LOS ANGELES — The Giants have spent the last three years accruing depth, not just on the big league roster but on the 40-man and beyond. They talk often about how baseball is not like the other sports, how one player can generally not make a tremendous difference.
That’s true over 162 games and even usually a short series, but over nine innings, having the best player on the field can still matter. Unfortunately for the Giants, that guy wore Dodger blue on Thursday.
As he did last October when these teams faced off in the postseason, Mookie Betts took over. His three-run homer in the eighth gave the Dodgers a lead after the Giants had clawed back from a five-run deficit to briefly jump on top, and a few minutes later he made a sensational diving catch to rob Joc Pederson of what would have been an RBI double that brought the tying run to the plate.
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The Giants lost 9-6 on a wild night at Dodger Stadium, and afterward, manager Gabe Kapler opened his postgame media session by speaking for nearly two minutes. Kapler talked about how proud he was of his group for fighting back in the seventh, when Evan Longoria hit a solo homer and Darin Ruf capped a long rally with a game-tying grand slam. He talked of the mistakes that were made, most notably Jarlin Garcia's walk of No. 9 hitter Cody Bellinger ahead of Betts. Then, Kapler pivoted.
"And then Mookie Betts is a really good player," he said, adding, "He's one of the best players in the world."
Betts is a reminder that you should make the franchise-altering move for a superstar if you have the opportunity. The Dodgers traded for Betts two years ago and he has been their engine ever since.
The Giants might have a chance to make a similar move in the coming weeks, or possibly this offseason, if the Washington Nationals decide San Francisco has enough to join the bidding for Juan Soto, but for now they're still a group that relies on depth and wearing you down, and on Thursday that nearly worked.
San Francisco Giants
Ruf came off the bench for his first career slam and an inning later the Giants took the lead when Thairo Estrada drew a walk with the bases loaded. It looked like the Giants might steal one, but Trayce Thompson tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. Kapler called on Garcia, his most reliable left-handed reliever now that Jose Alvarez is injured and Jake McGee is gone. He made a crucial mistake, walking the light-hitting Bellinger on four pitches.
"He has to come in and throw strikes to Bellinger," Kapler said. "That's the guy he's there to get."
Garcia has at times had success against righties, too, but he hung a slider and Betts crushed it. The ball landed 10 rows deep as Dodger Stadium shook under the weight of 53,165, the biggest crowd in MLB this season.
"Oh, man -- he's clutch. That's not the guy you want up in a big situation," Longoria said. "He's a guy who you'd like to keep the game away from."
The Giants couldn't do that in the eighth or in the ninth. Pederson crushed the ball all night with little to show for it, but it appeared he had a double off shaky closer Craig Kimbrel. That would have brought up Longoria with a chance to try and repeat Ruf's heroics, but Betts took an absolutely perfect route to make a diving catch that ended the night.
The Giants did a lot right, but when the game was on the line, there was one thing they couldn't control. The Dodgers had Betts and they didn't.
"He's just a complete hitter, a complete player," said Carlos Rodón, who started the game. "He's just one of those gamechangers."