Why the first SF Giants-Dodgers playoff series is not the franchises’ first post-season showdown

It wasn’t Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World, but Chris Taylor’s walk-off home run set the stage for another unforgettable moment in the Giants-Dodgers remarkable rivalry.

The Giants and Dodgers are facing each other in the playoffs for the first time thanks to Taylor’s heroics against the Cardinals in the National League wild-card game Wednesday night. The best-of-five NL Division Series matchup starts Friday night at Oracle Park and has the baseball world buzzing because of the long, intertwined history between the franchises that started in New York and only intensified when they moved west.

“It’s what baseball wants,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a former Giant, told reporters. “Giants-Dodgers. One of the best rivalries in sports. And it’s happening.”

Some may argue it’s happening… again, not for the first time.

You don’t have to dig too deep into baseball-reference.com to notice that the teams twice met for three-game tiebreakers after they ended the regular season tied for first place. Scroll and little further and you’ll see there was that time the franchises met in the World Series.

What in the name of Bobby Thomson is going on, you ask? Well, mostly semantics.

The Giants and Dodgers settled the 1951 and 1962 National League pennants with a three-game series after they ended the regular season in a flat-footed tie. But those series — and Thomson’s pennant-winning home run for the Giants in 1951 — were officially entered into regular-season record books by MLB.

That makes them post-season games, but not playoff games. The semantic scenario would have played out again this week if the Giants and Dodgers had remained tied for first after the final day of the regular season and played a Game 163 to determine the NL West champion.

Then there was the 1889 World Series, when the National League champion New York Giants won the best-of-11-games series in six games over the American Association champion Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The Bridegrooms eventually became known as the Dodgers after the names Grooms, Superbas and Trolley Dodgers didn’t stick.

That was a playoff series, clearly. But in MLB’s eyes — and its record books — that event doesn’t count because it happened before the dawn of the “modern era” in 1901. The first official World Series between the National League and American League champions was played in 1903.

Why exclude those 19th-century teams? Mostly because of the rules the teams played under. The 1889 season, for example, was the first in which the NL considered four “balls” a walk — previous seasons it was as many as eight. Foul balls weren’t considered strikes until several years later.

But 1889 still goes down as a significant moment in the budding rivalry between the franchises because the Bridegrooms joined the National League a year later. That set the stage for one of the fiercest rivalries in baseball history, but also made it impossible for the teams to meet in the playoffs for decades.

Of course, that all changed with MLB adopted the wild card for non-division winners in 1995.

Thanks to the wild card, this Giants vs. Dodgers playoff scenario nearly played out twice before, although it took a lot longer than most would have expected. In 2014, the wild-card Giants’ march to their third World Series title in five years would have required facing the West-winning Dodgers for the NL pennant, but LA couldn’t get past the Cardinals. Two years later, the Giants, again as a wild card, lost to the Cubs in four games in the NLDS or they would have faced the Dodgers for a spot in the World Series.

Now, thanks to the Giants’ record 107-win season and Taylor’s home run, the wait to see these franchises meet in the playoffs is nearly over.

Contributed by local news sources

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