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.

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