The Giants? If you don't count the standings, they lead the National League in two all-important categories: intentional walks and sacrifice flies. At the start of the week San Francisco had 58 sac flies, which is 58 more than Murray had for the Dodgers in his two bases-loaded, one-out at bats last week. Remarkably the Giants, who are 11th in the league in hitting, with a .257 average, have scored 31 fewer runs this season than they have allowed (737 to 768 through Sunday). The Dodgers have outscored their opponents by 85 runs (701-616). Even Bonds, who homered in three consecutive games last week, isn't having a career year. He leads the Giants with 37 homers but has driven in just 96 runs. A three-time National League MVP, Bonds may not even be the MVP of his team this year. "We can't expect Barry to carry us, and he isn't expecting to carry us," says Kent, who has driven in 114 runs. "Everyone knows he's got to step up and do his part. We can't just look to Barry. He hasn't carried us all year."
The Dodgers, of course, are residing in a different universe. For them to consider this season a success, they have to not only make the playoffs but also win some postseason games. They have been swept out of the playoffs in the past two years, and there could be only one thing worse than allowing that to happen again: losing the National League West title to the ragtag Giants. "If we don't win the division, this season has been an absolute waste," says Piazza.
The Giants and the Dodgers are vastly different outfits off the field as well as on. Most members of the media picked San Francisco to finish last, the fans stayed away and team management didn't pursue contract extensions for most of the soon-to-be free agents. The Giants snuck up on everyone. "This team can't hold a candle to the White Sox team I was on as far as talent," says reliever Roberto Hernandez, who came from Chicago in a trade with fellow pitchers Danny Darwin and Wilson Alvarez at the end of July. "But this team has heart."
Although the Giants have their share of grizzled veterans, they're playing with the raw enthusiasm of a team that just qualified for the Little League world series. In the second game of the L.A. series, the Dodgers loaded the bases off Beck in the 10th. When Baker left Beck on the mound to win or lose the game, the home crowd booed. Beck struck out Todd Zeile and coaxed a ground ball to second from Murray. When Kent threw home for the unusual 4-2-3 double play to end the threat, Baker turned to the crowd and pumped his fists. Beck was cheered like a rock star. If this had been a college football game, the Giants would have received a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration.
Two innings later, Johnson ripped a shot through the wind and over the leftfield fence to end the game and send 3Com into a frenzy. Bonds bounded out of the dugout and pounded on home plate as if to remind Johnson where to end up. Then Bonds wrapped his arms around Baker and lifted him as if they had just won a New Year's Day bowl game. The Dodgers were left to watch and wonder who among the Giants had just cured cancer. "We'll remember the celebrating they did, believe me," says L.A. manager Bill Russell.
The Giants don't seem to care. They aren't going to let petty baseball protocol spoil the party. "You wouldn't be human if you didn't feel the highs and lows," says Baker. "We're playing a game we love. This isn't life or death. We're like those surfer dudes out on the ocean. When you get up on a good wave, you ride it as long as you can." Just like those surfer dudes—isn't that what Earl Weaver said when the Baltimore Orioles won the World Series?
To a man, the Giants credit Baker with keeping things loose and letting them play. "How can you not like playing for Dusty?" says Beck. "He has two rules: Be on time and don't lie to me. He makes it fun to be here. Everyone's friends."
When the Giants were in Cincinnati last month, Beck says, a couple of veterans made plans to go to dinner and invited the rest of the team along as a courtesy. Sixteen San Francisco players showed up, an unheard-of turnout these days, according to Beck. "Even in '93, when we dominated everyone, it wasn't like that," he says. "I mean, we didn't need 25 cabs, but maybe 15. This team, we could jump in the same pickup truck and go out, we get along that good."
Down the coast, things are a little different. The Dodgers have many strengths as a ball club, but camaraderie isn't one of them. L.A. players last week quietly questioned some of Russell's moves, including his dependence on the cement-footed Murray—a September call-up who won't be eligible for the postseason—as a pinch hitter. Said one player, "Our chemistry stinks. It never got any better. We just started winning."
Then they stopped. The Dodgers, at the start of the final week, had lost 10 of 13 games and were feeling the pressure of the pennant race. The Giants? What do they care? They caught a wave a long time ago and are still enjoying the ride. "To me it doesn't matter what we do now—it was still special," says Hamilton. "To be picked to finish last and still have a shot at the playoffs in the last week of the season, that's magical."