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Posted: Thursday August 13, 2009 4:13PM; Updated: Thursday August 13, 2009 5:01PM
Chris Ballard Chris Ballard >

Refueling the hatred in the heated Giants-Dodgers rivalry (cont.)

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That's the funny thing about the Giants-Dodgers rivalry: in some respects, it is now often one-sided. Historically it was a New York thing, Brooklyn vs. Manhattan, but now it often feels as though L.A. could take it or leave it, whereas in the Bay Area, where I live, it's a rallying cry of sorts. We hate the Lakers, detest the Dodgers and mock our southern counterpart's politics, pollution and glaring lack of both a football team and reliable water source. But rarely is there return fire. Maybe it's that Los Angelenos can't be bothered. Or perhaps it's that our hate has been co-opted: after all, people chant "Beat L.A." in cities all over the country now, in all manner of sports. No one chants "Beat S.F."

Even during the Bonds home run-record chase, when Dodgers fans infamously heckled the Giants outfielder with all manners of inflated-head humor, it didn't feel like an S.F.-L.A. thing so much as an anti-Bonds thing (and, having been at that series for Sports Illustrated, I can attest that it was also very much a part-of-history thing; I remember L.A. fans booing when Dodgers pitchers walked Bonds). The Giants flagship station, on the other hand, put up this ingenious poll question during Tuesday's telecast: "Do you hate Manny Ramirez?" Hmm, couldn't imagine how that would turn out.

By the fifth inning on Wednesday, things were rolling. The Giants held a 2-0 lead, which can seem insurmountable with Lincecum on the mound. To be at one of his starts is to enjoy a rare sensation in baseball: you can relax when your team is on the field. Manny, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin: the Dodgers sluggers who'd punished the Giants the previous two nights were suddenly rendered impotent. It was beautiful to behold. What's more, things were getting entertainingly testy. Giants manager Bruce Bochy got tossed in the second for arguing a close play at first base, which of course we didn't get to see on the replay (one of the worst practices in baseball; at NBA and NFL games you get to see bad calls on the JumboTron and it adds immeasurably to the fan experience). Then both dugouts cleared in the fifth after Giants third-baseman-slash-lovable-ursine Pablo Sandoval got plunked. Giants fans summoned waves of indignation. A fan behind us unloaded as only Bay Area professionals can. "Joe Torre has no prostate!" he shouted.

By the ninth, the park was ready to erupt again, only this time in celebration. The Giants led 2-1 on a gorgeous afternoon and now Lincecum, who'd fanned the side in the eighth, had Andre Ethier down to his final strike with a man on second. We stood, we clapped, we hated. And then: a single to right. My gut sank. Around third came Rafael Furcal. Gut sank lower. He beat the throw. The score was tied 2-2.

All that energy evaporated. The fans were stunned and the park silent. Except for the smattering of Dodgers fans. And especially the family in the seats right in front of us. The 10-year-old girl was standing on her seat, cheering in a register only 10-year-old girls can reach. The 13-year-old boy in his Dodgers hat and jersey was jumping up and down wildly, pumping his fist in the air and roaring as loud as he could. Not at the Giants fans, not to impress his friends or family but because this was the most exciting thing he could imagine. This is the same boy who, while all around us people texted and BS-ed about work, had stayed front-facing and silent most of the game, clutching his glove and staring at the action. The same boy who, a few innings earlier when I'd cracked jokes about Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp by calling him "Shawn," had turned to me, as sincere as could be, and said, "It's Matt. Matt Kemp, not Shawn." As it turned out this was his first time at AT&T Park -- his father woke the family up at 4 a.m. so they could leave LA and get to the game in time -- and now he was having a moment.

I knew I was supposed to be pissed off. I knew I was supposed to channel my Dodgers hatred at that moment, to curse and blame somebody, anybody. But then I looked at that boy and saw his happiness, the kind that would propel him for days. Surely, he savored this more than I ever could at this point in my life, burdened as I was with perspective. And for a moment, that knowledge salved the pain of Lincecum leaving the mound, the game now tied and the Giants in danger of being swept.

But only for a moment. An inning later, Juan Uribe -- the same Juan Uribe who'd made a horrendous error and stranded five men on base earlier in the game, of whom I'd just said to my friend Dan "it's like having a pitcher up there hitting" -- jackhammered an 0-2 fastball into the left field bleachers to win it in a walk-off. And as AT&T rocked and we celebrated, as the sun suddenly seemed a little brighter and the air a little cleaner and life a little bit better, I looked at that boy again, now forlorn, and I have to admit that I smiled. For perhaps we were both winners now. I'd gotten a jolt of joy, a reminder of why I love the game. And him? He'd gotten something just as valuable: the fuel of hatred for years to come. Here's to hoping he enjoys it.

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