Crank it up: Giants feeling intensity of LA rivalry
Weekend series magnified between first- and second-place foes
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's mostly true that each game is equally important. But nobody wants to hear that, especially when the Giants and Dodgers meet.As National League West-leading San Francisco prepares to host second-place Los Angeles in a three-game series beginning Friday, fans want to believe that players care about the historic rivalry as much as they do. Particularly with both teams contending for the division title. "When you have two teams vying for a playoff spot, that makes it more intense and meaningful," Giants second baseman Ryan Theriot said. Theriot understands the nature of rivalries. He performed for both the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, who played rousing baseball against each other long before divisional play began in 1969. As a Cub, he experienced the excitement of Interleague games against the White Sox. And he spent a fraction of the 2010 season with Los Angeles, so he has felt the heat that the Giants and Dodgers generate. Theriot's conclusion about rivalries: "I think others make more out of it than the players do. I think when teams are in first and second place, it doesn't really matter who it is. That's when the intensity and energy come." And yet, Theriot admitted, the Cubs and White Sox remained capable of getting the blood boiling no matter what.
"The energy was unbelievable," Theriot said. "It could have been two last-place teams and it wouldn't have really mattered."That's how San Francisco right fielder Nate Schierholtz feels about Giants-Dodgers games. Schierholtz understands the fans' passion because he was one of them, rooting for the Giants while growing up across the bay from San Francisco. "You always want to be ahead of the next team," Schierholtz said. "But I think there's a sense of pride when it comes to playing the Dodgers and being in front of them in the division. Every game's important, but I think we step it up against them a little more." One of Schierholtz's teammates who senses Giants-Dodgers electricity, whether real or imagined, is right-hander Sergio Romo. He was raised in Brawley, Calif., as a Dodgers fan.
"It's always exciting to play the Dodgers," Romo said.But Romo pointed out that due to the NL West's typical balance, every team in the division has a rivalry with each other. Four of the West's five teams have won at least one division title since 2006, and the only one that hasn't, Colorado, twice secured Wild Card postseason berths in that span. This doesn't dilute the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, however. Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong learned how real it is when he made his first visit to Dodger Stadium in July 2001, as a San Francisco rookie.
"When I heard the fans yelling at us and saw people actually fighting in the stands, that's when it hit home for me, about what the rivalry was and how intense it was," he said.Nearly 10 years passed. During that time, Vogelsong was traded to Pittsburgh, migrated to Japan for three seasons and endured a year in Triple-A. Before the 2011 season, Vogelsong had an opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, whose offer was more lucrative than San Francisco's. Yet Vogelsong barely considered Los Angeles and opted to return to the organization that nurtured him as a professional. Vogelsong admitted that his Giants background prompted him to spurn the Dodgers. "It definitely played a part in the reason why I didn't want to go there," he said. "If I never was a Giant and I didn't know the way the fans felt when we played them, maybe I'd be a Dodger."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.