, keeping the game close enough to keep things interesting before Will Smith’s later double home run landed a 7-2 Dodgers win.
As for the state of the Giants pitching team? Well, Kapler believes he and his staff managed to walk this tightrope. Even after hitting a franchise record that put eight pitchers in a post-season game, Kapler said he expected his entire contingent of guns to be fresh and available for game 5.
“We’ll be really in good shape with our bullpen,” said Kapler. “I assume that everyone stands up and is ready to present themselves.”
The Giants have a day to get their exhausted auxiliaries back on their feet. Without the travel day, Kapler would have mastered the game on Tuesday very differently.
San Francisco was behind from the start, falling back in the first inning of Trea Turner’s RBI doubles against DeSclafani. But by the time Smith got Jake McGee deep into eighth place, the Giants’ odds were high enough for Kapler to roll the dice with at least some of his best arms.
With a two-run backlog in the second round, San Francisco was still alive. Kapler picked up DeSclafani in favor of left-hander José Álvarez, who made Corey Seager fly into midfield. After DeSclafani was out of the game, the Giants then counted on right-handed Kervin Castro to give them length. But Castro also struggled to walk two of the three thugs he faced in the third, resulting in earlier than expected appearances from Jarlín García and Dominic Leone.
The Dodgers worked in depth, making life difficult for the San Francisco Auxiliary Corps. But despite a lot of traffic on the bases, these Giants rescuers kept the game a lot closer than it felt.
“The scoreboard is the only thing that matters and they were on until the end,” said Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts. “These guys the Giants do a great job of limiting the damage, keeping their club in there, and then they’re kind of chasing for momentum.”
The Giants used eight pitchers in a postseason game for the third time in franchise history – pushing some of them beyond their usual limits in the process. That includes Tyler Rogers, who faced eight thugs of the season in Game 3 on Monday, and then three more on a large court on Tuesday in Game 5. McGee was also deployed for the second night in a row. Zack Littell hit two goalless frames.
But if there’s outside concern that fatigue might be a factor in Game 5, Kapler won’t buy it. First, there’s Wednesday’s day off, combined with the fact that Rogers, Littell, and McGee all kept their pitch numbers down. In addition, the Giants avoided the use of Camilo Doval, the electric 20-year-old right-hander who ended Game 3 with a six-out parade.
Right-handed Logan Webb will be fully rested for his start to Game 5 after a dominant performance in Game 1. Right-handed Kevin Gausman, who started Game 2, is also available. Even left-handed Alex Wood – who has a lot of experience putting up reliefs in the postseason – could be called in after his strong performance in Game 3.
“It’s nice,” said Kapler. “You have Webb with a full slate, Gausman with a full slate. I don’t think Alex Wood would be completely left out at any point in the game. We have all set up our helpers and are ready for the start. “
All hands on deck. The Giants pitching team was one of the best in baseball in 2021. With the stakes higher than the entire season, Kapler should have the entire army ready to go.