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Giants throw Blach party, defeat Dodgers to keep lead for second wild card

Ty Blach outdueled Clayton Kershaw, and the Giants control their own destiny in the wild card race.

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants’ season won’t end on Sunday.

Is it wrong to think of that like they’ve already made the postseason? Probably. But it’s not entirely incorrect. Nineteen teams will play a game tomorrow and pack their stuff up. The players will all sign each other’s yearbooks — K.I.T., have a great winter —- and go their separate ways. The Giants might have to do that next week, but they won’t do it tomorrow.

There will be a 163rd game.

Part of me feels like we’re cheering for a box of Turtle Wax after losing the Showcase Showdown, and that’s not entirely inaccurate. At the same time, it wasn’t hard to imagine the death spiral going straight into the toilet before the final game of the season, with a complete what in the hell just happened feeling after Sunday was over. If the Giants didn’t play past Sunday, it would have been one of the ghastliest collapses in modern history. As is, there will be a 163rd game.

Oh, here’s the other thing: The Giants look good right now.

Consider the matchup. It was Clayton Kershaw (first-round pick, Cy Young, Cy Young again, Cy Young yet again, MVP, six-time All-Star) vs. Ty Blach (Ty Blach).

Kershaw wears a necklace made from shrunken heads of retired Giants, and that is not hyperbole. Have you heard from Aaron Rowand or Andres Torres lately? Look it up. When it’s a full moon, the necklace glows.

Blach was lit up by the El Paso Chihuahuas back in June.

Yet it was Blach who threw eight innings, allowing just three hits and one walk, striking out six. Kershaw allowed six hits and walked a batter, while striking out just four. Based on this very important sample size, it appears as if Blach is the better pitcher. That’s good to know going forward.

This is going to be one of the starts you remember for years, the kind of game that makes you blurt it out in conversation to establish your Giants fan cred. "Blach’s game back in ‘16, ‘member that?" you’ll say, flipping the tri-tip. "Kid could put the ball where he want and the Dodgers had no clue."

Blach has always been a fascinating prospect. He was tarred with the fifth-starter brush from the day he was drafted, yet he threw 90-92 with a wicked changeup. That doesn’t make him Tom Glavine, no, but it doesn’t make him Kirk Rueter with food poisoning, either. His first exposure to pro ball was in San Jose, where he struck out 117 and walked 18, which seems pretty, pretty good.

His strikeout rate cratered the next year, and even though he was successful with Richmond that season, it felt like he’d met his fate when he struggled in Sacramento the next season. His career was going to be buried in the lot with all the other control mavens who couldn’t make it out of the minors. Maybe he’d start a podcast with Jeff Clark or something.

The strikeouts never fully returned from the San Jose days, but this was the season where Blach confirmed that he was doing something right. And in this game, you saw that something, right? Fastballs away, teasing the hitters. Changeups down, where they couldn’t be hit. Just enough sliders to make the hitters think of something other than a fastball/change combination. Strikes, strikes, strikes. First-pitch outs.

That might be the best start of Blach’s career, really. Hopefully it won’t be, but how many pitchers can say they went eight innings against a blood rival in the final weekend of the season, needing a win to keep pace with their postseason hopes, throwing eight scoreless innings and picking up two hits along the way? Not many. That’s how special this start was.

The Giants have won back-to-back series for the first time since the All-Star break, which is simply stunning. All of the other teams in the postseason? Without looking, I’ll guess they’ve won back-to-back series plenty in the second half, all of them. Not the Giants. And yet, if they’re going to pick a time to get hot and forget about all that, why, do I have a suggestion for them ...

* * *

Ty Blach has two hits in three plate appearances against Clayton Kershaw. Brandon Belt has three hits in 55 plate appearances against Kershaw.

A strict platoon? Probably too much. We have time to figure this out, though.

* * *

Angel Pagan deserves some attention, yet again. Without his home run juuuuust over the fence, the Giants might have squeezed their bats hard enough to make bat juice for the rest of the game, while Blach would have realized that he had to be perfect, which would have led to imperfections. Instead, Pagan gave the Giants a surprising lead.

Again, Ty Blach outdueled Clayton Kershaw, you know.

Pagan then singled to start the line moving in the seventh, giving the Giants the add-on cushion they’ve always seemed to pass up. We’re quick to point out when is defense is less than stellar in left, but we can remember last season, too, when absolutely nothing was functional for him. He can hit a little bit again, and he’s contributing.

That was sort of the offseason dream I was too scared to ask for.

* * *

That was the fastest game of the season by about eight minutes, in case you were wondering.

* * *

Important question: Did this hit Kershaw in the beans?

I’ve watched it over and over again, and I can’t tell. I’m willing to agree though that it’s possible that Kershaw hit himself in the beans, which is absolutely just as funny. And if you’re looking for an even-year god to wink at you while still making you stress out, this would be the way to do it. Inconspicuous. Inconclusive. Not entirely subtle, though.

That play eventually led to two runs. In more than half of Kershaw’s 36 career starts against the Giants, he didn’t allow more than one run. This was just the seventh time the Giants have scored more than two runs in 36 tries against Kershaw.

And he was outdueled by Ty Blach, you know. Oh, how I wish the Giants could have held more leads over the last two months and had this mean something in terms of the NL West. As is, this will do. The Giants needed to win against the Dodgers, who would have loved to humiliate them, and they won.

They should probably win again, if we’re being quite honest. I’ll take a stellar start from Ryan Vogelsong, though. There are a lot of ways back to the postseason, even if it’s really just the playoff to get into the real playoffs.

All I know is that the Giants will play a 163rd game. It wasn’t a guarantee before Saturday. Considering how the last couple months have gone, it wasn’t even likely. But for the 145th consecutive day, the Giants are in line for a postseason appearance. It takes a game like this to make you think that maybe, just maybe, they deserve it.