Most baseball players are given the take sign on a 3-0 count.
Buster Posey is not most players.
In front of a raucous crowd frantically waving orange towels like their life depended on it, the 12-year-veteran, and three-time World Series champion smashed a Walker Buehler fastball so hard it bounced off one of the smoke stacks atop Levi’s Landing before eventually dropping into McCovey Cove.
And with that sound, the Dodgers chances of beating San Francisco sunk to the bottom of the bay. A lopsided 4-0 victory by the Giants in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday night at Oracle Park took care of that.
“It’s on me to try and create some momentum and I kind of sucked that out of our dugout,” said Buehler. “At the end of the day, this game is on me.”
So much for the popular notion that the momentum of the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday night would carry over into the Division Series. Or the conceit that the battle-tested and experience-laden Dodgers would be too tough a foe for the well-rested and “rusty” 107-win Giants.
The number one question entering the NLDS, the first ever matchup in the 131-year history of the rival Dodgers and Giants, was if San Francisco could flip the switch after a four-day layoff and find the form that brought them the best record in baseball this season. Many said they were not as talented or gifted as the vaunted Dodgers, but that didn’t stop them from playing better baseball between April and October.
“Sometimes those extended breaks can go either way,” said Giants’ outfielder Kris Bryant. “But I think everybody came out ready to go, rested both mentally and physically. That was a huge advantage for us.”
All those questions were answered emphatically in Game 1.
The Giants out-pitched, out-hit, and simply out-played the Dodgers. This game wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated.
“To be quite honest, we didn’t make adjustments,” said Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts of the lopsided loss. “If you don’t make adjustments, then they’re going to keep going to the well, and that was kind of the story of it.”
Walker Buehler, the Dodgers big-game starting pitcher for the last four seasons, made just two mistakes. Both of them left the ballpark.
Buehler walked Tommy La Stella to leadoff the bottom of the first inning. Three batters later, Buehler fell behind Posey 3-0, and with first base open, he probably should have just walked him. Instead, Posey got a green light and made the most of it.
“I was on the attack from pitch one,” said Posey of that first at-bat. “I was trying to get something to drive and not necessarily let the count dictate that approach.”
Buehler wasn’t surprised Posey swung either.
“No, I wasn’t surprised,” said Buehler. “Buster’s been in this game a long time. I think obviously they have trust in him to swing 3-0 and I just made a mistake heater. I left it in an area that he can drive the ball and it was just not a great throw.”
Buehler settled in and threw five scoreless innings before he threw a 3-2 cookie to Kris Bryant that landed in the left field seats.
An eighth inning homer from Brandon Crawford against left-handed reliever Alex Vesia sealed the Dodgers fate.
All season long it seemed like these two rivals were destined to meet in the postseason. An instant playoff classic was what the world expected, instead, the Dodgers gave us a dud in Game 1.
However, through their rivals’ eyes, the game looked a lot different.
Logan Webb—a dead ringer for Breaking Bad actor Jesse Plemons—was masterful in his first taste of the postseason. Much like Plemons character of Todd on the show, he left the Dodgers dead on arrival.
“There was definitely some nerves in that first inning,” said Webb of his first career postseason start.
Throwing a combination of sliders and changeups, Webb cruised through 7.2 shutout innings allowing just five hits with no walks and ten strikeouts. For the better part of the game, he was unhittable.
“He’s got two-to-three pitches that are elite,” said Posey of Webb’s slide and changeup. “It’s definitely a luxury on my end to kind of pick and choose depending upon the game and the lineup that we have and the action that I’m seeing on his pitches to which one we want to lean on me. Today we saw the changeup was used more.”
The most troubling development for the Dodgers was their offense—the best run-scoring bunch in the National League this season, and third most home runs hit—looked lost and out of sync at the plate. The normally disciplined Dodgers chased sliders outside the zone all night long and lacked the big hit when they needed it.
“The bottom line, the story of the night, is that we swung at a lot of balls out of the strike zone tonight,” said Roberts. “As we got into counts, and got guys on base, we just became hyperaggressive, and were out of the zone.”
The bright side is the Dodgers will deploy 20-game winner Julio Urias and three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in the next two games.
“I know who Julio is going to be prepared,” said Roberts of Urias taking the mound in Game 2. “We have to have a shut down first inning tomorrow and potentially put up a run, that would be helpful.”
However, hidden like a needle underneath this hay stack is a troubling playoff truth. In the history of the best-of-five postseason series, the loser of Game 1 has gone on to win the series just 39 out of 138 times (28 percent). Additionally, teams losing Game 1 on the road came back to win the series just 23 percent of the time.
The Dodgers quest to repeat now comes down to a four-game series. If they win three of the next four, they will advance to their fifth League Championship Series in the last six years. The Giants just need to break even and go 2-2 over the next four games to vanquish their rivals.
“It’s crucial to win that first game, especially in a five-game series,” said Bryant who was part of the 2016 Chicago Cubs team that won the World Series and ended the 108-year championship curse. “We came out and took care of business.”
The age old adage in baseball is the series doesn’t start until the road team wins a game. If the Dodgers can split the first two at Oracle Park, they will be back in the driver’s seat when the series heads to Dodger Stadium on Monday.
“Given the history of our two franchises, it’s going to be big games here and then back home as well,” said Buehler. “Hopefully, we come out and get a win tomorrow and go home happy to our fans.”
The Dodgers arduous task tomorrow is the same one they’ve had to negotiate throughout the course of this 2021 season: put away the past, overcome injuries (Max Muncy and Clayton Kershaw), and focus on winning one game on Saturday.
Do that, and the vociferous chants of “Beat LA,” will slowly dissolve into “Repeat LA!” before the weekend is over.