On Base: Kind of Blue

Manny Ramirez: Designated Bad Guy

Manny Ramirez: Designated Bad Guy

Pregame: We’re Number One!

Last year Forbes Magazine designated the Giants-Dodgers battle as the top rivalry in major-league baseball — no matter what Red Sox fans think. Rivalries, as Fortune points out, are good for business. Fans show up. And Giants and Dodgers fans have been doing just that ever since the Brooklyn Dodgers left the American League for the National League in 1890. Being in the same league, the two teams initially played each other 22 times a year.

By the 1950s both organizations were looking for ways to increase their profits. For major corporate sports teams, this usually means a new stadium, and both teams played in crumbling old ballparks. The Giants had failed to improve or maintain the Polo Grounds and complained about declining attendance. Brooklynites kept flocking to Dodger games, but Walter O’Malley complained anyway.

Unable to get New York City to build them the stadiums of their dreams, they each decided to leave New York. The Giants were initially interested in Milwaukee, but both O’Malley and the National League wanted the Giants in San Francisco, in no small part because their rivalry with the Dodgers would be magnified by the distance between L.A. and San Francisco.

On April 15, 1958, the Giants opened their first season in San Francisco, beating the Dodgers, who opened their first season in Los Angeles. Seals Stadium at 16th and Bryant was sold out. The Giants won 8-0.

Inning One: Signs of Life

Both teams limp into this game. The Giants have lost six of their last nine games, including two at home to the Red Sox. The Dodgers were swept by the Red Sox and lost two series to the Yankees and the Angels. Neither team can afford to fall further behind in the standings.

Starting for the Giants, Barry Zito sets the Dodgers down with dispatch. His trademark curveball is working beautifully and he throws nothing but strikes. No such luck for Chad Billingsley, who starts for Los Angeles. He walks a patient Andres Torres, using eight pitches. Freddy Sanchez strikes out, but he makes Billingsley throw seven more pitches, and on the last swinging strike Torres steals second and comes home on an Aubrey Huff single. OK, Juan Uribe hits into a double play, but you still have to wonder: Did the Giants get a hitting lesson from the Red Sox?

Inning Three: Showdown

As sharp as Zito was in the first inning, he is that fuzzy in the second. No runs score, but he throws 30 pitches. Now, in the third, the Dodgers are beginning to hit him. A run scores and Reed Johnson is on second base, Manny Ramirez at the plate. When Zito was with the A’s in the American League, Ramirez played with the Cleveland Indians and the Red Sox. After Zito came to the Giants, Ramirez got traded to the Dodgers. He’s been an All-Star 12 times and is one of the best hitters in today’s game.

We come to the essence of baseball’s drama: the duel, both physical and mental, between pitcher and batter. Zito starts off against Ramirez with fastballs, one right after another sailing away from the strike zone; three balls, no strikes. The fastball is not Zito’s pitch. I expect a curveball or a slider, but he throws another fastball, then another, and it’s three balls and two strikes. Behind the cheers urging Zito to polish off Ramirez, behind the crowd — Giants fans, Dodgers fans, all transfixed by anticipation, tension and hope — “Casey at the Bat” comes alive. By fallling behind as he did, Zito now has to come with a curveball. Not a problem; it’s his signature pitch, the one he built his career on. Ramirez knows what’s coming, and Zito knows he knows. The chess game is over. Everybody knows what’s coming, but no one knows how it will come out. Zito throws a curveball, a good one. Ramirez laces it into center and the Dodgers take the lead.

Inning Five: How Much is That Rivalry Worth to You?

If great rivalries require great intensity, how do you measure intensity? By the noise? Giants fans are certainly more boisterous than they were during the Boston series, and they don’t have any more to cheer about. Forbes uses a more objective metric, the willingness of fans to be overcharged. The markup for a Dodgers-Giants ticket is higher than for any other match-up in the league. For example, a seat in the first 20 rows of the bleachers tonight costs $43; on July 16, a Friday night with the New York Mets, it costs $34.25, and on August 30, another Monday night against division rival Colorado, only $10.75. (Note: All prices, as they say, are subject to change, because the Giants have instituted “dynamic”  ticket pricing throughout the year.)

Inning Seven: How to Kill a Rally

Zito is gone, so is Billingsley. The Giants tied the game in the sixth, and Pat Burrell opens the seventh against reliever Jeff Weaver with a long single to left. He’s replaced by Aaron Rowand, and the Panda comes up to bat. Poor Panda. He’s been mired in a relative slump throughout the year. Expected to lead the Giants in slugging and on-base-percentage, he’s been out of sync and at times appears to be just out of it. Against Weaver, he fights off 11 pitches before lining a single to right. It’s the best at-bat I’ve seen from him in over a month. Evidence that the old Panda is back? Runners at first and third, no outs. Edgar Renteria hits a fly ball to shallow right. The Panda on first, thinking Rowand and the throw from right field are going to home plate, takes off for second. Rowand starts but stops; the throw gets cut off and the Panda is nailed. Two outs and Rowand is stranded on third. The Dodgers win on a home run in the eighth.

Inning Nine: Skirmishes
The more common way to measure fan intensity, particularly at a Giants-Dodgers game, is by the fights in the bleachers. Tonight was mild, says Lefty, an usher in the bleachers. Only a few skirmishes — notably, two female L.A. fans clobbered a guy cheering for SF. Marie, a Dodger transplant, said last year she had fruit, peanuts and beer thrown at her. Only obscenities so far this year, she says.

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