LOS ANGELES -- This spring, Gabe Kapler wrote four words on a dry erase board in his office at Scottsdale Stadium: "Win time of possession."
Kapler's team completely failed at that Tuesday night while trying to close out the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants lost 7-2, sending this series between a 107-win team and a 106-win team back to Oracle Park for a winner-take-all Game 5.
The score ended up being lopsided, but it actually probably should have been much worse. The Giants were on the verge of getting blown out throughout the early innings, but aggressive bullpen management kept it close. Their lineup, which has struggled all series, could never catch up.
The Dodgers put pressure on Anthony DeSclafani right away, scoring a run in the first and then another in the second before he was lifted with two runners on. That started a fascinating series of moves by Kapler who spent the entire night plugging holes in the boat and hoping his lineup could catch up.
Kapler ran through his bullpen remarkably quickly, and the entire time it seemed like the Dodgers had the bases loaded or runners on the corners. They were constantly one big hit away from putting this one away and giving Walker Buehler some breathing room, but the Giants somehow stayed within striking distance.
In the fifth, trailing by just four runs despite all the traffic, they loaded the bases for powerful right-handed hitter Darin Ruf. He bounced out to second, bringing the first run of the night home. Brandon Crawford grounded out to end the threat.
The Giants stayed close enough that they seemed to be on the verge of at least making Kenley Jansen throw a few pitches, but when Will Smith homered in the eighth to make it a five-run game, Jansen stopped warming up.
DeSclafani gave up 10 earned runs in his first appearance against the Dodgers this year, a start that possibly cost him an All-Star appearance. They just had his number all year, and that continued Tuesday night. DeSclafani faced just 10 batters and five of them got hits. One of the five outs he recorded was a sac fly that was a few feet from leaving the yard.
DeSclafani gave up a run in the first on Trea Turner's double and was replaced by Jose Alvarez after again running into trouble in the second. It was clear the Dodgers had a very specific plan, and it didn't help that he was missing his spots by several inches. DeSclafani threw 28 pitches and the aggressive Dodgers swung at 15 of them. In seven games against him this year, the Dodgers have batted .319 with an OPS of nearly .900.
Oh Hey, A Bullpen Game
Kapler was extremely aggressive after pulling DeSclafani, shuffling through his relievers to try and keep the Giants within striking distance. He used three pitchers to get the first seven outs, with Jose Alvarez being lifted for a pinch-hitter after getting DeSclafani out of the second inning and Kervin Castro being taken out after displaying a lack of command.
Jarlin Garcia fell behind 2-0 to Cody Bellinger with the bases loaded in the third, but he came back to get a fielder's choice that cut a runner down at the plate. Chris Taylor thought he had broken the game open, but LaMonte Wade Jr. caught his fly to left at the wall.
Garcia pitched into the fourth before being replaced by Dominic Leone, who also started the fifth. With one out and two on, he was replaced by Tyler Rogers, who threw 29 pitches in Game 3. He was the fifth reliever of the night and he gave up a sacrifice fly but escaped further damage.
The last length option in the bullpen was Zack Littell, and he turned out to be the sharpest of the bunch, throwing two scoreless innings. Littell gave the Giants their first 1-2-3 inning in the seventh. Jake McGee pitched the eighth and gave up a couple of runs. Camilo Doval, the rookie closer, was the only Giants reliever who didn't take the mound.
Tip Your Cap
After Game 2 of this series, Buehler approached Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and asked if he could start on short rest if needed. Roberts admitted he wouldn't have used Buehler on Tuesday if the Dodgers had won a night before, but with their backs against the wall they turned to perhaps the best big-game pitcher going right now.
Buehler was sharp early, hitting 98 mph in a clean first and showing he was ready for the moment.
Buehler ended up going 4 1/3 innings, allowing one earned on three hits. Buehler threw 71 pitches while pitching on three days rest for the first time in his career. He lowered his ERA to 1.25 in elimination games.
The effort helped the Dodgers pull away and set up a massive Game 5 at Oracle Park. It'll be Logan Webb, who won Game 1, against Julio Urias, who won Game 2.