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Bauer more than happy to ‘lean into’ hate from Giants fans originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Madison Bumgarner is now in Arizona, starting every five days for a team without a natural rival or any hope in the National League West. Yasiel Puig is playing in Mexico, where any bat flips won’t get lead to him trending on Twitter.

On Friday night at Oracle Park, though, Giants vs. Dodgers still felt as heated as it’s been in recent memory, nearly entirely because of one man who dominated on the mound and completely threw himself into the rivalry in his first taste of it. Trevor Bauer gave up just two soft hits in a 2-1 win in his Oracle Park debut. He also feuded with the home plate umpire, capped a big strikeout with a demonstrative sword celebration, and urged the biggest crowd at Oracle Park in nearly two years to go to another level with boos. 

Bauer didn’t just insert himself into the rivalry. He loudly announced that he intends to go down as an all-time heel for Giants fans.

“They’re going to hate me anyway,” Bauer said afterward. “Might as well lean into it.”

That’s the attitude Tommy Lasorda once embraced, and the vibe Bumgarner and Puig brought to the games in both halves of the state for half a decade. Bauer can be a troll on and off the field, and it was clear from the moment he signed the richest per-year contract in MLB history that he would add some spice to the rivalry, but he certainly exceeded all expectations Friday. 

The fun started with two outs in the fourth, when Bauer threw a well-placed fastball that he thought had ended the inning. Evan Longoria and home plate umpire Chris Guccione disagreed, and Bauer — who was well on his way back to the dugout — made a show of airing his grievance. He walked slowly back to the mound, and after a walk of Longoria, he got Alex Dickerson for one of his 11 strikeouts and then hit him with a sword celebration:

If Bauer was stalking around on the mound and mimicking Medieval Times characters during a poor outing, it wouldn’t land. He was able to back up those moves with his pitches, showing the Giants exactly why he’s the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. 

The Giants had just two hits off Bauer, a Dickerson grounder that had a hit probability of six percent and a perfectly placed pop-up by Brandon Belt that had a one percent chance of being a hit. What they did do, however, was grind. 

Bauer was at 113 pitches after six innings, but with a gassed bullpen behind him, he came back out for the seventh. After a walk of Donovan Solano, he blew a 96 mph fastball past Mike Tauchman on his 126th pitch. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts finally came out to make a change, and that’s when Bauer shifted into overdrive. 

A crowd of 12,753 showered him with boos, and Bauer lifted one hand to his ear, urging the fans on. As he walked into the visiting dugout, he stuck both arms out.

“The fans wanted to boo me so I wanted them to turn the volume up,” he said. “If you’re going to boo me, don’t half-whatever it around the stadium — just give it to me.”

The moment fully woke up a crowd that was itching to get into the game, and the “Beat LA!” chants were the loudest they’ve been in years as the Giants tried and failed to come back in the eighth and ninth. There was another good reason for that aside from Bauer. 

It’s been five years since the Giants have been in this position, legitimately fighting for an NL West crown. They are the underdogs, trying to crash the Dodgers-Padres party, and players and manager Gabe Kapler said they could feel extra intensity in the dugout. The Giants ended the night in a tie for first with the San Diego Padres, a game ahead of the Dodgers. 

“It’s been a while since we’ve been on a really good, winning ball club being in first place,” Belt said. “It’s a lot of fun, man. That’s why you play baseball, especially in rivalry games like this.”

It’s not a real rivalry game when one team is losing 98 games, or kickstarting a rebuild. There’s not much you can say to a team 30 games ahead of you in the standings, and on the other side, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun for Bauer to poke the Giants and their fans if they weren’t also winning. But both teams are rolling right now, and a rivalry that’s been heated in the standings all season took a step up on Friday night when the teams met for the first time. 

There are 18 more of these over the next four months, and Bauer intends to be right in the middle of it. He said he fed off the crowd and that he’s looking forward to playing at Oracle Park when it’s sold out. You can bet he’ll put on another show, and the Giants will do all they can to guarantee a different result. 

“Do you expect anything else from Trevor? Of course he’s leaning into it,” Alex Wood said, smiling. “I’m sure that Giants fans will love to hate Trevor and he’ll love that they hate him.”