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. 

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