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!

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