Giants-Dodgers a battle of toughness
LOS ANGELES -- This time of year, everyone in a Major League uniform on the active list is hurting in some fashion or form. It's just a matter of location and degree of pain.
Survival of the fittest -- and toughest -- is the name of the game from now until the finish.
The Giants just gave the Dodgers a demonstration of their physical and mental readiness in a resounding three-game sweep, completed Wednesday night with an 8-4 decision at Dodger Stadium.
Matt Cain limited the Dodgers to one run through seven innings, and the bullpen got out alive after a three-run Los Angeles eighth finally brought the home partisans to life.
"When you run into top pitching," said Chris Capuano, victim of six runs in five-plus innings, "it can shut you down. I thought Tim [Lincecum} pitched all right [Tuesday], and Madison [Bumgarner] and Matt Cain really didn't give us much air."
The Giants came into the series finale with their best player -- the National League's Most Valuable Player, very possibly -- sidelined. Cleanup man Buster Posey sat it out with a tight right hamstring.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy did some juggling, and voila! Joaquin Aias busted out with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs. The angular shortstop became the 11th Giants player this season to bat fifth in the order, making Bochy look like a visionary.
The other No. 5 hitter and shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, had 17 more home runs and 55 more RBIs than Arias.
"We keep fighting, all the time," said Pablo Sandoval, who hurt the Dodgers all three nights with timely, productive at-bats in the No. 3 spot formerly occupied by suspended Melky Cabrera. "We want to maintain first place.
"We have tough guys, funny guys, everything. We have good character in this clubhouse. The most important one is the manager. He encourages you to play the game right and respect the game. It's one of those things where he wants you to be yourself; he shows you respect. And you want to show him your respect by winning games."
Pat Riley, the famous basketball guy who was Magic Johnson's guest at Wednesday night's game, once pointed out that there are two conditions in sports: winning and misery.
The Giants, in control virtually from the first inning of Game 1 through the last inning of Game 3, inflicted a lot of misery on the Dodgers, pushing them 2 1/2 games off the pace in the National League West.
"Obviously, it's painful to go through," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It's really nothing I expected at all. It's been a weird season. You play good, then get swept. It's hard to explain."
Bochy has been around way too long to gloat.
"There's a lot of baseball left to be played," he said.
But Mattingly also knows the clock is ticking, and his team needs to start playing with the urgency shown by the other side these past three days.
"It starts at the top, with Donnie," Capuano said. "He's been through it as a player. He's got that aura. I think we're going to take that personality."
Mattingly was confident the Dodgers would carry momentum from an excellent road trip through Miami, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, yielding seven wins in 10 games.
If the Dodgers regain the swagger that carried them through that demanding stretch, this sweep will look like an aberration. Mattingly believes a club enriched by Ramirez and Shane Victorino joining Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will get it together starting with Friday's arrival of the Marlins.
"We've got to win every night," Mattingly said. "It's the best time to be playing. Everything's on the line. You'll see the best out of your guys."
Bochy certainly did the past three nights.
A .272 hitter with two homers and 21 RBIs as he took his place at shortstop, Arias launched a two-run blast to right-center to cap a three-run first.
"I was shocked," Capuano said. "With a 2-0 count, it wasn't the best pitch, in the middle, but when I saw the fly ball, I thought the inning was over [with a one-run deficit]. He showed a lot of pop there."
Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro -- a July 27 pickup from Colorado -- and Sandoval came out raking Monday and never stopped. They were a combined 16-for-35 in the series with 10 runs scored, five RBIs and two walks.
Posey, hitting .408 since the All-Star break with 36 RBIs in 35 games, handled Bumgarner's gem, played first base in the second game and was a cheerleader for the third.
Hector Sanchez caught Cain for the first time without a hitch. Arias made a sensational play from the hole in the third, taking a hit and an RBI from Victorino.
Justin Christian hasn't done much offensively, but the left fielder made a breathtaking catch robbing Juan Rivera of extra bases in left in the seventh. That's Cabrera's old position.
"We lost one guy -- we've got nine guys in the lineup [still]," Sandoval said. "It's tough, because he's one of our best hitters. But everyone on this team can play the game."
The Giants play with an edge. These are not the 2010 World Series champions. Not one position player on Wednesday night started on the field behind Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Bumgarner in the World Series that autumn. Sandoval's one start was as a DH.
Names have changed, but the attitude remains.
Now it's up to the Dodgers to show they can match that toughness down the stretch.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.