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. 

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