The 24th meeting between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers will decide which team advances to the National League Championship Series and which has no more baseball to play in 2021.
Since moving to San Francisco, the Giants have played 10 winner-take-all postseason games — including a three game playoff for the NL pennant in 1962 against the Dodgers. They’ve won seven of them.
None of them were exactly like this. For one, the Giants don’t have Madison Bumgarner, who pitched in all three of SF’s last such contests. Instead they have Logan Webb, who will become the youngest pitcher in franchise history to take the mound in a winner-take-all game.
And the stakes are raised even higher than normal, if that’s possible. Thursday’s Game 5 will cap the winningest division race in MLB history, as San Francisco and Los Angeles have been jockeying for supremacy all year with 107 and 106 wins, respectively. One of franchise-best seasons will end prematurely at the hands of the other.
It’s the fifth winner-take-all matchup between teams with the two best records in baseball since the Divisional era began in 1995.
“This is why you play,” Buster Posey, a mainstay in many of SF’s biggest games, said after the Giants’ Game 4 loss.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have gone 9-8 in their franchise history in winner-take-alls including their 3-1 win over the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game. They’ll be on the road Thursday, where teams are 61-61 in winner-take-all games. Game 5 will be only the second ultimate win-or-go-home game at Oracle Park.
The first loser-leaves-town game the Giants played in San Francisco came against the Dodgers in Candlestick Park in 1962. The final contest of a three-game playoff to decide the NL pennant, like the famous Bobby Thomson game that sent the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series, didn’t technically count as a postseason game.
Still, the Giants advanced to the World Series by beating LA, 6-4. They played another winner-take-all days later against the Yankees. In Game 7 of the World Series, Wilie McCovey lined out with men on second and third in the bottom of the ninth to end the game — a 1-0 Giants defeat. McCovey later called the lineout to second baseman Bobby Richardson the hardest ball he ever hit.
SF didn’t play another winner-take-all until 1987, when San Francisco lost 6-0 in Game 7 of the NLCS to the Cardinals in Busch Stadium.
Another 15 years passed before their next chance. In 2002, Russ Ortiz led the Giants to NLDS wins in both Game 1 and the winner-take-all Game 5 — what Webb hopes to do in 2021. But the Giants later lost Game 7 of the World Series in Anaheim.
The Giants never faced elimination during their 2010 World Series run, but did twice two years later. In both, Matt Cain earned the win — once over the Reds in the NLDS and again in Game 7 of the NLCS.
After that, all three winner-take-alls featured Madison Bumgarner (as well as Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt). Bumgarner dominated in the 2014 Wild Card Game and again with his epic five-inning relief appearance in Game 7 of the World Series weeks later. Then he pitched a complete game shutout against the Mets two years later in the 2016 Wild Card Game.
In his three career winner-take-all games, Bumgarner pitched 23 scoreless innings, striking out 20 and walking three. Neither the Giants nor the Dodgers — who are starting Julio Urías — have a Bumgarner.
That doesn’t mean Thursday night in Oracle Park won’t be appointment viewing.
“This is what baseball wants,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, repeating his slogan from the run-up to the NLDS.
“I mean, I think, as I understand, all the series are done and so we’re going to be the only show in town. So if you have a pulse or you’re a sports fan, you better be watching Dodgers-Giants. It’s going to be a great one.”