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Dodgers-Giants rivalry has relevance again

With the teams battling for the National League West title, their head-to-head games have serious meaning and marquee pull.

August 21, 2012|By Bill Shaikin

It is supposed to be an article of faith that the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants maintain a bitter rivalry. It might be more like a relic of history.

It has been 3,245 days since the Dodgers and Giants played a game that really mattered, since that Steve Finley walk-off grand slam.

Facebook did not exist beyond the halls of academia. Twitter did not exist at all. The year was 2004, the last time the Dodgers and Giants dueled each other in a down-to-the-wire pennant race.

Maybe this year. The Dodgers and Giants occupy the top two spots in the National League West. They finish the season with three games against each other, with no assurance that a wild card will be available as a consolation prize.

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox might have the marquee rivalry of this era, but the Red Sox are too busy imploding to partake in a pennant race. The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs might inspire hatred on opposing sides, but the Cubs are a couple years away from relevance.

The Angels and Texas Rangers did not live up to their billing as baseball's freshest rivalry, not with the Angels embarrassingly hovering just above .500. That could leave the Dodgers and Giants as baseball's best story line come September, the classic rivalry revived for a new generation.

"Everybody can talk about East Coast bias," Dodgers catcherA.J. Ellissaid, "but that would be fun coming down the stretch."

The Giants seized first place from the Dodgers on Monday, behind eight scoreless innings from Madison Bumgarner. The Arizona Diamondbacks lurk in third place, five games behind the Giants.

"Nobody has forgotten about Arizona," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said.

But a Dodgers-Giants showdown would be much more fun, if only to see how the Dodgers faithful would respond. With Clayton Kershaw on the mound Monday and first place at stake, the Dodger Stadium fans greeted the Giants with scattered and half-hearted boos.

"There's no villain," Vin Scully said.

"Look at the two teams. They are nice guys out there. Look at the two managers: Bruce Bochy and Don Mattingly, two very pleasant guys. You don't have Charlie Fox and Tommy Lasorda throwing punches at each other exchanging lineup cards at home plate."

In 2007, on the verge of breaking the all-time home run record, Barry Bonds called Dodger Stadium "the best show in baseball."

Said Bonds: "You've got to have some kind of serious talent to have 53,000 people saying you suck, and I'm proud of that."

Said Scully: "Once Bonds left, the bitterness went with him. Right now, there's a mutual rivalry based on history, but it does not have the meanness. There was a meanness just playing at Candlestick Park."

That was where Lasorda dodged vociferous boos and occasional objects as he walked across the field, playfully egging on the crowd all the while.

"The weather was so severe there, and the fans were totally different," Scully said. "At AT&T Park, the fans are festive. They'll boo Matt Kemp, but only because he is capable of beating them."

Not just Kemp, and not just festive, according to Ellis.

"We definitely feel it when we're in San Francisco," Ellis said. "You definitely hear the Giants fans up there."

Is the taunting creative?

"I wouldn't say creative," Ellis said. "I would say consistent and relentless."

Said Mattingly: "It's so crazy there. I like it. Isn't that how it's supposed to be?"

Mattingly said Dodgers fans stop him around town, reminding him to beat the Giants. If the decorum is better when the teams play at Dodger Stadium, Mattingly is fine with that.

"It's different here. There's a different energy here," he said. "This is L.A."

Colletti has experienced the energy from both sides. In 2004, as the Giants' assistant general manager, he was crushed when Finley's home run knocked San Francisco out of the playoffs. In 2005, when Colletti took the Dodgers' job, he was reminded by fans that continuing to wear his Giants' NL championship ring was neither appropriate nor appreciated.

That intensity could surface again. In September, the best story could be the West story.

"If it's good enough," Colletti said, "people on the East Coast will have to stay up late watching our games."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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