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Morgan's iconic homer exemplified Giants-Dodgers rivalry


The game meant nothing in the standings to the Giants, but everything in their hearts. That's the beauty of rivalries, that's the greatness of every Giants vs. Dodgers game. 

Joe Morgan, who started his path to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the playgrounds of Oakland as a child, died Sunday at 77 years old at his home in Danville. His cause of death was non-specified polyneuropathy. He forever will live in baseball immortality.

The same goes for his final at-bat in a Giants uniform. 

On Oct. 3, 1982, the final day of the season, the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers squared off one final time that year at Candlestick Park. With no wild-card teams, the Giants already were out of the running for the playoffs. The Dodgers, however, would be crowned NL West champions over the Atlanta Braves by beating the Giants. 

A 21-year-old Fernando Valenzuela was coming off a NL Cy Young season the year before and was handed the ball by Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to propel his team to the postseason. Valenzuela struck out nine Giants and only allowed two earned runs through six innings, but he also walked five batters and Lasorda was forced to turn to his bullpen in the bottom of the seventh inning. After Tom Niedenfuer gave up two hits and struck out one, Lasorda turned to lefty Terry Forster who immediately struck out Jim Wohlford. 

Then came the 5-foot-7 Morgan, having turned 39 years old two weeks prior, to the plate with two outs and the score tied at two runs apiece. Morgan wasn't the player he once was. He no longer was a MVP, an All-Star or Gold Glove second baseman. Throughout that whole season, though, he proved he can still pack a punch and went on to win his only Silver Slugger award that year.

And he saved his knockout punch for the Dodgers.

After falling behind in a 2-1 count, Morgan hammered a line shot over Rick Monday's head, over the right-field fence and just to the right of Juan Marichal's retired No. 27 jersey. The Giants took a 5-2 lead and Morgan became an instant Giants legend with one swing and two seasons in orange and black. San Francisco went on to win the season finale, 5-3. 

Bob Brenly threw his arms up and walked from third base to home plate as he watched the blast go over the wall. Every single Giants player greeted Morgan outside of the dugout. There were hugs, high fives and the perfect sense of not knowing what to do.

Frank Robinson's Giants went 87-75 that season, one game worse than the Dodgers. That's not what fans remember. What they remember is the Dodgers' 88 wins being one fewer than the Braves' 89 thanks to mighty Joe Morgan's rocket that had 47,457 fans crammed into Candlestick roar into oblivion as if the World Series had come early to San Francisco.

Rivalries bring the best and the worst out of us. Far too often, it falls on the latter. In this case, it was the absolute best, down to the very definition. 

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Morgan rightfully ended his career where his baseball roots first began to grow: In Oakland as an Athletic. He followed a Rickey Henderson groundout with a double off Mark Gubicza of the Kansas City Royals in the first inning of the final day of the 1984 regular season. It was the last time he would swing a bat in a major league game.

Known as an integral engine on the legendary "Big Red Machine" teams in Cincinnati through the 1970s, Morgan is one of the greatest baseball players the Bay Area has produced, and gave us the very best of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.

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