SAN FRANCISCO -- Suzie and Kyle Grant made an interesting pair as they walked into the ballpark for Saturday's Dodgers-Giants game here. Suzie wore a replica Giants jersey (No. 48, Pablo Sandoval) while Kyle wore a Dodgers jersey (No. 32, Sandy Koufax), and ... they were holding hands.
Seeing them together was nearly as surprising as it would be to see Republicans and Democrats shaking hands on a budget deal or a health care plan. But that's not all. Suzie and Kyle are married! They've been together five years, were married in 2012 and, amazingly, haven't started any divorce proceedings. I promise to love, honor and cherish you all the days of our lives ... unless you get a big "Beat L.A." tattoo over your heart.
Still, the Dodgers-Giants rivalry poses a challenge to marital harmony. As Kyle says, "The first year we were together, the Giants won the World Series, so that was a tough year."
"And the third year we were together," Suzie says, "we also won the World Series."
"Thanks," Kyle says.
"I'm just saying," Suzie replies. "Man up."
The two are lifelong fans of their teams, and Suzie says that when their relationship started, they couldn't talk about the Giants and Dodgers.
"It would lead to really heated arguments. Really heated arguments," she says. "But we talk about it almost daily now. He's all right. I almost like him now."
The Grants have had much to
argue over discuss this summer. The Giants and Dodgers have been right next to each other in first and second place for most of the season, including the entire past two months. They've been tied for first place 12 days and been within two games of each other the past month. When the Dodgers swept the Giants to go from 1½ games back to 1½ games up this past weekend (poor Suzie!), it marked the eighth time this season the two have swapped positions at the top of the standings.
"We're both good teams -- that brings a little more to the rivalry," San Francisco pitcher Tim Lincecum says. "We're not two people picking at the bottom of the drum. Both are fighting for the top, and it seems like that way through a lot of the seasons. So the rivalry builds even more. And the fans are always going to be a big part of that because they bring a lot of intensity to whatever field we're at. And that helps build us up because I know we get up for it.
"When you get a chance to be in that rivalry time and again for a lot of years, it becomes more of a chip on the shoulder than anything. And it builds. At first you don't really know what it means and you're kind of along for the ride and go off whatever everyone else is doing. And then it becomes a little more personal."
The Giants-Dodgers rivalry in the past decade might not have been as intense -- or as hyped -- as the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry over the past 15 years or so, but it has been much closer and evenly spread over the past century. Which makes it better. The Giants have won the pennant 20 times and the World Series seven times, while the Dodgers have won 18 pennants and six World Series. Since the World Series started in 1903, the Giants have finished ahead of the Dodgers 56 times; the Dodgers have finished ahead in 55 seasons.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly experienced the more hyped Yankees-Red Sox rivalry as a player and coach in New York, and he's had seven seasons as a coach and manager in L.A. to get to know the Giants-Dodgers version.
"I think both rivalries are similar from the standpoint of the cities, being really loyal to their clubs," he says, sitting in the visitors dugout in San Francisco. "This place is a little more like Boston. It's a little more rowdy than Dodger Stadium seems to be. It's good."
Mattingly says the rivalry is strongest among fans and the media, but it's evident on the field this season as well.
"These guys have had good clubs in the past few years that I've been in this division, so the Giants are the team you're trying to get all the time because they're always one of the favorites," Mattingly says. "It's not just any other game anymore. You feel that rivalry."
Giants pitcher Matt Cain has been with the team since 2005. "It's definitely evolved from the time I've been here," he says. "We've got a lot of the same guys playing against each other. That's what makes the rivalry fun because you have a lot of guys with a history against each other."
One of those familiar players -- a man who's in his ninth season experiencing the rivalry -- might not be a part of it for much longer. The upcoming trade deadline on Thursday is the next milestone for these two teams as they continue to jostle to get an edge in the NL West and against each other; as the Dodgers' outfield is crowded, Matt Kemp has been mentioned frequently in trade rumors. (Not that the July 31 deadline is the only one that might apply to Kemp. He's still owed $114 million on his contract and would have little trouble clearing waivers if the Dodgers wanted to trade him in August.)
Kemp declined to talk about the rumors this past weekend, but Mattingly says he doesn't think they're a distraction.
"I can't speak for Matt and what he thinks or feels, but obviously, we've got him in right field, so we like him in the lineup," Mattingly says. "I think this is the best combination we have for the guys right now."
That combination had the Dodgers playing Kemp in right field and Yasiel Puig in center on Friday, a move Mattingly says could last for a day, a week or the rest of the season.
"Yasiel has looked good out there," Mattingly says. "I don't think any of us had any worries that he was physically capable of playing center field. I think our biggest fear is out there, you always have to pay attention. He has to be responsible to move over the left fielder, the right fielder."
Despite a losing season in 2013 and reduced expectations, the Giants got off to a great start this season, and by June 8 had twice as many wins as losses and a 9½-game lead. Then they went into a deep tailspin -- a "June swoon," as longtime San Francisco fans would say -- and fell into a tie for first with the Dodgers before the month ended. They are enduring injuries to Cain, outfielder Angel Pagan (out since mid-June), second baseman Marco Scutaro (who has played only five games) and first baseman Brandon Belt. The offense has been a significant problem.
Fortunately, San Francisco's rotation still includes All-Stars Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson as well as Lincecum, who has recovered his groove and pitched very well the past two months (5-3 with a 2.83 ERA, a no-hitter and a save since June 8), although he gave up six early earned runs and took the loss in L.A.'s 8-1 win on Friday night. The Giants, getting a trade deadline leg up on the Dodgers over the weekend, also acquired Jake Peavy, who started in Sunday's 4-3 loss.
The Giants were coming off a successful road trip last week (5-2 in Philadelphia and Miami) only to stumble against Los Angeles once they got home. "You want to get on track, especially at home, and not just at home but against the Dodgers," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy says. That didn't happen, in large part because the Dodgers had Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu lined up for the series. Those three silenced San Francisco, giving up a total of three runs while striking out 24 batters in 22 innings.
Kershaw pitched a two-hit shutout Saturday night, lowering his career ERA against the Giants to 1.40. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that is the lowest ERA any pitcher has had against an opponent in the past 100 years (minimum 20 starts).
Take that, Juan Marichal.
"This is a good park to pitch in. It's a pitchers' park, same as Dodger Stadium," Kershaw says, trying to offer a reason for that stat. "They are always close games because they have such good pitchers on their side."
There were a surprisingly high number of Dodgers fans in the ballpark this past weekend -- Kyle Grant had some allies -- and they had much to celebrate. Meanwhile, among the loudest moments for the San Francisco fans were the thunderous boos directed at former Giants closer turned Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson when he took and left the mound on Sunday.
Asked which players receive more abuse -- Giants in Los Angeles or Dodgers in San Francisco -- Kemp says it's about even.
"Dodger fans can't stand Giants fans, and Giants fans can't stand Dodgers fans," he says. "For us, it's just all fun. No hate. Just fun. We like to go out there and be the best team that day."
In the old days, former Dodgers infielder Maury Wills has said, hating the Giants was part of the Dodgers' fundamentals (and vice versa). These days, however, the fans seem to get far more into the rivalry than the players. The attack on Giants fan Bryan Stow in a Dodger Stadium parking lot on Opening Day in 2011 is a terrible example of that.
"Ten years from now, 10 weeks from now, 10 days from now, people won't care what happened in the Dodgers-Giants game on July 25, 2014," Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt says. "Does it matter in the moment for us? Yes. And for the fans, maybe bragging rights for a day. But is it worth somebody's life? No. So I hope people understand that and understand what can happen when they take out some actions that you don't need to.
"Like I said a few years ago, the rivalry is on the field and in the game."
That's as it should be. Get passionate about the games and the season but keep the rivalry in perspective and -- as the Grants show -- peaceful.
Still, there was a reminder for the players about the historic rivalry's importance this past weekend. Taped discreetly to a wall in the Dodgers' clubhouse was a sign from a fan that read, "Go LA, Kick some SF A--!"
This latest showdown over, the Giants and Dodgers won't meet again this season until Sept. 12-14 in San Francisco, with their final series the last week of September at Dodger Stadium. We'll see who comes out on top in the end and whether both teams can qualify for the postseason (for the first time together).
And whether Suzie and Kyle Grant will be speaking to each other this winter.