SAN FRANCISCO — It was a cold, ruthless reminder of just how powerful the Los Angeles Dodgers are in October.
They put on a clinic Saturday evening, for the San Francisco Giants and their fans to see, showing they’re exactly where they need to be for a return trip to the World Series.
The Dodgers routed the Giants 9-2 in every way, in front of the stunned sellout crowd of 42,275 at Oracle Park.
Eight players in the Dodgers’ starting lineup produced at least one hit. Six different players, including their starting pitcher, drove in a run. Five different players scored a run. Two different players turned in three sensational fielding plays. And five pitches combined to give up just six hits.
The Dodgers lost the NL West Division title to the Giants last Sunday, lost the first game of the division series on Friday, and were in danger of losing Game 2 on Saturday. But now they are in the driver’s seat.
“It’s interesting how the narrative changes from game to game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “and right now it’s a three-game series. We have home-field advantage. And we’ve got Max on the mound.”
That’s Mad Max, as in Max Scherzer, who has three Cy Young trophies, and was 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his 11 starts since joining the Dodgers.
“You can’t ask for a better Game 3 starter than Scherzer,” said Mookie Betts, who snuffed the Giants’ rally with his sensational throw in the sixth inning, nailing Wilmer Flores at third base. “We just have to go and put up some runs behind him, and hopefully he holds them off.”
So, did the Dodgers swiftly regained their confidence with their dominant performance?
They say they never lost faith.
“I think we are always pretty confident,” Betts said. “We got a good group of guys here, play the game hard, play the game the right way.”
In the words of Roberts, the first National League manager to lead his team to the postseason in his first six seasons:
“I like where we’re at.”
Who can blame them?
They played 162 games through the regular season, won 106 games, only to fall one game short of the Giants for the division title.
They’re were forced to play a sudden-death wild card game, and didn’t win until Chris Taylor’s two-out homer in the ninth inning rescued their season.
They got up the next day, traveled to San Francisco, lost Game 1, looked miserable offensively, and got serenaded by the sellout crowd: “Sweep LA! Sweep LA.”
Those chants abruptly stopped when Cody Bellinger stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. The crowd hadn’t seen Bellinger have success against the Giants all season, hitting just .038 against them this season, striking out 25 times in 53 at-bats.
Bellinger, who had already struck out twice against Kevin Gausman, now was facing reliever Dominic Leone. The Giants told Leone to throw a high fastball, a pitch that has given Bellinger fits all season. Leone responded by throwing a 96-mph fastball.
Only it wasn’t hard enough. It wasn’t high enough. It was smack down the middle of the plate.
Bellinger belted it into the left-center gap for a two-run double, No. 8 hitter A.J. Pollock followed with another two-run double and the rout was on.
“It was a huge hit,” Roberts said. “I think there was a big weight lifted off his shoulders. That was a big couple runs, so hopefully, like our entire offense, we can take that momentum and take it to Game 3.”
The Dodgers are praying that Bellinger’s hit can perhaps propel him to normalcy. Here’s a guy who was the NL MVP just two years ago, and this year, looked like he suddenly forgot to hit.
He remembered just in the nick of time.
“Obviously, it felt pretty good,” Bellinger said. “I’ve been feeling good, not frustrated. I just do what I can to help this team win at the end of the day. That’s all I can do.
“I’m only looking forward.”
And, of course, reminding the Giants that he still capable of causing plenty of damage, no matter how ugly his numbers look this season.
“Cody Bellinger hasn’t been at his best,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said, “but at the same time he’s incredibly talented and gifted. As an athlete, you know that he’s always dangerous.”
And, of course, as a team, the Giants know the Dodgers are always lethal. If they don’t beat you at the plate, or on the mound, they’ll do it from the field, evidenced by Trey Turner’s two diving plays to rob the Giants of hits, with Betts showing off his Gold Glove arm to thwart another rally.
The defensive gems sucked the energy out of the Giants, leaving them unable to recover.
“I know the Giants, they play with a lot of (energy),” Roberts said. “They take the momentum and it builds. So when you can kind of take the wind out of their sail on a play like that, it just kind of resets things.”
Just like the series, reset at one game apiece, turning their grueling seven-month season into a best-of-three series.
The difference now is that the Dodgers have the momentum, the home-field advantage, and can send their own crowd into hysteria with two more victories against the Giants.
“It’s a heated battle, but it’s also a lot of fun,” Betts said. “It kind of reminds me of the Red Sox and Yankees, but only in the National League.
“It’s a great rivalry to be a part of.”
The next chapter begins Monday at Dodger Stadium, Scherzer against former Dodger pitcher Alex Wood, where a raucous sellout crowd awaits.
“Can’t wait,” Roberts said. “Just can’t wait.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dodgers in driver’s seat after routing Giants in Game 2 of NLDS
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