Sunday, May 6, 2012

The LA-SF rivalry -- Chapters 5-6

-- by Josh Suchon

The Giants and Dodgers renew their legendary rivalry tomorrow night at Chavez Ravine. A new Dodgers ownership group means a new chapter in this rivalry.

We've broken the rivalry up into 11 chapters, since the teams moved to California. Yesterday, the first four chapters were reviewed. Now that we hit the 1980s, when this blogger was alive and remembers vividly, more details get added.

Chapter Five – Humm Baby Arrives (1986-92)

Bob Lurie saved the Giants from moving to Toronto when he bought the team in 1976. But a decade later, it was the lowest point in San Francisco history, and Lurie was trying everything he could to leave Candlestick Park.

Attendance was at an all-time low for the Giants. They drew 818,697 fans in 1985, an average of just 10,107. Candlestick was cold and miserable, and the baseball played there even worse.

In 1986, the Giants turned to a member of the Dodgers 1959 world championship team to resurrect their franchise. Roger Craig was hired as manager. His favorite expression, “Humm Baby” was used in marketing campaigns. He brought a positive outlook, installed rookies Will Clark and Robbie Thompson into the starting lineup, and taught the split-fingered fastball to all the pitchers on staff.

“Will the Thrill” homered off Nolan Ryan in his first at-bat, and the Giants were in first place for most of the year. On July 17, they led the Astros by two games. Then they hit the road and went 3-9 on a four-city roadtrip. The capper was a three-game Dodgers sweep in Los Angeles, and the Astros ran away with the division.

The next year, it all came together. New general manager Al Rosen made an astute trade midway through 1987, adding starting pitcher Dave Dravecky, workhorse lefty Craig Lefferts and a pudgy third baseman named Kevin Mitchell. They clinched the division in San Diego, as thousands of Giants fans made the trip south to celebrate. It was their first division title since 1971.

In the champagne-soaked clubhouse, Will the Thrill’s legend was cemented. The 23-year-old Clark, in his second season, said on live TV, “I’ve been waiting a loooong time for this. I’ve been to all the fucking amateur ones. Now I’m going to the real one.”

In 1988, the Dodgers answered with an improbable World Series behind Orel Hershiser’s brilliant pitching. Giants-Dodgers history repeated itself again during Hershisher’s record-breaking 59 inning consecutive scoreless streak.

Back in 1968, when Don Drysdale established the record, the streak stayed alive by an umpire’s call in a game against the Giants at Candlestick. In the ninth inning on May 30, the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out. Dick Dietz was hit by a pitch to score a run, but umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz didn’t try to evade the pitch. Given a second chance, Drysdale closed out the game without a run scoring.

In 1988, Hershiser’s streak was at 40 innings when he went to Candlestick on Sept. 23rd. In the third inning, the Giants had runners at first and third with one out. Ernest Riles hit a grounder to second base, but the Dodgers couldn’t turn the double play and a run scored. Except umpire Bob Engel ruled that Brett Butler went out of the baseline to interfere with shortstop Juan Uribe. Riles was called out on the double play, the streak stayed alive, and Hershiser finished with 59 straight.

The Dodgers and Giants traded division titles to close out the decade, but their competition came elsewhere. In 1987, the Dodgers finished 17 games behind the Giants. In 1988, the Giants were 11 ½ games behind the Dodgers.

In 1989, the Dodgers finished 14 games behind the Giants for the division, but they made their rivals sweat the final week. The Giants led the Padres by five games with six games left in the season. They went to Los Angeles for three games … and were swept.

After the final loss, the Giants remained in the visitor’s clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, huddled around TVs and radios to follow the Padres game in San Diego. The Padres tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, adding to the torture. Finally, in the 13th inning, Eric Davis doubled home a run to take the lead, and Norm Charlton struck out Garry Templeton to end it.

The Giants erupted in celebration, dousing each other with champagne in their rivals’ home. They’d celebrate in San Francisco after beating the Cubs in five games in the NLCS. In their first World Series appearance since 1962, the cross bay Oakland Athletics swept them in four games.

That series, of course, is most remembered for the earthquake before Game Three. For all the angst about Candlestick, and all the attempts to abandon it, the old ballpark withstood the 7.1 magnitude shaking. It swayed, but didn’t crumble.

In 1991, the Braves went from worst-to-first to win the division, but needed help from the Giants on the final weekend. The Dodgers were tied with the Braves entering the final three games … and, once again, were back at Candlestick.

The Giants were 19 games back in the standings, but their season became a success when they won on Friday and Saturday. Couple with two Braves wins, the Dodgers were eliminated. It was just like 1982 for the Giants.

The final year of the Humm Baby era was 1992, and it was the worst combined year for these rivals. The Giants were 72-90, in fifth place, and 26 games behind the first-place Braves. The Dodgers were even worse, finishing 63-99, in last place, and 35 games back.

The rivalry was again on life support. Not so much because the teams were so bad in 1992, but all signs pointed to Bob Lurie moving the Giants to St. Petersburg, Fla.

Chapter Six – Bonds arrives in SF (1993-1997)

Bob Lurie put the Giants up for sale, and Vince Naimoli bought the team with the plan to move the team to Florida. The other baseball owners blocked the purchase and move though.

An 11th-hour ownership group emerged, led by Peter Magowan, to keep the Giants in San Francisco and preserved this rivalry.

Before the ownership checks were cleared, Magowan announced the signing of Barry Bonds to a six-year contract that made him the highest-paid player in baseball. Other owners were furious, since the sale wasn’t finalized. The new ownership group was just getting started with their Giant makeover.

Dodger legend Dusty Baker, who held Bonds in his arms the day he was born, was promoted from batting coach to manager, despite zero managing experience. Baker hired Bobby Bonds, whose dad coached his youth baseball teams in Riverside, to be the new hitting coach.

For six decades, the Dodgers were known for family ownership and running the team like a family. Now, the Giants looked and felt like a family too.

Magowan’s group made cosmetic changes at Candlestick. They installed new bleachers in left and center field, installed a fog horn to blow after homers, added garlic fries and better cuisine to the menu. In short, they tried to make the dump as bearable as possible, while launching a campaign for a new home.

Bonds homered in his first at-bat at Candlestick and never stopped hitting. He won the Most Valuable Player, in his most all-around complete season as a pro, and the Giants won 103 games. Still, they were tied going into the final game of the season, and once again, the Braves would benefit from this rivalry.  

When deciding who to start the 1993 finale, Dusty Baker thought back to 1980. The players wanted pre-rookie Fernando Valenzuela, who made his debut on Sept. 15 and hadn’t allowed an earned run in 15 2/3 relief innings, to start the one-game playoff against the Astros.

Valenzuela had pitched two innings the day before, and Lasorda went with veteran Dave Goltz instead. Goltz only lasted three innings and the Astros won 7-1 to win the division.

In 1993, Baker trusted a kid named Salomon Torres, instead of a veteran like Dave Burba or Jim Deshaies. It ended in disaster. Torres walked five and gave up three runs in 3 1/3 innings. Mike Piazza hit two home runs off Giants relievers and the final was 12-1.

In what many called “the last true playoff race” because the wild card was starting the next year, the Giants didn’t play in October, despite 103 wins. The Dodgers finished with an 82-82 record, but they gained some revenge from 1982 and 1991.

Bonds’ impact wasn’t just in the batters box, the bases and the outfield. Now there was a certified villain for Dodgers fans to cheer, and they didn’t hold back.

Long-time Dodgers fans believe this is the time when the fan base began to change, for the worse, at Chavez Ravine. The Raiders left Los Angeles after the 1994 season and their fan base migrated across town. Some delicately called it a “rougher” crowd. Others more bluntly thought the “gangbangers” were taking over the formerly safe and laid-back stadium.

The 1994 strike wiped out the World Series, and a likely Giants-Dodgers duel down the stretch. When the season ended, the Dodgers had a 3 ½ game lead, but the Giants were surging. Darryl Strawberry had left LA, he was sober, and the Giants featured a menacing 3-4-5 punch of Bonds, Matt Williams and Straw.

The Giants returned to last place in 1995 and 1996, while the Dodgers went back to the playoffs in consecutive years. They lost in the first round both times, and felt a greater loss when Lasorda was forced to retire due to health reasons midway through the 1996 season.

New general manager Brian Sabean ushered in the best seven-year stretch of Giants history in 1997. It started with a controversial trade that sent the widely popular Williams to Cleveland for four players, including Jeff Kent. Defending himself on the radio, Sabean famously stated, “I’m not an idiot.”

The final two weeks of 1997 was epic. On the morning of Sept. 17, the Giants trailed the Dodgers by two games and hosted their rivals for a two-game series.
In the first game, Bonds hit a two-run homer off Chan Ho Park in the first inning, and new closer Roberto Hernandez saved a 2-1 win.

The next afternoon, it was tied in the 10th inning, when disposed closer Rod Beck loaded the bases with none out. Beck struck out Todd Zeile, then retired future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray on a 1-2-3 double play to escape the jam. Beck pitched two more scoreless innings, and Brian Johnson staked his name in Giants lore forever with a walkoff homer in the 12th.

The standings were tied, but the Giants had the momentum. The Dodgers lost four of the next five. The Giants won six of the next eight, clinching the division on the penultimate day of the season.

It was the first time the Giants won the division, with their storied rival finishing in second place, since 1971. 

As the decade was coming to a close, so too, was the "Dodger Way."

Monday: Chapters 7-8

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