Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shoutin' out to Buster Posey, who in addition to being a WORLD CHAMPION is also the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year! 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers, 3-1, at the Ballpark in Arlington last night, and thereby won the 2010 World Series in five games.

At long last, we can say it: the San Francisco Giants are world champions.

Fifty-two years, six months, and seventeen days after they played their first game in San Francisco, the Giants are world champions.

Forty-five years, six months, and twenty days after we first pledged ourselves to the orange and black no matter what, our beloved Giants are world champions. 

Six months and twenty-seven days after the start of this glorious, improbable 2010 season, the San Francisco Giants are world champions.

The impossible dream came true moments after 9:30 PM local time last night, as Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz to end Game Five and his entire leaping, yelling mob of teammates came together in the center of the infield, celebrating San Francisco's first major-league baseball championship in one of the most unlikely of places, a handsome, old-fashioned ballpark in North Texas. It wouldn't have made any difference had it been on the moon. There's nothing like the first time, and for Giants fans who've waited their whole lives for this moment, it's sweet vindication of what we've known all along. "The only baseball team of which to be a fan," wrote an old friend of ours years ago as the introduction to his Giants webpage, "is the San Francisco Giants. That's a given." 

For the first time we need append no ifs, ands, or buts to that statement. Folks, after five decades of frustration and disappointment, far more than that suffered by any other franchise, Our Boys have brought home the hardware.


Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Ramon Ramirez and Guillermo Mota are world champions. Andres Torres, Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria, Travis Ishikawa, Pablo Sandoval, Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholz, Mike Fontenot, and Eli Whiteside are world champions. Barry Zito and Dan Runzler are world champions, too. So are Emmanuel Burriss, Mark DeRosa, Eugenio Velez and Jose Guillen.

Bruce Bochy is finally a world champion, and how he deserves it. Ditto for Dave Righetti, Hensley Meulens, Robert Kelly, Tim Flannery, and good old Ron Wotus. And Mark Gardner, who never made it this far as a Giants' pitcher-- he's a world champion, too.

And so are Bill Neukom and Larry Baer, and so is Brian Sabean, who most definitely is not an idiot. He's a world champion! So are Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow. So is anyone right now who has lived and died with the orange and black, who's stayed up late hoping for good news from the Coast, who's lined up early at AT&T Park hoping to get a glimpse through the right-field gate, who's dialed in a fuzzy radio signal from miles away, hoping for a bit of good news. And all you folks who had your hearts broken in 1962 and 1987 and 2002... lift up your heads and celebrate. We're all world champions now.

Eight innings of brilliant, three-hit pitching by Tim Lincecum brought the Giants to the brink of victory in last night's game. The world at large has learned of this team's stellar pitching through fifteen postseason games, and last night served as valedictory.  All the intelligence, courage, persistence, and God-given ability the Giants' pitchers have demonstrated in October was manifest in Lincecum's every move. Working in harmony with his catcher, Posey, he continually surprised, confused, and frustrated the outstanding Texas hitters. Of the three hits he surrendered, only one-- Cruz' no-doubt-about-it solo homer in the seventh-- was hit hard. And, as if to dispel any lingering concerns after he'd walked Ian Kinsler following the blast, Lincecum struck out David Murphy and our old buddy, Bengie Molina, to end the inning, then came out and scorched the Rangers on nine pitches in the eighth. He finished with ten strikeouts. Seven balls were hit out of the infield. Four of his eight innings were perfect. He's the best pitcher in the game, and he proved it last night.

This was the best of the five Series games, and it was made so not only by Lincecum, but by his opposite number, lefthander Cliff Lee of Texas. For six taut, scoreless innings the two aces engaged in the classic pitchers' duel all the experts had been promising. The record book will show that the Giants and Lincecum beat Lee twice, but there's no comparison between Game One and this contest. Lee had a four-hit shutout going, with no walks, as the Giants came up in the seventh. Cody Ross opened with a ground ball up the middle for the Giants' fifth hit. Juan Uribe, again delivering when it counted most, lined another single to center. Up stepped Aubrey Huff, who had belted one 450 feet the night before. Catching everyone by surprise, Huff quickly squared and laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, moving  the runners into scoring position.

Now it was Edgar Renteria at the plate. The soft-spoken Cuban, almost invisible in the lineup during the regular season, something of a surprise addition to the postseason roster, had already revived his World Series reputation with four big hits in two previous games. Falling behind 2-0, Lee challenged that reputation with the same cutter he'd been using all night. Renteria turned on it quick, and lifted a high drive to deep left-center; in a manner reminiscent of Buster Posey's homer from the night before, this one kept carrying and carrying until it had carried all the way into the seats.

That was the Giants' offense for the evening, and that was enough. Lincecum, having gotten through the seventh and eighth with a total pitch count of 101, could have come out for the ninth, but as "Boch" is always saying, this season has been a total team effort, and the ninth was Brian Wilson's time, as it has been all year. His 11-pitch stint lacked the drama of Game Six against the Phillies, but after 177 games most of us had had enough drama-- some call it 'torture'-- for awhile. Josh Hamilton was badly fooled on a 0-2 fastball, called strike three. Vlad Guerrero, true to type, hacked at the first pitch and grounded to Sanchez. Cruz, the only Ranger with any credibility left, battled through a six-pitch full count, then came up empty swinging at a slider that trailed just a bit inside.  Out came the Giants from the dugout like a jail break as the Rangers' fans, showing class all the way, stood and applauded their ballclub for its effort. By the time Bochy and a few champagne-soaked Giants returned to the field, however, it was mostly Giants fans remaining. They'd been making as much noise as possible throughout the proceedings, drowned-out but barely-audible on the incessant "Let's go Ran-gers!" chants led by the ballpark organist, but now the grandstand was theirs as they serenaded the Little Team That Could, the "castoffs and misfits" who have, at long last, brought a World Series championship to The City.

Thirteen years ago, Edgar Renteria's 11th-inning single made world champions out of perhaps the unlikeliest team ever, the Florida Marlins. Now, having launched the game-winning homer that made world champions out of another unlikely group, 34-year-old Edgar Renteria earned the World Series Most Valuable Player award, and whether or not he plays another game, for the Giants or anyone else, Renteria's name will go down in history as one of the great 'clutch' players of all time.

Renteria is one of the few Giants, along with Uribe and Rowand, who already have a World Series ring. But speaking in the clubhouse afterward, Brian Wilson brought up the very thought we've been thinking over the past few days. He spoke of all the great Giants who never experienced a moment such as this, the stars and superstars and ordinary players and forgotten men who wore this uniform in good days and bad, and who never knew the feeling of being part of a championship team. You could tell it was important to Wilson that he say this, that he try to articulate the debt of honor and respect he believed was owed, and must be paid, to those who came before.

And so, as we celebrate the San Francisco Giants' first World Championship, let us throw wide the clubhouse door and invite everyone in. This one's for all the Giants.

It's for Willie McCovey, who in 22 Hall-of-Fame seasons (20 with the Giants) never hoisted a trophy, and who at 72 gets around on crutches but never seems to miss a big game.  It's for Juan Marichal, the Dominican Dandy, who deserved better, and for Gaylord Perry. It's for Jack Sanford, and Stu Miller, and it's for Tom Haller and Mike McCormick, for Jim Davenport and Frank Linzy and "Downtown" Ollie Brown.

It's for the late Bobby Bonds, overtalented and underappreciated. It's for Jim Barr and Ron Bryant  and Jim Ray Hart. It's for Dick Dietz, and Chris Speier, and the impeccable Gary Lavelle.

It's for Randy Moffitt, hitting the knob of  Bill Russell's bat and forcing in a run. It's for Jack Clark and Terry Whitfield, for Bob Knepper and two tours of duty, for Terry Mulholland and three. It's for Mike Ivie and Greg Minton. It's for Mark "Million-Dollar Arm, Ten-Cent Head" Grant. It's for Fred Breining, and Roger Metzger, and even for Johnnie LeMaster. It's for Jose Uribe, thrown out trying to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park homer, and in the process inspiring a couple of guys in the stands to make fools of themselves in public.

It's for Will Clark, once and forever "The Thrill." It's for Brad Gulden, the original "Hummm-Baby." It's for Jeffrey Leonard, God bless him, and for Rick Leach and Jeff Brantley. It's for the grit and determination of Robbie Thompson, and the understated brilliance of Bill Swift. It's for William VanLandingham and his southpaw counterpart, Shawn Estes. It's for Atlee Hammaker, grooving one to Jim Lindeman and another one to Jose Oquendo. It's for Randy Kutcher, Mark Leonard, and Craig Lefferts, and it's for the unforgettable courage of Dave Dravecky.
It's for Rich Aurilia, heart and soul, and it's for Marvin Benard. It's for the indefatigable Kirk Rueter, the graceful J.T. Snow, and it's for Rod Beck, who gave all. It's for Jesse Foppert and what might have been, for Benito Santiago and Brett Tomko, for Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Eliezer Alfonzo. And yes, it's for Barry Bonds, too.

It's for everyone who ever wore the orange and black, from Big John Pregenzer to Tony Torcato,  from Masanori Murakami to Jeff Kent. It's for all those guys who froze out there in the Candlestick chill and never complained.

It's for every Giant who ever swung at a pitch in the dirt, or hung a curveball, or struck out the side, or hit a game-winning homer-- but never held the hardware or fingered the ring. Come on in, boys. Come in, out of the cold.

Come on in, all you Giants, at long last, and celebrate with us.

It's about time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers, 4-0, at the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, last night, and thereby took a three-games-to-one lead in the 2010 World Series.

The Giants thus find themselves one game away from a World Championship, in a place they've been only twice before. They've never held a three-to-one edge in the Series; in 1962 they were one game away heading into Game Seven, and in 2002 they held a 3-2 edge after five. Tonight, at approximately 8 PM EDT (7 PM local time), the Giants, behind ace Tim Lincecum, will attempt to drive the Golden Spike and bring a World Series title home to San Francisco for the first time.

Last night's Game Four win was all about one of the great rookie performances in Series history, and that performance was by 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner. Not much more than a year ago, we were trying to juggle our busy schedules so we could drive up to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and get a look at the Giants' newest pitching prospect when the Double-A Connecticut Defenders came to town. Now, the long tall lefty with the poker face and the sweeping delivery is known to all, having shut out the Texas Rangers on three meek singles in their home park on a night when the American League champions and their fans fully expected to even this series and grab the momentum away from the Giants.

It didn't happen because Bumgarner, backed by almost airtight defense, made the pitches he expected to make throughout eight innings, and every hard-hit ball off a Texas bat was aimed, more or less, at a Giant defender. Who were those defenders?  Juan Uribe (though he did boot a simple eighth-inning grounder) cut off several hard-hit balls to the left side. Freddy Sanchez was all over the place, starting two critical double plays, making a tumbling sno-cone catch on a rocket off the bat of Jeff Francoeur , and tagging out Josh Hamilton on a steal attempt. Buster Posey, the rookie catcher, fired the throw that nailed Hamilton. Travis Ishikawa and Nate Schierholz, both making their first (and likely only) World Series starts, against righthander Tommy Hunter, were perfect in the field. "Bum" fanned six in his 106-pitch eight-inning stint, but the key to his unflappable performance was his willingness to let the Rangers hit his pitch, and rely on his defenders to make the play.

Aubrey Huff launched his first World Series homer into the stratosphere off Hunter in the third, moments after Andres (3-for-5) Torres had doubled to open the frame. The  monster shot carried past the right-field stands and might still be going had it not struck the overhang at the back of the facility. That was all Bumgarner needed, but the Giants tacked on two more late. Edgar Renteria, the 14-year veteran who may retire after earning his second ring, was 3-for-4 and scored in the seventh on Torres' second double to make it 3-0. Then in the eighth, Posey launched the first of what we hope will be many World Series home runs, a towering shot to deepest center field that just kept going, going, and going some more, onto the grassy sward beyond the fence. Bruce Bochy, never shy about pulling the managerial levers in a close game, left this one on cruise control. With his "defensive specialists" in the starting lineup, an early lead, and Bumgarner's lights-out pitching, 'Boch' didn't even get anyone up in the bullpen until the seventh, and his only substitution of the game was Brian Wilson's eleven-pitch ninth inning, which didn't even warrant a save. Simple!

The Rangers had every reason to be optimistic entering this game, because they had gotten their game back big-time Saturday night in a smart, well-played 4-2 victory in Game Three. Their lineup shook off Thursday's shutout, powering two home runs off Giants' starter and loser Jonathan Sanchez. They got an outstanding performance from right-hander Colby Lewis, who gave up solo homers to Torres and Cody Ross, but efficiently avoided those 'big innings' the Giants had used to win the first two games. Their shaky bullpen got a huge lift from the rookie closer, Naftali Feliz, who blew away the three Giants batters he faced with 98-MPH heat. While Sanchez did not pitch all that badly in the loss, he did allow nine baserunners in less than  five innings and was helped mightily by three double plays. More troubling, the Giants reverted to their bad old hitting habits, getting impatient with Lewis and struggling with men on base. Their best shot at a big inning came after Torres' homer in the eighth. Lewis hit Huff with a pitch with two out, bringing Posey to the plate as the tying run to face Darren O'Day, summoned from Ron Washington's bullpen to replace Lewis. After a seven-pitch at-bat, Posey grounded out to end the mild threat. (He did presumably, however, learn something about Messr. O'Day, which he put to good use last night.)

Tonight's game is another installment of the Ultimate Showdown between Lincecum and (insert name of fearsome opposition ace pitcher here). It will, of course, be Cliff Lee, whom the Giants handled rather roughly in Game One and who is unlikely to let that bother him at all.  But whether it's Lincecum tonight, or Matt Cain Wednesday, or who-knows-what on Thursday, this is gonna get done this time, some way, some how. The 2010 Giants are going to claim this World Championship, no matter what it takes. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers, 9-0, at AT&T Park last night, and thereby took a commanding 2-0 lead in the 2010 World Series.

Matt Cain, the latest "Mister October," continued his brilliant postseason run with seven and two-thirds innings of shutout, four-hit ball, holding the powerful Texas lineup 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and guarding a tight, one-run lead that exploded into a blowout only after he'd left the game in the eighth to a standing ovation. Cain now has pitched 20 and 2/3 innings in three postseason starts without surrendering an earned run, and he's inching his way into Christy Mathewson territory with this streak. He probably won't match the Giants' greatest pitcher's record accomplishment-- three consecutive shutouts in the 1905 World Series-- but that's because the way things are going, he may not even be needed again. Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves, giddy with excitement though we may be.

For seven innings it was indeed a tight one, the pitchers' duel expected but not delivered in Game One. Texas starter C.J. Wilson matched Cain almost note-for-note until the fifth, when their two paths diverged. Leading off the top of the frame, Ian Kinsler smacked a Cain fastball about as far as one could go on this cool, windy evening, a cannon shot to deepest center. It hit the very top of the wall and fortuitously caromed back onto the field of play and into Andres Torres' glove. A no-doubt-about-it homer almost anywhere else, it was a double for Kinsler, and there he remained at second base as Cain retired the side without further incident. Then with one out in the bottom of the inning, Edgar Renteria turned on an inside fastball and hammered it high and deep into the left-field seats. While it is generally accepted among baseball analysts and sabermetricians that there is no reliable measure of an ability to hit in the clutch, the anecdotal evidence of same for the veteran Renteria is compelling. He's doing in 2010 what he did in 1997, and in 2004, and time and time again over his career.

Cain's toughest test came just moments later in the top of the sixth as the Rangers bid to answer back. Michael Young and Josh Hamilton hit one-out singles, and Cain followed with a wild pitch that moved both into scoring position and eliminated the double-play possibility. Then came the 26-year-old ace's finest hour: Nelson Cruz, retired on a foul popup, and Kinsler, retired on a fly ball to right. Texas wouldn't threaten again.

Wednesday night's hero, Juan Uribe, drove in Cody Ross in the bottom of the seventh with a single to center, which looked for all the world like the insurance run Cain wanted. Little did we know. In the top of the eighth, with Elvis Andrus at second after a walk and a stolen base, two out and Hamilton at the plate, Bruce Bochy summoned the impeccable Javier Lopez. One harmless fly ball later, Cain relaxed in the dugout, the prospective winner of yet another round of "Giants torture."

Indeed he was, but with a most unexpected final act. The bottom of the eighth was every pitcher's nightmare: a two-out, nobody-on rally that turned into a full meltdown by no less than four Texas relievers, two of whom couldn't get anybody out and all of whom surrendered at least one run. The gruesome tally included four consecutive walks, two with the bases loaded, followed by RBI hits from Renteria, Aaron Rowand (a pinch-hit bases-clearing triple, no less) and Andres Torres. Seven runs in all crossed the plate as eleven men batted and eight straight Giants reached base. And Guillermo Mota, making his first postseason appearance, worked an uneventful ninth as the Giants handed the Rangers only their sixth shutout of the season.

This Series could hardly have started better for the Giants, of course. Nobody could have expected this team to score 20 runs in two games (the New York Yankees, who fell in six ALCS games, managed 19 total). It's certainly possible that last night's raucous, roaring capacity crowd will be the last one at the 'Bell this year. The Giants have not held a two-game World Series lead since 1954, when they were still the New York Giants and swept Cleveland four straight. Most Giants fans, at this moment, would be lying if they didn't admit that thoughts of a 2010 sweep are dancing in their heads.

But the Series now moves to Arlington, Texas, to the big, beautiful Ballpark that will be filled with raucous, roaring Rangers fans for at least two, and possibly three, nights.  Texas came back against Tampa and against the Yankees, and they are certainly capable of coming back against the Giants. But will they?

We don't make predictions. Baseball has a way of mocking those who do. And yet, we have followed the Giants since 1965, and we have seen the ups, the downs, and everything else, and we're testifying here and now that we have never seen a San Francisco team like the 2010 Giants. We believe they are absolutely going to win this thing, whether it takes four, five, six, or seven games. We remember 1965, 1969, 1971, 1978, 1982, 1987, 1989, 1993, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004. We remember it all. It doesn't matter now. We're making the statement, loud and clear: 20-0-10, folks, IS THE YEAR.     

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers, 11-7, in Game One of the World Series at AT&T Park last night.

In what was billed as yet another all-time great pitching duel, between Rangers' ace lefthander Cliff Lee and San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, the Giants bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated Lee's gaudy, previously-unbeaten postseason record to the tune of seven runs and eight hits in less than five innings. For their part, the Rangers put more than a few dents in Lincecum, too, although he lasted into the sixth and got credit for the win. But it was a six-run fifth inning-- an absolute deluge of hitting, especially by Giants standards-- that made the difference in this game, and cast a whole different light on just who may be expected to do what in this World Series.

Where to start? How about Freddy Sanchez, with three doubles in his first three Series at-bats? Or Aubrey Huff, with three hits of his own? Andres Torres and Edgar Renteria each scored two runs. Every starting member of the Giants' lineup had at least one hit except Pat Burrell-- whose fifth-inning walk may have tipped the balance against Lee. And moving away from offense for a minute, there were spectacular plays on defense by Renteria, Juan Uribe, and Huff-- necessary plays, too, because the Rangers kept coming back, against Lincecum and against the six relievers who followed.

Did we mention Juan Uribe? Yes, Juan Uribe, he of the game-winning homer in Game Six of the NLCS, had a part in this one, too.  We'll get to him directly.

Texas, which led the major leagues in hitting, got right to work against Lincecum. Elvis Andrus singled to open the game, and Michael Young worked a walk. MVP candidate Josh Hamilton grounded out on a roller slow enough to advance the runners. Then Vladimir Guerrero, who has rejuvenated his bat in Arlington, dinged a infield single off Lincecum's leg, enough to score Andrus. Nelson Cruz hit a little comebacker, and Lincecum momentarily forgot how to play baseball as he simply walked Young-- who was dead to rights between third and home-- back to the third-base bag without a throw. "The Freak" then bailed himself out as he got Ian Kinsler to hit into an inning-ending double-play, but the Rangers came right back in the second. Bengie Molina, whom, you'll remember, the Giants traded away back in May, singled to open the frame. Lee, disdaining a one-out bunt attempt, popped a double over the head of drawn-in Torres in center, Molina lumbering along to third. Andrus then hit a fly-ball to medium center, and Torres' throw was wide of the mark, allowing the slowest man in baseball to score standing up. Oh, the shame of it all.

As the announcers waxed mystical about the unbeaten Cliff Lee holding a two-run lead, the Giants erased it.
Renteria reached on an error by Young, and after Lincecum failed to advance him Lee hit Andres Torres to move him up anyway. Sanchez ripped a double down the left-field line-- he'd doubled to right in the first--  which cut the lead to 2-1. Buster Posey, Molina's 23-year-old doppelganger, then singled home Torres, proving that Lee, while yet unbeaten, was hardly unbeatable. Both starters settled down in the fourth and it looked like it might stay 2-2 for awhile.

Here's how the bottom of the fifth went. Teams rarely expect much when the pitcher leads off an inning, and Lincecum opened with a meek groundout. Then Torres, who has quietly come alive at the plate since the Atlanta series, doubled to left. Sanchez cranked his third double, a monster shot off the wall in left-center as Torres scored. Burrell, who had struck out badly his first two times up, worked a seven-pitch walk that seemed to deflate Lee just a bit. Cody Ross got his daily RBI with a single up the middle to score Sanchez, and Huff's shot to the same vicinity brought in Burrell and chased Lee. Submariner Darren O'Day came in to face Uribe, who walloped a 2-0 pitch halfway to Vacaville. All of a sudden it was 8-2, Giants, and the place was rocking and shaking like the epicenter of the latest earthquake.

One reason our esteemed experts and commentators may want to temper their hopeful rhetoric about legendary pitching duels is the simple fact that these guys, veterans and professionals though they may be, are all tired by now. It's been 162 games plus a dozen or so postseason games, and few pitching aces from the Good Ol' Days ever went this deep into October ball. Lincecum ran out of gas all of a sudden in the sixth, after he'd fanned the first two batters and made 'em look bad. A two-out walk to Kinsler (deflation?) followed by a RBI double from the redoubtable Molina and another infield single off Lincecum's skinny frame, and a RBI single from pinch-hitter David Murphy, brought Bruce Bochy out from the dugout and Santiago Casilla in from the bullpen. Casilla, the first man in the parade, did his job well, pitching through the seventh as the 8-4 lead held. His batting spot did not come up in the bottom of the seventh, and he could have started the eighth, but Bochy went with Sergio Romo for two outs (one of them an infield hit that Kinsler squandered by overrunning the bag and being tagged out by Huff on a successful 'deke')  followed by Javier Lopez against the right-hand-hitting Jorge Cantu, batting for left-hand-hitting Mitch Moreland, a matchup Bochy evidently foresaw and wanted anyway (we hope). Lopez got him to end the inning.

The Giants poured it on in the bottom of the eighth, taking back Texas' two runs and adding another. Sanchez' fourth double of the evening was revised to a single-and-an-error (by Vlad Guerrero, who hasn't played right field in about two years), and it scored Travis Ishikawa, whose pinch-hit double had scored Renteria, whose single Vlad had earlier misplayed into a three-bagger. Nate Schierholz, Burrell's defensive replacement, delivered the final RBI of the night with a single that scored Sanchez. (We're not used to having to count all these doggone runs and hits, folks!)

Ramon Ramirez, pitching the ninth with a seven-run lead, struggled with control early on. After an infield single, Ramirez walked Andrus, then retired Young on a fly ball for the first out. But "Boch" gave the hard-throwing Ramirez no chance to finish it out. Managing as if it were a one-run game, he summoned Jeremy Affeldt to face Hamilton; after a full-count walk, in came the Bearded One, Brian Wilson himself. Clearly Bochy has deep respect for the Rangers' powerful lineup, and there was absolutely no way he was going to let Game One get away. Wilson isn't used to the concept of trading outs for runs-- his margin for error is usually zero-- but he got Guerrero on a fly ball, which scored one run but cost Texas a precious out. (Why was Guerrero giving and getting high-fives in the dugout afterward, anyway?) Cruz then lofted what looked like an innocent game-ending fly ball to right-center, but it carried stupendously well and dropped behind Torres and Schierholz as two more runs scored. Kinsler lifted another fly ball in the same direction, but this one dropped into Schierholz' glove without incident, ending the game.

Matt Cain takes the hill for Game Two tonight. Evidently Bochy's righty-lefty-righty-lefty idea was meant for Philadelphia only. Then again, Cain has allowed exactly one run, unearned, in his two postseason starts, and no doubt "Boch" wants to get him in there as quickly as possible. Also, Cain went 8-4, 2.93, with 90 strikeouts at home, while both Jonathan Sanchez and (especially) Madison Bumgarner have been better on the road. Texas counters with another southpaw, C.J. Wilson, who was 15-6, 3.35 (in the AL, remember) on the season. He was fine against Tampa Bay in the division series, but the Yankees lit him up pretty well in his two ALCS starts-- twelve hits and nine runs in twelve innings pitched. It all gets underway at the 'Bell around 7:35 EDT (4:35 PDT), with first pitch due about a half hour later. Whether or not the Giants' ownership can top last night's pregame and seventh-inning special guest, the legendary Tony Bennett (who most assuredly still 'has it' at age 84, bless his heart) will be only one of many questions to be settled this evening.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia tonight, to win the National League Championship series in six games and advance to the World Series. AAAAOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As Brian Wilson busted a thoroughly nasty knee-high cut fastball past slugger Ryan Howard for a called third strike with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants' dugout erupted in celebration, players and coaches spilling onto the field for the Group Hug. Tonight's hero, Juan Uribe, danced around like a fool, spraying wads of chewing tobacco as he went. Aubrey Huff, who after nearly 1,500 career games is finally going to the Big Show, charged toward Wilson from his first-base post, arms wide open. Cody Ross, the series MVP with his three homers and five RBI, came racing in from left field. And Tim Lincecum, who gave all he had in a brief relief stint in the eighth inning, joined his teammates at center stage. Oh, it was a sight to see.

And so it will be the San Francisco Giants against the Texas Rangers in the World Series beginning on Wednesday night, October 27, at AT&T Park in San Francisco.  Matt Cain will be the likely Game One starter against Rangers' ace Cliff Lee, but there'll be plenty of time for that later. Tonight belongs to the Giants and their singular achievement, beating the two-time defending league champions and one of the best teams in baseball on their home turf with everything on the line.

The Giants overcame the worst possible beginning to this game: a three-inning meltdown by starter Jonathan Sanchez. As with his Game Two start, he endured a brutal first inning, surrendering three hits and two runs. He was consistently wild, falling behind the hitters, but the Phillies were aggressive and instead of waiting for walks, they attacked Sanchez when he was behind in the count. Placido Polanco did walk with one out, and Sanchez wild-pitched him to second. Chase Utley then doubled home his first run of the series. Ryan Howard followed with a single and Jayson Werth's sacrifice fly plated Utley with a second run in the seven-batter, 24-pitch inning that actually could have been even worse.

And, amazingly, that was it for the Phillies. They never scored again. After Sanchez walked Polanco again  and then hit Utley, helping to provoke a bench-clearing glare-a-thon to open the third, Bruce Bochy had seen enough. In came Jeremy Affeldt, who worked his way out of the jam, and the parade of relievers began. Affeldt worked two, and next was young Madison Bumgarner who also worked two scoreless. Javier Lopez made it four lefthanders in a row with his scoreless seventh, and as the Giants came up in the eighth with the score tied, none other than Tim Lincecum began warming up in the Giants' bullpen.

One reason "Boch" may have been so quick with that hook in the third was the Giants' having just tied it up in the top of that frame. Philly starter Roy Oswalt pitched well, but his stuff is now familiar to the Giants, and they were hitting him from the start. In all, San Francisco tagged Oswalt for nine hits in his six innings of work, and he survived as well as he did thanks to two double plays and a fortunate throw from centerfielder Shane Victorino that caught the mound and bounced directly to catcher Carlos Ruiz, who tagged out Andres Torres at home. That was in the aforementioned top of the third. Sanchez, who did little enough with his arm, did more with his bat, leading off the frame with a sharp single. Torres then belted one to the wall in center; Victorino appeared to have a bead on it but lost it at the last minute. It only went  for a single, since Sanchez had held up at second, but Freddy Sanchez moved the runners up with a bunt. Huff's single up the middle scored Sanchez and lost Torres, but Huff alertly took second on the play at the plate, and when Polanco threw wildly to first on Buster Posey's subsequent grounder, Huff came around to score and tie it up.

So, again, it was tied in the eighth as Lincecum loosened up and Juan Uribe stepped in against Ryan Madson with two out. He ripped Madson's first pitch, a slider, high and deep to right and into the first row of seats above Werth's despairing glance. The Giants had their first lead of the game, and they had their ace making a rare relief appearance, with six outs standing between the team and the World Series.

"All gave some, and some gave all." Lincecum indeed gave all, but after 104 pitches two nights ago he just hadn't  much to give. He got the most important out, striking out Werth to open the eighth, but successive hard-hit singles by Victorino and Raul Ibanez brought Bochy out of the dugout, summoning Wilson. "Blackbeard" promptly induced Ruiz to line into a double play to end the eighth, and in the top of the ninth the Giants made a bid to break it open. Torres beat out a bunt and Freddy Sanchez followed with a single against Brad Lidge, but after Huff struck out, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel called Bochy's bluff, intentionally walking  Posey, which forced Wilson to bat. Unwilling to give up his closer for a potential big inning, Bochy sent Wilson up there, hoping for a wild pitch, hit batsman, or even a walk. But, true to form, the Giants would have to win this one as a one-run game, just like all the others, and so Lidge retired Wilson without incident to end the threat.

And true to form, Wilson mixed outs with walks, his own special version of the one-run nail-biting "Torture" syndrome that even the Giants acknowledge is their special gift to their fans. Jimmy Rollins, back in his familiar leadoff spot, walked with one out, and after Wilson got Polanco to force Rollins at second, he walked Utley to move the tying run to second and bring up the mighty Howard. Philly's magnificent slugger had five hits in the series, but no RBIs as yet, and this would be his best, and last, opportunity. It was strength against strength. Howard worked the count full, fouled off a nasty pitch that he just missed clobbering into the Delaware River, and then watched that wicked knee-high strike end his and his great team's season.

Indeed, three of the Giants' four victories in this series were by a single run, and it was Wilson who saved three games and won the other one. He, along with Ross, Matt Cain, and Uribe, stood tallest among the group of 25 who made this happen. Every Giant except Eli Whiteside and Guillermo Mota played a role in this series, and in the post-game award ceremony, an emotional Brian Sabean paid tribute to the Giants' depth as well as their resilience. It is worth noting that of the eight players who trotted out to their positions on Opening Day back in April, only one-- Huff-- remains where he was. Gone are Mark DeRosa (to injury), John Bowker and Bengie Molina (to trade), and Aaron Rowand and Pablo Sandoval (to the bench). Juan Uribe started the season at second; he's now at third and short, alternating with Sandoval and Edgar Renteria. Now we have Posey, Pat Burrell, Torres, and Ross, the guys who turned this team around. Among the pitchers Bumgarner, Lopez, and Ramon Ramirez have stepped ahead of several guys whose names we can't even recall right now.  Sabean has taken a lot of heat, much of it deserved, for the Giants' misfortunes over the last five years or so, but he now deserves all the credit we can give him for the bold moves he's made to put this team together. Frankly, we expected the Giants to reach this point in 2011 or 2012, and we viewed 2010 as a likely consolidation year, where the gains of 2009 would be tempered by the realization there was more work to do. To have won the National League pennant with this team, in the way it was done, is a tremendous achievement, and we salute Brian Sabean for it. And we'll hold to that even if Bengie Molina hits five home runs against us in the World Series!
The San Francisco Giants face the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Six of the National League Championship Series tonight at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Game time is slated for 7:30 PM EDT.

The series is back in Philadelphia because the Phillies dug deep, deeper than most teams can dig, and wrenched out a 4-2 victory in Game Five at AT&T Park Thursday night, defeating Tim Lincecum with a lot of grit, a lot of determination, a stalwart bullpen, and a considerable amount of good fortune.

And so it will be Jonathan Sanchez' turn to nail it down and send the Giants to the World Series. Roy Oswalt, winner of Game Two, opposes. Either the Giants will be celebrating on the opposition's home field tonight, or the two teams will tee it up again for the last time tomorrow night.  The winner of this series will move on to face the Texas Rangers, who finished off the New York Yankees in six games last night to reach their first World Series.

Thursday night the Phillies discarded their swagger, their power, their big-inning strategy, and instead used the bunt and the stolen base to manufacture runs. It was a strategy born of necessity as the Giants' pitchers had allowed nothing else.  And, more than anything, it was four guys-- Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge-- who pitched three innings of scoreless, one-hit relief, that kept Philadelphia alive in the series. Though starter Roy Halladay got the win, he owes it all to his bullpen, and so does the whole Philly team.
The second round of the Lincecum-Halladay "Battle of the Aces" was again something of an anticlimax. Lincecum pitched a little better than he had in Game One, which is well enough to win most times, but his teammates let him down big-time and he was saddled with the loss. Halladay struggled throughout his entire six-inning stint, battling his composure and the umpires as well as the Giants, but his teammates picked him up big-time and he got the win.

It all turned around in the top of the third, Linecum's only "bad" inning, and unfortunately the only one required for the loss. Perfect through two, he allowed a leadoff single to Raul Ibanez, then nicked Carlos Ruiz' sleeve with an inside pitch. Halladay laid down a bunt that bounced off the plate and back into the batter's box, clearly foul; umpire Jeff Nelson apparently saw only the plate contact and ruled it fair. Buster Posey immediately grabbed the ball and fired a strike to Pablo Sandoval at third in time to force Ibanez, but Sandoval, creeping forward in anticipation of the bunt, didn't get back in time and Ibanez beat him to the bag. Fortunately, Halladay remained standing at the plate all this time and was easily thrown out, but the runners had moved up into scoring position. Shane Victorino hit a sharp grounder to the right side. Aubrey Huff then committed one of the most hideous errors imaginable: the ball kicked off the heel of his glove and ricocheted into center field as both runners scored.  Somewhat perturbed, perhaps, Lincecum then gave up a clean single to Placido Polanco and Victorino, having alertly taken second on the error, came in to score the third run. That, as it turned out, was enough.

The Giants had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Andres Torres walked, scooted around to third on Freddy Sanchez' single, and scored on a slow roller by Posey. And they answered back in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Pat Burrell and, naturally, Cody Ross. But Sandoval lined into a double play to end it, and the Giants never threatened again. Philadelphia finally flexed a little muscle in the top of the ninth on Jayson Werth's second opposite-field homer of the series, which gave "Lights-Out" Lidge a nice cushion for his ten-pitch three-batter save, and the Phillies had earned their trip back home.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 6-5, at AT&T Park last night, and took a commanding 3-games-to-1 lead in the National League Championship Series.

Juan Uribe's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Aubrey Huff with the winning run, provided the Giants with their first walk-off postseason win since the climax of the 2002 LCS, and left Our Boys one game away from San Francisco's fourth World Series, and first since that same year.

And so tonight it will be Tim Lincecum taking the baton at 7:30 PM EDT or thereabouts, opposing the Phillies' best, Roy Halladay, in Round Two of the "Battle of the Aces." Lincecum will be looking to drive the Golden Spike, while Halladay's task is to get this series back to Philadelphia.  

For the second time in this series, the Phillies "brought the wood" last night as their potent lineup pounded out nine hits against four Giants pitchers, including a four-run fifth inning that erased a early Giants lead. But this time, the home team brought their own lumber, rallying twice to win a game that could just as easily have been lost, and thrilling a capacity crowd that included a fellow who knows a thing or two about game-winning rallies himself, Will "The Thrill" Clark, who had a perfect view of the proceedings from his perch directly behind the Giants' dugout.

The catalog of Giant heroes is a long one. There's Buster Posey, all of 23, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI, and whose ninth inning single off Roy Oswalt (we'll get to that directly) moved Huff to third in advance of Uribe. There's Huff himself, breaking out of his slump with three hits, two runs scored, and a RBI. Speaking of slumps, there's Pablo Sandoval, whose two-run double in the bottom of the sixth may have been the most important hit of this entire postseason. And there's Uribe, who didn't even get into the game until the ninth, and who made a brilliant defensive play in the top of the frame before his game-winning heroics in the bottom. We daren't forget Cody Ross, who doubled and scored a run even on this relatively quiet night for him. And, finally,  there's Brian Wilson, the lone pitcher among the five employed who had nothing to do with allowing a Philly run. His 1-2-3 ninth was enough to get the win.

Madison Bumgarner was excellent through four, but as the Philadelphia stalwarts got a third look at him, they began to figure him out. Allowing just two hits early on, he surrendered four in the fifth and was unable to finish the frame. Staked to a 2-0 lead by Posey's RBI single in the first and RBI double in the third, the 21-year-old "Bum" left with three runs charged to his name. Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz singled to open the inning, Philly starter Joe Blanton moved them up with a perfect bunt, and Shane Victorino ripped a RBI single to center. Aaron Rowand, starting his second straight game in place of Andres Torres, made a beautiful throw to home plate, and Posey short-hopped it and tagged out the charging Ruiz, holding Philadelphia to the one run. Victorino inexplicably did not take second on the throw, and therefore did not score on Chase Utley's subsequent single. This fourth hit of the inning was enough for Bruce Bochy, who pulled Bumgarner in favor of Santiago Casilla. Needing just one out, Casilla instead endured his own personal Inning From Hell. Placido Polanco ripped a please-hit-me hanging slider into the left field gap for two runs, and Casilla then walked Ryan Howard, hit Jayson Werth to load the bases, and uncorked a wild pitch that scored Utley. Somewhat amazingly, "Boch" left Casilla in there after all that, and he finally struck out Jimmy Rollins to end the nine-batter onslaught.

The Giants immediately answered back. Andres Torres, who replaced Rowand as part of the Casilla double-switch, singled and later scored on Huff's single in the bottom of the fifth, cutting the lead to one run, and the beleaguered Casilla came back out and pitched a scoreless sixth.  In the bottom of the inning the Giants' wheels began to turn in earnest. Reliever Chad Durbin took over the pitching for Philly, and his one noteworthy accomplishment was that he alone was able to retire Posey. However, he also walked Pat Burrell and gave up Ross' double to put men at second and third with one out. Up came Sandoval, who had been benched the first three games of the series.The ebullient "Kung Fu Panda" ripped a drive down the right field line and into the corner that was called foul, though television replays were inconclusive. Bochy came out to argue that the right-field umpire, being closest to the ball, ought to have made the ruling, rather than the first-base ump. That argument went nowhere, but it may have actually been intended to give Sandoval time to cool down and compose himself. If so, it worked brilliantly. In what may stand as the single most important at-bat of the postseason, Sandoval held up on a pitch in the dirt, fouled off a 1-2 fastball, then smacked a chin-high fastball into the left-center field gap for two Giant runs and a 5-4 lead.

Javier Lopez pitched a perfect seventh and came out to open the eighth. Ryan Howard, the Phillies' most consistent hitter in this series, greeted him with a double to left-center, and Bochy summoned Sergio Romo to face Jayson Werth. Romo has struggled throughout the playoffs, and he did so again. Werth lined another double down the left-field line to tie the game, and as the Giants failed to answer back in the bottom of the eighth, fans saw the glowering, black-bearded presence of Wilson warming up for the ninth, save situations be damned.

Waiting on the mound for the Giants as they came up in the bottom of the ninth was that familiar, implacable foe from Game Two, Oswalt. On two days' rest, he had volunteered to come in for the ninth and allow Charlie Manuel to save Brad Lidge for a save situation. But Oswalt, who allowed only three hits all night Sunday, gave up two in the blink of an eye last night. Huff, through the right side, and then Posey, a line drive to deep right that might have been his third double but for Jayson Werth's glove and arm. Werth, however,  couldn't prevent Huff from taking third, and that left it up to Uribe. His wrist still sore from the weekend, Uribe had been scratched in favor of Edgar Renteria, and came in as part of a double switch when Wilson replaced Romo to open the ninth. He'd barely gotten settled at short when pinch-hitter Ross Gload smoked a sharp grounder into shallow left. Uribe gloved it, reeled back and let loose a throw from his heels that just did nip Gload at first; replays appeared to show a flat-footed tie but umpire Jeff Nelson had no doubt. Now, with the bat in his hands, Uribe golfed a low pitch high into medium-deep left-center, plenty deep enough to score Huff, who came charging down the line like a runaway locomotive and crossed the plate as the dugout emptied onto the field in frenzied celebration.

The New York Yankees defeated the Texas Rangers last night at the Stadium, sending their series back to Texas. With Cliff Lee waiting in the wings, the Rangers still hold the advantage, although they actually had a better record on the road than at home this year, including the playoffs...  Bumgarner was largely overlooked in the general fuss over last night's thriller, but few 21-year-olds have shown better composure under such circumstances. Five strikeouts in four innings against the Philly lineup? We'll take it... Charlie Manuel again and again was asked to explain his decision to start Blanton instead of Halladay last night, and he was still answering that question in the post-game interviews... How wonderful it was to hear the San Francisco crowd singing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch last night, led by Dick Bright's jaunty-- and unexpectedly moving-- rendition on solo violin. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-0, at AT&T Park yesterday afternoon, and thereby took a 2-1 lead in the National League Championship Series.

Matt Cain pitched seven brilliant, two-hit shutout innings, completely neutralizing one of the most powerful  lineups in baseball.   It was the Giants' second shutout of the postseason so far, tying a team record that dates back to 1917. Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson were near-perfect in relief. And manager Bruce Bochy's right-handed-heavy lineup came through against Philly starter Cole Hamels, who pitched a pretty good game himself. Aaron Rowand, getting the start in center field and batting eighth, opened the fifth with a double and scored on Freddy Sanchez' two-out single, which ricocheted off second baseman Chase Utley and was initially ruled an error. Edgar Renteria, batting leadoff, opened the fourth with a single and scored a run. And, of course, there was the obligatory RBI from Cody Ross, which drove in Renteria with the game's first run. That RBI was made possible by Pat Burrell's two-out walk, which moved "Rent" into scoring position, and was followed by Aubrey Huff's RBI single which scored Burrell. The Giants managed only five hits off Hamels, but three of them were two-out RBIs, and that's your ballgame, sports fans.

Cain, absolutely impassive and controlled throughout, walked three and struck out five with his 119 pitches. Lefthander Lopez came in for the eighth, to face Utley and Ryan Howard. Charlie Manuel had also tinkered with his lineup, inserting Placido Polanco in between those two to eliminate the lefty-lefty tandem and make Bochy's job a little harder. And after Lopez retired Utley to open the frame, some of us wondered fretfully if "Boch" would summon Santiago Casilla to face Polanco and bring in Jeremy Affeldt for Howard. Not to worry, at least this time; Lopez handled both Polanco and Howard, and that left it up to Wilson. He gave up a one-out single to Jimmy Rollins in the ninth, a line-drive rocket that ricocheted off the right-field wall and was handled ably by Nate Schierholz. Impervious, Wilson then got Raul Ibanez to ground into a double play to end the affair.

Tonight's Game Four is slated to begin at 7:30 PM EDT (4:30 PDT), with Madison Bumgarner getting the start at the 'Bell. Joe Blanton, who hasn't pitched in a month, will start for Philadelphia. Blanton defeated Cain back at Citizens Bank Park August 18, during the Giants' darkest hour, in his only start against San Francisco this year. Overall, he was 9-6, 4.82 for the season-- but he won his last five decisions down the stretch as Philly overtook the Braves, with a 3.00 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 57 innings for those ten starts. And win or lose, the second installment of the Tim Lincecum-Roy Halladay matchup will take place Thursday evening in Game Five, which, of course, we all hope will be the last game of this series.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The San Francisco Giants face the Philadelphia Phillies at AT&T Park this afternoon in Game Three of the National League Championship Series. Game time is slated for 4:30 PM EDT (1:30 PDT).

Matt Cain will take the hill for the Giants against Phillies' lefthander Cole Hamels. While the G-men generally have trouble with lefties, they've hit Hamels hard this year; he's 0-1 with 16 hits allowed in two starts. Manager Bruce Bochy may tinker with the lineup a bit to get more right-handed hitters in there; switch-hitting Pablo Sandoval, for one, will likely start in Mike Fontenot's place and Aaron Rowand may replace slumping Andres Torres in center field and the leadoff spot. Such moves would leave only one lefty-- Aubrey Huff-- batting against Hamels.

The series is all tied up at one game apiece. After the Giants' opening victory on Saturday night, Philadelphia came back with a late-inning surge to win the second game going away, 6-1.  For the second time in this postseason, San Francisco's bullpen suffered a letdown as Bochy waltzed his way through the familiar lefty-righty processional, with a couple of why-did-I-do-that intentional walks thrown in.

Starter Jonathan Sanchez endured a brutal 35-pitch first inning in which one of his three walks forced in a run, a bases-loaded situation exacerbated by Fontenot's infield error. But the young lefthander settled down afterward, did not issue another base on balls, and was briefly rewarded when the unsinkable Cody Ross, San Francisco's own "Instant Offense", belted his third home run in two days, a shot to left off Roy Oswalt that was almost a carbon copy of the two blasts he launched off Roy Halladay the night before. The FOX-TV announcers were lost in a discussion about Pat Burrell's previous at-bat and missed the home-run call entirely; for a moment we thought somebody had randomly inserted a replay video from Game One. But it was for real, all right, and it tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the fifth.

Oswalt, whom the Phillies picked up from Houston at mid-season, was the whole story Sunday night, or just about. The Giants have handled him in the past, but it was his turn to do the handling, and he did it: a three-hitter, with Ross' shot the only real threat. And leading off the bottom of the seventh with a one-run lead, Oswalt smacked a single into center to chase Sanchez, advanced to second on Shane Victorino's bunt, and came around to score on Placido Polanco's single, beating Huff's relay on a bang-bang play at the plate. Rafael Ramirez had intentionally walked Chase Utley to get to Polanco, and now the "big inning" for which the Phillies are noted was in full swing.  In came Jeremy Affeldt in his first playoff appearance to face Ryan Howard lefty-on-lefty. He got Howard, but in the process Utley and Polanco uncorked a double steal, and Bochy then ordered the second intentional walk of the inning, to Jayson Werth. In came Santiago Casilla to face the slumping, injury-prone Jimmy Rollins. Hitless in the series up to this point, Rollins drilled a  double off the right-field wall, and all three runners came around to score and put the game away. Any good news? Well, Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless eighth, his best outing of the postseason, and the Giants did get two men aboard in the ninth before Ryan Madson retired Edgar Renteria to end it.

Renteria was starting at shortstop in place of Juan Uribe, who jammed his wrist while sliding into second after delivering the game-winning RBI in Game One. Uribe remains a game-time decision for tonight... Torres has six K's in 8 at-bats against the Phillies. While Rowand is not a real leadoff hitter, he did well in that spot for brief periods during the year, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him there tonight... Ross was moved up to sixth in the order for Game Two... Much ado has been made over whether Phillies' manager Charlie Manuel will come back with Roy Halladay tomorrow if the Giants win today... In the American League series, the other "greatest pitcher money can buy," Texas Rangers lefthander Cliff Lee, pitched a dominating shutout Monday night as the Rangers took a 2-1 lead on the New York Yankees. Lee, of course, was Philadelphia's ace a year ago. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-3, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia last night to win Game One of the National League Championship Series.

The Giants punched out nine hits, eight of them against Phillies' ace Roy Halladay, and it was enough to make a winner out of Tim Lincecum. The much-anticipated "battle of the aces", hyped as though it were a heavyweight prizefight, turned out to be something of an afterthought. Lincecum pitched reasonably well, and pitched especially well when he was in trouble, which was most of the time. His only 1-2-3 innings were the first and the seventh, he gave up two homers, and he had repeated issues with home plate umpire Derryl Cousins' bite-sized strike zone. His opposite number, Halladay, also pitched respectably despite being in trouble throughout. Both teams' bullpens kept it a one-run game, but it was Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson of the Giants who closed it out by fanning five of the last seven Phillies.

The continuing heroics of Cody Ross saw the Giants' newest member personally de-mythologize Halladay with two long home runs. After the first seven Giants had gone down in order, Ross turned on a 2-0 fastball and sailed it into the left-field seats. After Philly catcher Carlos Ruiz tied it with a wind-aided opposite-field solo shot against Lincecum in the bottom of the third, Ross took Halladay downtown in the fifth for a 2-1 lead, one the Giants would not surrender.  For the postseason so far, Ross has three homers and five RBI in five games.

In the sixth, Buster Posey, who'd been swinging wildly at outside fastballs, lined a one-out single to right-center. Halladay's 0-2 pitch to Pat Burrell was called a ball, a victim of the same disappearing strike zone that had bedeviled Lincecum earlier. Like his opposite number, Hallday was visibly angry about the call, and on the next pitch Burrell smoked a shot off the wall in left, about three feet short of a homer and a foot or two wide of Raul Ibanez' glove. Posey scored easily, and Bruce Bochy, sensing blood in the water, immediately replaced Burrell with pinch-runner Nate Schierholz. Juan Uribe, who'd done absolutely nothing all postseason, made the skipper look like a bloomin' genius when he singled up the middle and Schierholz came racing around to score what turned out to be the winning run.

It didn't take long for the Phillies to make it a one-run ballgame. After Chase Utley singled off Lincecum's glove in the bottom of the sixth, Jayson Werth absolutely crushed one deep into the right-center field seats. But Lincecum actually appeared to get stronger after that mistake, and a palpable sense of calm settled over the proceedings after he retired the side in order in the seventh. Lopez got Utley and Ryan Howard in the eighth, and then in came Wilson for a four-out save, every one of them a K, sandwiched around an eighth-inning hit and a ninth-inning walk. Shane Victorino went down for the 27th out, and the Giants had the first game won, on the road.

The home-field advantage now belongs to the Giants, who can win out at AT&T Park even if they lose tonight's second game. It'll be Jonathan Sanchez tonight against Roy Oswalt, as Bruce Bochy has decided to go righty-lefty throughout the series. Sanchez, of course, was brilliant against Atlanta last week, while Oswalt was lit up by Cincinnati in a game the Phillies eventually came back to win anyway. Game time is slated for 8 PM EDT at Citizens Bank Park on what's become a banner weekend for Philadelphia sports; the football Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field, jut a block away, this very afternoon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, at Turner Field in Atlanta last night, and thereby won their National League division series, three games to one. Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!

It was another night of tight, tense baseball, of Giant answer-backs to each Atlanta rally, of outstanding starting pitching and questionable relief-pitching moves, of sharp fielding one minute and shoddy fielding the next. And it was the last night and the last game of Braves manager Bobby Cox's illustrious career, one that has spanned three decades, 14 consecutive division championships, and nearly 70 post-season games-- and one that will land him in Cooperstown someday soon. In a wonderful display of sportsmanship and class all too infrequent nowadays, the Atlanta fans began chanting "Bob-by, Bob-by, Bob-by" only seconds after Travis Ishikawa recorded the last out of the game, and the Giants paused their already rather restrained on-field congratulatory exercise to stand up and applaud along with everyone else. It was only afterward, back in the clubhouse, that things really broke loose. For most of these guys, this is their first time on a winner, and what a feeling it is.
And so it will be the Giants against the Philadelphia Phillies to settle the National League pennant beginning Saturday at Citizens Bank Park in Philly. In a dream pitching matchup, Game One will pit Tim "The Freak" Lincecum against Roy "No-Hit" Halladay.  The Phils, baseball's hottest team down the stretch, breezed to a three-game sweep over the Cincinnati Reds and will be solid favorites to defeat the Giants as well.
Cody Ross, who wasn't even on the team when they broke camp this past spring-- heck, he wasn't on the team until late summer-- continued his clutch hitting with two big RBIs, including the game-winner in the seventh. (Isn't it nice to see the name of a Giant hitter mentioned before any of the pitchers, for a change?) The Giants' two-run rally, answering right back after the Braves took the lead in the sixth, made a winner out of Madison Bumgarner, who pitched six solid innings, allowing two runs on six hits and, most importantly, keeping his team in the game.  Bumgarner was mostly overshadowed by Atlanta's Derek Lowe, who pitched magnificently on three days' rest. Lowe carried a no-hitter into the sixth, when Ross led off the frame with a drive that just cleared the left-field wall to tie the game at 1-1. He struck out eight and allowed only three hits, but would ultimately be tagged with his second tough loss of the series.

Back to-back singles followed by back-to-back sacrifice fly balls had earned the Braves the game's first run in the third, and for a time that appeared to be all Lowe would need. Then, after Ross' homer had tied it, Atlanta catcher Brian McCann untied it with a home run of his own to open the bottom of the sixth, a drive to right that cleared a inch or so more space than Ross' had. But Lowe's lead evaporated quickly in the seventh. Huff walked, and Buster Posey dribbled one toward third; Troy Glaus fielded but had no play. The venerable Cox walked slowly to the mound. Lowe passionately pleaded to stay in the game, and Cox finally agreed. But Lowe then walked Pat Burrell to load the bases, and uttered a familiar expletive as he saw Cox emerge from the dugout a second time.  Juan Uribe greeted reliever Peter Moyan with a sharp grounder deep into the hole at short. Alex Gonzalez grabbed it, but his throw to second pulled Omar Infante off the bag as Huff scored. In came lefthander Jonny Venters. He struck out Aaron Rowand, batting for Mike Fontenot, but Ross drilled a clean single to left, scoring Posey for the lead. Atlanta left fielder Matt Diaz then made the play of the game, throwing out Burrell on a bang-bang play at the plate to end the frame, but the Giants had the lead, and they would not lose it.

Bruce Bochy called on Santiago Casilla to open the seventh, and the Giants' least-known pitcher absolutely stifled the Braves over five critical outs before allowing a single to Gonzalez with two down in the eighth. Bochy summoned lefty Javier Lopez, who had struck out Jason Heyward at a similar juncture in Game One. He did it again, as the Braves' rookie fanned for the ninth time in the series. That left everything up to Brian Wilson, and the fearless one battled a battling lineup in the last of the ninth. With one out Wilson lost Rick Ankiel and then Eric Hinske on full-count pitches; he clearly was being careful with the Atlanta lefties. Challenging the right-handed Infante, Wilson got him on a checked-swing third strike, and then former Yankee Melky Cabrera grounded one to Uribe at third, whose long throw was speared by Ishikawa as the celebration began.

In four games the San Francisco starting pitchers-- Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner-- combined for 29 innings pitched, allowing a total of three earned runs (0.93) while striking out 36. Yes, we know Atlanta was without Chipper Jones and Martin Prado. Yes, we know the Phillies have a much stronger lineup than do the Braves.  But we remember the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks and the 2003 Florida Marlins and the 2005 Chicago White Sox, too. There's no limit to what this team can do when these guys are bringin' it, and now we'll see if they can bring the 2010 World Series to San Francisco.   

Monday, October 11, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, at Turner Field in Atlanta last night, and thereby took a 2-1 lead in the National League division series.   

Finally- finally-- FINALLY  the Giants' near-dormant offense rose to the occasion when needed, with a two-run game-winning rally in the ninth that reversed the Braves' own two-run rally an inning earlier. Yes, the winning run scored on a particularly egregious error, and yes, it was another skin-of-the-teeth one-run win, but for the first time in the series the San Francisco lineup actually came to the aid of a pitching staff that's been asked to be nothing short of perfect, all the time. It couldn't have come at a better time, or in a better place, and despite the rampant second-guessing and all-around sloppiness that marked this exciting ballgame, the Giants now stand one game away from the National League Championship Series and a date with the defending league champion Philadelphia Phillies.

So it will be rookie Madison Bumgarner and his 21-year-old left arm carrying the torch for the Giants this evening in Game Four (Turner Field, 7:30 PM EDT). Derek Lowe, who started Game One for the Braves and pitched well in defeat, will oppose on three days' rest. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, who has announced his retirement following this season, is by no means ready to end his legendary career just yet.

This was the best game so far in an extremely tight series. Jonathan Sanchez, who has officially come of age as a top starter in the National League, pitched seven shutout innings, striking out 11 and walking only one. He had a no-hitter into the fifth, and was dominant in the manner of Tim Lincecum three nights before. The only run he got-- and, from the way it appeared through seven, the only run he would need-- scored in the second. Mike Fontenot, playing third in place of Pablo Sandoval, drilled one to deepest right field that ticked off the glove of  a leaping Jason Heyward and caromed off the fence for a stand-up triple. Heyward, momentarily shaken up, fortunately was not injured.  Second baseman Brooks Conrad-- more on him later-- then flubbed a blooper off  the bat of Cody Ross and the Giants had an unearned run. Sanchez had every appearance of making it stand up over nine, but Alex Gonzalez drilled a single for the Braves' second hit with one out in the eighth. Second baseman Conrad then popped up his sacrifice attempt, to a chorus of boos, for the second out, and Cox sent Troy Glaus to the plate to bat for left-handed Rick Ankiel. Bruce Bochy immediately pulled Sanchez in favor of Sergio Romo, who as we all remember had his troubles with this Atlanta lineup two nights ago. Glaus, whose recurring injuries have long since derailed what could have been a Cooperstown career, hasn't hit a lick since the All-Star break; it was his slump, perhaps induced by yet another injury, that obliged Cox to pick up Derrek Lee from the Cubs in August. Sanchez, with 105 pitches in the bank, was still bringin' it, and the only logic behind Bochy's move appears to be that dear old lefty-righty two-step, once again.

Cox countered with Eric Hinske, who sliced one down  the right field line just inside the foul pole for a two-run homer, a blow eerily similar to Scott Spiezio's game-changer from back in the 2002 World Series. The capacity crowd went absolutely nuts, as did the Braves' normally restrained dugout. Sanchez visibly wilted in the Giants' dugout, his own chance at a win long gone and his team's chance in serious jeopardy. Romo, bearing down, got the third out, but in the ninth Atlanta sent out young righty Craig Kimbrel and his 98-MPH fastball. The Giants hadn't been able to touch him in either of the first two games.

Travis Ishikawa, who barely made the postseason roster, pinch-hit for Romo with one out and worked a walk. The Giants, as a rule, don't walk a lot. This particular exception to that rule ultimately tipped the balance for this game, and perhaps for the season. Andres Torres, trying to be patient as well, was overly so, and took a called third strike. Freddy Sanchez quickly fell behind 0-2. With the Giants "down to their last strike," as commentator Dick Stockton had it, Sanchez slapped a grounder up the middle to put the tying run in scoring position. Then it was Cox's turn to do the dance, as he summoned lefty Michael Dunn to face Aubrey Huff. Hitless so far in the series, Huff pulled a humpbacked liner into right-- "Get down! Get down! Get down!"-- which scored Ishi and moved Sanchez to second. Buster Posey hit a sharp one-hopper to the aforementioned Conrad. He tried to short-hop it and instead watched it skip between his legs and on into the outfield as Sanchez scored the go-ahead run. The TV camera panned to the Giants dugout, which was boiling over with excitement, in particular a skinny guy named Lincecum who leaped so high in the air that we held our breath and hoped he wouldn't hurt himself. Brian Wilson allowed a single to Brian McCann in the ninth, but that was it. He got his first postseason save, and the Giants had an exhausting victory.

Both Cox and Bochy made moves that could have, and even should have, cost their respective teams the game. Pulling Sanchez appeared to us, and still appears to us, a hasty move. Gonzalez hadn't hardly crushed his single, the bottom of the order was up, and Glaus is simply not the hitter he used to be. No one disputes the platoon differential exists, but it exists on a larger scale than the individual matchup. Sanchez was the best choice to face Glaus, just as Cain Friday night was the best choice to face Heyward (although Javier Lopez certainly did his job well). The Giants' bullpen has been good this year, but the starters have been better, and as Earl Weaver used to say, it's easier to find one guy who can pitch than several. Cox, for his part, did not have injured Billy Wagner available to close it; Kimbrel was his best choice, and Kimbrel should have been left in to face Huff. There's also Cox's decision to leave the snakebit Conrad in there, rather than using a defensive replacement in the ninth, ostensibly to save a bench player for later, if necessary. The point of this nit-picking paragraph is to caution against the temptation to over-manage, a symptom of the inability to see that you generally are going to win with your best players on the field.     

One thing Bochy did not tamper with was the lineup.  The Giants went with the same guys in the same order as Friday night, except for Fontenot replacing Sandoval. They grounded into only one double play last night, courtesy of Juan Uribe. But one thing Bochy could do is try to remove the DP tendency from the heart of the order, remembering that this club led the league in GIDP this year and that such plays are absolute killers in a series of close, one-run games. Casey Stengel once advised that he never put two slow, right-handed hitters back-to-back in the middle of his lineup because "the double plays will kill you." Right now the Giants don't have two, they have three such hitters in the 4-5-6 spots: Posey, Burrell, and Uribe. While it's unfair to call Posey "slow," exactly, neither would it be true to call him "fast." Burrell and Uribe, of course, are veritable boat-anchors, though Uribe to his credit is quick on his feet in the field. Regardless, it might be worth a try to move Posey up to third, Huff to fourth, and Uribe to seventh with Mike Fontenot sixth. Now, that's a lefty-righty quadrille we might even learn to like.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The San Francisco Giants face the Atlanta Braves in Game Three of their National League division series on Sunday afternoon at Turner Field in Atlanta. Game time is slated for 4:30 PM EDT.

The Giants find themselves needing a win at Atlanta to stay alive in this series. Their brief home-field advantage vanished into the vapor last night, along with a 4-0 sixth-inning lead, as they dropped a tough, tough one to the resilient Braves in 11 innings, 5-4. After utterly dominating the proceedings through 14 scoreless innings pitched, all of a sudden the Giants face the real possibility of elimination if they can't beat the team which holds baseball's biggest statistical home-field advantage, in at least one of the next two games.

It unraveled with stunning suddenness last night. Matt Cain was on cruise control entering the sixth. The Giants had pounced quickly on Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson, scoring three in the first and another in the second. After first Freddy Sanchez and then Buster Posey poked seeing-eye singles through the infield in the first inning, Pat Burrell stepped up and launched Hanson's first pitch halfway to Mendocino, a tremendous bomb into the upper reaches of the left-field bleachers. An inning later, Cain himself slapped a ground ball up the middle to score Cody Ross, who had alertly taken second after left fielder Melky Cabrera stumbled while fielding his single. In the fifth, the Braves had two on with one out, and Cain forced an inning-ending double play ball from standout rookie Jason Heyward. That made 14 straight scoreless innings, and with a 4-0 score few would have been surprised to see the Braves go quietly and hope to regroup on the flight home.

But while the Atlanta club may have been run off the road by Philadelphia's amazing September surge, they themselves never quit fighting down the stretch, nor did they quit last night. In the sixth, Burrell fumbled Derrek Lee's two-out single into a double, and the slugging first baseman scored an unearned run, the Braves' first of the series, on catcher Brian McCann's single. But Cain got out of the jam with no further damage, and nobody figured the Braves would be shut out for the whole series anyway. Even when Bruce Bochy finally relieved Cain with two on and two out in the seventh, lefty Javier Lopez got the job done with a called third strike on the thoroughly befuddled Heyward.

Six outs away. Sergio Romo, opening the eighth, had nothing. Singles by Lee and McCann brought Bochy right back out of the dugout, summoning Brian Wilson for a two-inning save. Ten of Wilson's saves this year required four or five outs, but none needed six, like this one. Quickly, Cabrera laid down a bunt; Pablo Sandoval's throw pulled Aubrey Huff off the first-base bag as Lee crossed the plate. Wilson, bearing down, retired Brooks Conrad, but Alex Gonzalez then smoked one to the wall in left-center, tying the game. Five outs away now-- five outs away from extra innings.

The Giants loaded the bases with one out in the tenth, sparked by Edgar Renteria's pinch-hit leadoff drag-bunt single. A single by Freddy Sanchez and a walk to Huff brought up Buster Posey-- "and tell me, folks, who'd you rather have up here in this kinda situation?" The Braves were tottering again: legendary closer Billy Wagner had been forced from the field with a hip injury after fielding  Renteria's bunt, and Kyle Farnsworth was showing signs of wildness. But he who would eventually be this game's winning pitcher got Posey on an around-the-horn double play, and it went into the eleventh, when former pitcher Rick Ankiel sailed one into McCovey Cove to finally give Atlanta the lead. Farnsworth closed it out in the bottom of the frame, the series was tied, and Giants fans were once again fit to be tied.

That ol' "recurring lack of offense" is back in town. Shut out over the last nine innings of the game, the Giants left four men in scoring position. Simply put, they had a chance to put the Braves away, probably for good, and let it get away. Railing at the bullpen's failure misses the point: the game never should have gotten that close to begin with. As we have said before, no team can win in the playoffs if there is NO margin of error for the pitching staff. We may see a reshuffled starting lineup tomorrow afternoon.

Jonathan Sanchez gets the start Sunday against veteran Tim Hudson. The young lefty's two starts against the Braves this year were unmemorable, though the Giants came back to win one of them. For his part, Hudson pitched a three-hit shutout against the Giants at the 'Bell almost exactly two months ago. He also pitched well against them in April at Turner Field, but got no decision in a game that went 13 innings and, in many ways, was the inverse of last night's debacle.

Erratum: We previously referred to the Braves' leadoff hitter and third baseman as "Carlos" Infante. It's Omar Infante, thankyaverymuch, and while the retiring Bobby Cox would certainly prefer to have Chipper Jones out there, Infante's a good ballplayer and deserves to have his name spelled right.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves, 1-0, at AT&T Park last night to win Game One of their National League division series.

Tim Lincecum pitched a brilliant, complete-game, two-hit shutout, striking out fourteen; without question the zenith of his young career so far. The well-known mantra of  "pitching, pitching, pitching" once again led the 2010 Giants to a crucial victory. 

Buster Posey, naturally enough, scored the only run of the game. Opening the bottom of the fourth with a base hit, Posey took off for second on a full-count pitch to Pat Burrell. Braves catcher Brian McCann fired a good throw to second as Burrell struck out swinging, and Posey slid in awkwardly, bouncing over the bag with his right ankle and then with his posterior. The swipe tag by second baseman Brooks Conrad appeared to be in time, but umpire Paul Emmel called Posey safe. The tag may have missed, or the ump may have missed; but either way Posey was in scoring position. With two out the Braves walked Pablo Sandoval intentionally to get to Cody Ross, and the young outfielder grounded one just past the glove of Carlos Infante at third, on into left field, as Posey came around to score. If Infante had managed to knock the ball down, he had no play, but Posey would have been obliged to stop at third and the Giants would have had the bases loaded with Linccum up. As it happened, this would be the only run Lincecum needed.

Braves starter Derek Lowe pitched pretty well himself, enough to win on most nights, but this night belonged to "The Freak." As strong in the ninth-- after 110 pitches-- as he had been in the first, Lincecum did it with his patented mix of diving, twisting fastballs and sliders, with the occasional changeup tossed in for good measure. Perhaps more than any pitcher in the game, Lincecum keeps hitters off-balance and guessing wrong time after time. A good pitcher can stay ahead of a lineup of good hitters one time, and maybe two times, through the lineup. Lincecum had proven sluggers like Derrek Lee as confused in the ninth as they'd been in the first. Half his strikeouts seemed to be called third strikes, including the beast of a pitch to Lee that ended the game. Though it will be overshadowed by Roy Halladay's epic no-hitter from the night before (only the second such in baseball postseason history, and the first in 54 years) this two-hit one-walk 14-K masterpiece was exactly what the Giants needed to open this series. And it may well have been the greatest postseason pitching debut since Howard Ehmke dominated the Chicago Cubs for the Philadelphia A's back in 1929.

The teams meet again tonight, and it will be Matt Cain taking the baton for the Giants against Atlanta's Tommy Hanson. If you toss out his most recent appearance--that forgettable outing against San Diego last Friday-- Cain has been brilliant down the stretch, with a string of quality starts dating back to August 23. Hanson's only start against San Francisco came in early August, a fine pitchers' duel with Barry Zito that ultimately was resolved in 11 innings. Game time is slated for 6:35 PM PDT (9:35 EDT).

Except for Halladay's historic no-hitter, most of the postseason attention has been focused on the doings over in the American League, where the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees each have won their first two playoff games on the road. Heck, the ALDS could be over as early as tomorrow night. Meanwhile, Halladay's teammates, the Phillies, have a chance to take a 2-0 edge on Dusty Baker's Cincinnati Reds this afternoon, prior to the Giants-Braves matchup.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The San Francisco Giants open their National League division series against the Atlanta Braves tonight at AT&T Park. Game time is slated for 6:35 PM PDT (9:35 EDT).

Ace Tim Lincecum will start for the Giants against the well-traveled veteran, Derek Lowe. The Braves' righthander has faced the Giants twice this year and won both starts. Lincecum split his two decisions against Atlanta, most recently a tough loss on August 5 that served as something of a prelude to his bad month.

The Giants will start Cody Ross in right field and Juan Uribe at shortstop for tonight's opener.  Aaron Rowand, who has the most postseason experience and success of any Giant, is on the 25-man playoff roster  but remains in a reserve role, despite a record of success against Lowe. Likewise the seasoned Edgar Renteria, whom some of us remember all too well from the 1997 NLDS, is on the roster but not starting. One other Giant has extensive postseason experience, but he won't be on the roster. That would be Barry Zito, whose six playoff starts in Oakland did not outweigh his poor down-the-stretch performances this year. Bruce Bochy has indicated that the Giants' fourth starter and potential swingman will be 21-year-old rookie Madison Bumgarner.

"Boch," who as we all know likes to use lots and lots of pitchers, limited himself to "only" 11 for the playoffs. After the Big Three-- Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez-- and Bumgarner, the relief corps features lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, with Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Guillermo Mota, and Santiago Casilla joining closer Brian Wilson. The inclusion of Casilla instead of Zito is the only mild eyebrow-raiser here; all these guys earned their place and then some during that September surge.

Eleven pitchers means five outfielders, not six, and the odd man out is Jose Guillen. Nate Schierholz made it, giving the club a left-handed bat off the bench and excellent defense in the late innings. His lefty bat and superb D also earned Travis Ishikawa a spot. Ishi is also Aubrey Huff's only backup at first, although an argument could be made, and probably has been made, for Pablo Sandoval in that role, which would leave a spot for Guillen. Mike Fontenot joins Renteria for infield depth, and backup catcher Eli Whiteside is the last guy off the bench as usual.

A fair amount of fuss is being made over the presence of the Braves' fine rookie outfielder Jason Heyward and the Giants' Buster Posey squaring off in this series. They faced each other as Georgia high-school all-stars five years ago in the state championship, and here they are again on a much bigger stage. The first two months of the season clearly belonged to Heyward, who made his presence known with an opening-day home run reminiscent of Will Clark's 1986 debut. But over the long haul we claim Posey has been the better player, with comparable totals despite over 100 fewer at-bats. In any case, the Rookie of the Year vote has already been taken, and we won't know the results until well after the postseason is complete. Enough of that.

Rather than subject all of you to our annual rant about too many late-night postseason games, too many late-night freezing-in-the-cold postseason games, and simply too many dawgone postseason games period (how many? As many as 41, thankyaverymuch!), we will simply note without ceremony that the World Series this year is scheduled, for the first time ever, to conclude in November-- unless there is a four-game sweep. Any good news? Well, the NL team gets to host the seventh game for the first time since... well, since a long time ago.

See? We promised we'd behave. And now... (drumroll please)...  GO GIANTS!!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

End of the Regular Season

GIANTS      92-70     ...          GIANTS CLINCH!  
San Diego    90-72     2 GB     Padres miss out on postseason.

Giants defeated San Diego, 3-0, to clinch their seventh National League West division pennant.


Giants have three days off. Their division series against the Atlanta Braves will begin Thursday at 6:37 PM PDT (9:37 EDT) at AT&T Park.

Yesterday's Game
It was about six weeks ago, as we recall, that Jonathan Sanchez boldly predicted the Giants would end up beating the Padres for the NL West pennant, despite what seemed to be solid evidence to the contrary.  Yesterday, Sanchez made good on his boast. He didn't dominate, but he did shut out the Padres for five innings, and he also started a rally which built the Giants a 2-0 lead. That was enough, as it turned out, to bring the title home. Five relievers-- Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and finally Brian Wilson--continued the shutout, allowing but one hit over four innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Buster Posey walloped a home run over the left-field fence, and the sellout crowd went wild with celebration and anticipation. In the ninth, Wilson struck out Will Venable-- son of former Giant Max Venable-- to drive the Golden Spike and, incidentally, tie Rod Beck's team record with his 48th save. Out from the dugout came the Giants in wild melee, converging on the pitcher's mound for the obligatory group-hug-a-thon, and not one of them left the field until he had joined his teammates in circling the perimeter and exchanging high-fives with the fans.

It's all about "pitching, pitching, pitching," we noted when we began this screed five weeks ago, and yesterday's game underscored that truth. Sanchez walked five in five-plus innings, but also stranded five runners in scoring position. On came Bruce Bochy's usual parade of relievers, and while some of us have wondered out loud whether this lefty-righty minuet is really the best way to navigate the late innings, we must acknowledge that out of all its practitioners, Bochy seems to have the best handle on the whole thing. Each reliever did his job this time. The game's biggest play came in the sixth, after Sanchez had walked Ryan Ludwick to put runners on first and second with nobody out. In came Casilla, who got former Giant Yorvit Torrealba to ground one to third. Pablo Sandoval gloved it, stepped on the bag, and fired to second in time to get Ludwick for the rally-killing double play. Then with two on and two out in the seventh, it was Ramirez firing a wicked splitter past dangerous Miguel Tejada for an inning-ending K, ending a nine-pitch at-bat that left the veteran slugger shaking his head in frustration. 

Both Sanchezes-- Jonathan and second baseman Freddy-- figured in the Giants' two-run third-inning outburst against Matt Latos. Pitcher Sanchez drilled the first pitch of the inning into Death Valley in right-center field, legging out a triple. Infielder Sanchez then singled to center for the game's first run, and scored himself on Aubrey Huff's double. It was the Giants' first lead of the entire three-game series, and it held up through the tense moments recounted earlier, until Posey's blast sent the unmistakable message that this team, this day, would not be denied.

The Playoff Picture
Atlanta's win yesterday earned them the wild-card berth once the Giants had won their game. San Diego, six games ahead with a month to play, will watch the postseason on TV. We had presumed the Giants would be facing the Cincinnati Reds in the first round, since the wild-card team generally opposes the division winner with the best regular-season record (in this case, Philadelphia). We forgot, however, that division rivals can only meet in the LCS, not the LDS. So Cincinnati draws the Phillies (gulp), and the Giants get the Braves.  They were 3-4 against Atlanta this season; only one of the seven games was decided by more than three runs.

In the American League, Tampa Bay won the AL East yesterday and the Yankees are the wild-card team. The same intradivisional rules apply, so the Rays will face Texas in the first round while New York opens at Minnesota.

Roll the statistical parade... Wilson led the major leagues in saves, and Lincecum is again the NL strikeout champion. Sanchez was eighth and Cain 16th in K's. Sanchez also led the league in walks, with Barry Zito sixth and Lincecum tenth. Cain, bless his heart, was down to 30th... The Giants' team ERA of 1.78 in September was best since the LA Dodgers of Koufax, Drysdale, & Co. in 1965. That team won the world championship... .That splendid September put the Giants back on top in ERA with a 3.36 mark, the best in baseball... While few Giants are among the league leaders in the big hitting categories, the team as a whole was ninth in runs scored and OBP, seventh in batting average, and sixth in homers. Less attractively, they finished twelfth in strikeouts and thirteenth in walks, which indicates the hitters don't go deep into the count and make the enemy pitcher work. Their K/W ratio also exceeds 2/1...  Individually, Aubrey Huff ranks seventh in the NL with 100 runs scored, sixth with 83 walks, and 18th with 35 doubles... Andres Torres is fourth in doubles (43) and seventh in triples with 8. He also stole 26 bases, tops on the team, while being caught 7 times. That's 79% success... With 18 homers, Pat Burrell is 'way down the list, but he did it in only 289 at-bats, while everyone around him ranges from 386 to 572. Pat's averaging a homer every 16 at-bats, which has to rank near the top... Posey stands at .305/.357/.505. As a catcher, he threw out 23 of 62 base stealers, better than anyone except the magnificent Yadier Molina (33 of 68!) and established catching stars like Miguel Olivo, Russell Martin, and Yorvit. Regarding the Rookie of the Year debate: 'Nuff said!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

GIANTS      91-70     ...          The issue may not be settled today. 
San Diego    90-71     1 GB     

Giants lost again to San Diego, 4-2.

The series finale at AT&T Park; 1:05 PM PDT (4:05 EDT). Jonathan Sanchez against Mat Latos.

Yesterday's Game
Another sellout crowd expecting a pennant-clinching victory went home disappointed. Once again the Giants took themselves out of the game early, and once again it was starting pitching that failed to do the job. Barry Zito walked four men in the three innings he pitched, but the die was cast in the top of the first when he walked in two runs. The Giants pieced together single runs in the seventh and ninth after falling behind 4-0, but we wouldn't exactly call those "rallies." They managed only three hits off rookie starter Tim Stauffer through seven, and  three more off closer Heath Bell in the ninth, but by then Bell was trading bases for outs, and he won that trade with room to spare. The game ended on one of the Giants' league-leading ground-ball double plays.

The Skinny
Obviously the Giants still hold the whip hand in this series. Though they have lost 12 of 17 to San Diego this year, a win today negates all that and earns San Francisco their seventh NL West title. However, if the Atlanta Braves lose again at home to Philadelphia, the Giants will make the playoffs regardless. A loss would then leave them as the NL wild-card, opening at Philadelphia next week. Things only get complicated if the Braves win. One possibility is a three-way tie, which would necessitate two elimination playoffs as we noted yesterday. The Giants might conceivably travel from San Francisco, to San Diego, to Atlanta, and thence to Philadelphia, in four days. Though the score from Atlanta will be posted and perhaps complete by the time the Giants take the field today, it'd be best if Our Boys simply went out and beat these guys one more time.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

GIANTS     91-69    ...           One more win will still do it.
San Diego    89-71     2 GB    They've taken the first step.

Giants lost to San Diego, 6-4.

Giants host San Diego; 1:10 PM PDT (4:10 EDT) at the 'Bell. Barry Zito faces Tim Stauffer. Zito, oddly, has faced the Padres only once this year, back on May 11, and he didn't pitch well, walking seven. Stauffer beat the Giants three weeks ago in his only start against San Francisco.

Last Night's Game
For a change, the Padres didn't do it with pitching, but with hitting. Starter Clayton Richard barely made it through the fifth, but by then his teammates had already chased Matt Cain with three homers and built a 6-0 lead. The Giants rallied back in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings-- the highlight was Aaron Rowand's two-run pinch-hit homer-- but fell short after putting the tyng run on base in the niinth against Padres' closer Heath Bell. Freddy Sanchez was doubled off first on Aubrey Huff's line-drive out, and that pretty much settled it.

The Wild, Wild Card
Atlanta still holds a one-game lead over the Padres for the wild-card spot, even after their 11-5 pounding at the hands of the Phillies last night. Should the Giants do an 'el foldo' this weekend, they could still end up with the wild-card themselves if the Braves likewise collapse. The possibility also exists that all three teams will finish 91-71, in which case the Giants and Padres would play Monday in San Diego for the NL West title, and the loser of that game would play the Braves Tuesday to settle the 'Card. Needless to say, such a situation has never happened before.

Friday, October 1, 2010

GIANTS     91-68    ...           One more win will do it.
San Diego    88-71     3 GB    Must sweep series and win a playoff.

Giants defeated Arizona, 4-1, to sweep the three-game series.
San Diego lost to Chicago, 1-0, giving up the winning run in the ninth inning.

Giants open the three-game series with San Diego that will decide the NL West pennant. Tonight it will be Matt Cain looking to drive the Golden Spike, while Clayton Richard opposes. These two have faced each other three times already this season, with Richard winning twice. (The other game went into extra innings.) This will be Richard's sixth start of the season against San Francisco. While he hasn't made a bad start against the Giants yet, they probably know him as well as they know any pitcher in the league. The downside? He's a lefthander, and the Giants have struggled some against southpaws. Game time is 7:15 PM PDT (10:15 EDT) at AT&T Park.

Yesterday's Game
Madison Bumgarner pitched five solid innings, and the Giants scored all their runs on homers. Buster Posey's two-run shot in gthe sixth, his 17th in 105 games, put the game away, and followed earlier bombs from Pablo Sandoval (13th) and Andres Torres (16th). Though the Giants totaled only six hits, three innings of scoreless relief from Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, and Ramon Ramirez made it all hold up. 

The Weekend
Barry Zito is scheduled to start tomorrow, with two extra days' rest, and Jonathan Sanchez on Sunday. Tim Stauffer will face Zito, and Mat Latos is scheduled to oppose Sanchez. Now, if the Giants win it tonight, these assignments may change as Bruce Bochy rests his starters in anticipation of the postseason. As it stands now, the Giants could open the division series with Lincecum-Cain-Sanchez, all on sufficient rest... San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, their best player, is battling a bad shoulder and is 2 for his last 24... Pablo Sandoval launched one into McCovey Cove yesterday, and Bochy has indicated the 'Panda' will start against Richard. He sat out the last time the Giants faced the lefty... If the Padres manage to sweep this series, the tie-breaker playoff would be played at San Diego.