SAN FRANCISCO -- The Dodgers have already brawled with division rivals San Diego and Arizona this year, so the late-inning trash talk with the Giants this weekend was tame by comparison.
The real message sent Sunday came not in words but a 4-1 win over San Francisco, the Dodgers having awakened over the past two weeks to be the team constructed to dethrone the defending champions. They won two of three in this series even though Matt Kemp played only two innings and Carl Crawford went 0-for-11 replacing him.
The bottom of the order was heard from in two Dodgers wins here, Juan Uribe driving in seven Friday night, A.J. Ellis clearing the bases with a two-out, three-run double in the ninth inning Sunday as All-Star Clayton Kershaw pitched a three-hitter for eight innings.
"That was such a big hit," Kershaw said of his batterymate's game winner. "We need to win games like that. We've won some blowouts, but tonight we needed a clutch hit. That was huge."
Yasiel Puig, who made a diving catch in the bottom of the eighth inning, created the winning rally. After striking out in seven of his previous nine at-bats, Puig singled on a slider off Giants closer Sergio Romo leading off the ninth and flipped his bat in celebration.
Some Dodgers were annoyed with the way Romo enjoyed his save Saturday. So the Dodgers enjoyed how Romo blew this one.
"It was our turn to celebrate," Puig said.
Adrian Gonzalez followed with an infield single off the glove of first baseman Buster Posey, who tried for Puig at second base and flipped the ball wildly, Puig racing to third. Hanley Ramirez, who earlier extended his hitting streak to a career-high 18 games, tapped back to Romo for the first out. Andre Ethier was walked intentionally to bring up former Giant Juan Uribe, who struck out. Ellis then sent an 0-1 slider to left-center to clear the bases and beat Romo.
"There's something there," Ellis said of the simmering bad blood.
Manager Don Mattingly insisted that the media was seeing more than meets the eye.
"Just normal stuff," Mattingly said. "It's a good place to play. The fans are rowdy and you're going against the world champions."
Ellis, who is hitting .344 lifetime against the Giants, explained why.
"It's so much fun to play here with the energy in the stadium and the fan base they have and they've been consistently on top," said Ellis. "It makes us come together as a team. It's just a small bunch of us against everybody here. I love the underdog story. Playing here, it's just a great atmosphere."
Of course, it's hard to consider the Dodgers an underdog when Kershaw pitches.
"He pitches good against guys everywhere," said Ellis. "He definitely rises to the occasion. He makes pitches when he has to make them. Today he attacked the strike zone and kept them off balance. He got ahead in counts and made them be defensive."
Kershaw, who was coming off the rare feat of throwing a shutout in Coors Field, raised his record to 8-5 and lowered his ERA to a league-leading 1.89. He is 11-4 lifetime against the Giants and three of his eight wins are against them, although he came into this game 3-3 with a 5.68 career ERA at AT&T Park.
"It's a great park to pitch in," he said. "I just like it."
What he also liked was the way Puig took over the game. This was another display of tools for Puig, who had two hits, scored a run and came from out of nowhere to make a diving catch on Guillermo Quiroz's blooper leading off the eighth inning.
"A huge play," said Kershaw. "He covered so much ground. I wasn't sure he'd get there."
Puig also struck out twice after fanning all four at-bats Saturday. And he was thrown out trying to steal third base in the fourth inning.
"No, we don't want him going there," said Mattingly. "It wasn't designed. It's part of Yasiel and what we're going through. He's aggressive, but no reason to take a chance there. He's going to score on a single anyway."
Giants right fielder Hunter Pence laid out to make a diving rob of extra bases from Gonzalez to end the first inning, but he couldn't get near the second-inning leadoff triple of Ramirez, who gave the Dodgers a lead against Chad Gaudin when he scored on Ethier's broken-bat bloop single.
The Giants tied the game in the third inning. Quiroz led off with a double to right-center, but the key play was a slider Kershaw bounced as a wild pitch to Andres Torres on a swinging strike with one out, which allowed Quiroz to take third base. He scored from there on Torres' sacrifice fly.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.