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By Jon Weisman
After the Giants’ starter told the Dodger outfielder not to look at him, the Giants’ relievers only made him want to look away.
Trailing 1-0 in the ninth inning, the Dodgers rallied against the beleaguered San Francisco bullpen, parlaying three singles and a walkoff Adrian Gonzalez double into a 2-1 victory that put them a season-high six games up on the Giants with 12 to play. Magic number: seven.
A seventh-inning brouhaha (minus the haha) between Madison Bumgarner and Yasiel Puig on the edge of the first-base line added another layer of intensity to the Dodger-Giant rivalry, a prelude to a victory almost as cathartic as it was important.
San Francisco had one base hit that went past the infield tonight in Los Angeles, and it had nothing to do with the outcome.
Instead, what happened within the infield made the difference for 8 1/2 innings.
Taking the equivalent of a Big Wheel ride around the bases, the Giants motored their only run on an infield single, stolen base, error and wild pitch.
With two out, Eduardo Nunez hit the equivalent of an errant miniature-golf tee shot to Kershaw’s left. Three starts into his return from a disk herniation, Kershaw lunged but couldn’t reach it. Chase Utley charged to glove it, but couldn’t get a desperate throw to first in time, despite Nunez’s head-first, dirt-burst slide.
With two out and two strikes on Angel Pagan, after nearly being picked off by Kershaw, Nunez took off for second. Yasmani Grandal’s throw sliced like a screwball, out of Utley’s reach at second, allowing Nunez to slide in safely and then scamper to third.
One foul ball later, Kershaw bounced a slider in the dirt in front of home plate and through Grandal, and for the low, low investment of that 60-foot single, Nunez had earned 360 feet of bases and the shutout-breaking run.
That unearned run was the only mole on the Kershaw visage in his six innings. With the Dodgers trailing 1-0, he left for a pinch-hitter, having allowed three hits and a walk (his 10th of the season, compared with seven strikeouts on the night and 162 strikeouts in 2016).
But the Dodgers couldn’t make half the dent in Bumgarner that he made in them. Only Yasiel Puig had a hit against the Giants’ lefty, though Grandal and pinch-hitter Rob Segedin were hit by pitches.
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The biggest noise came at the end of the seventh, when Puig hit a cue shot near the first-base line that Bumgarner turned into the final out of the inning. Reflexively, after yelling “Expletive yeah!” when the out was made, Bumgarner was angry at Puig,
“Don’t look at me,” Bumgarner said while looking directly at Puig, winning the approval of the Irony Committee. Benches cleared, but little came of it.
Except Bumgarner didn’t throw another pitch. Though he has crossed 100 pitches in his past four starts, Bruce Bochy decided that 97 of them to 24 batters with 10 strikeouts was enough for Bumgarner tonight, using a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth and turning the game over to what has become a notorious bullpen.
With two out in the bottom of the eighth, pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz got the Dodgers’ second hit, but nothing came of it after Derek Law retired Howie Kendrick on a fly to right.
In the bottom of the ninth, magic pixie dream hitter Andrew Toles came off the bench and singled sharply to right.
Javier Lopez replaced Law. Corey Seager, one strike away from his fourth whiff of the game, drilled a grounder past a diving Joe Panik for another single, pushing Toles within 90 feet of tying the game.
Hunter Strickland replaced Lopez. Justin Turner, also with two strikes against him, shot a third straight Dodger single to right, scoring Toles.
Gonzalez came up, and he rocked a ball to the wall in right center. Tagging up for a potential catch, Seager shifted into forward gear when right fielder Hunter Pence came up empty, and roared around the bases for the winning run and the biggest celebration at Dodger Stadium this year.