Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the St Louis Cardinals, 9-0, at AT&T Park last night, and won the National League Championship Series, four games to three. WHOOP! WHOOP!

Rallying from a three-games-to-one deficit to win in seven, these Giants may have pulled off the most one-sided turnaround of any series ever. In the last three games they outscored St Louis 20-1, and when you add in the three-game back-from-the-dead rally against Cincinnati in the division series, the Giants have now won six consecutive games in which they faced immediate elimination. To top it off, Game Seven by rule has been a death trap for the franchise since the World Series of 1924; this is the first Game Seven ever to be won by the Giants, whether in San Francisco or in New York, and they did it in the middle of a sudden ninth-inning rainstorm that bothered fans and players not one bit.

Speaking of World Series, it will be the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers in the 108th rendition of the Fall Classic, beginning tomorrow night at the 'Bell. The two venerable franchises have over 200 years of baseball history between them, but have never met in the Series. Until now.

While Matt Cain earned his second win of the postseason and carried a shutout deep into the sixth inning, and while the bullpen-- principally Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo-- preserved both win and shutout, last night truly belonged to the no-name heroes of the Giants' lineup, to guys like Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt and Gregor Blanco and, of course, to the 2012 NLCS MVP, Marco Scutaro. Evidently feeling no pain at all from his twisted hip suffered in the collision with Matt Holliday a week ago, "Scoot" finished at an even .500, with 14 hits including three doubles, six runs scored, and 4 RBI. If there was a play to be made, he made it-- including Holliday's infield popup that settled into his glove shortly after 8 PM local time for the final out. This guy wasn't even on the roster at the All-Star break, and he arrived unnoticed by everyone except his teammates; after all, media attention was focused on the LA Dodgers and their blockbuster multi-player pennant-chasing deal with Boston. That's why his teammates call him "Blockbuster," and there's no more apt tribute to the Giants and the way they approach, and win, this magnificently frustrating game.

It was over quickly. Kyle Lohse had dodged a few bullets back in Game Three and escaped with a no-decision; last night's fusillade drove him to a loss in just two innings. In the first, singles by Angel Pagan and the inevitable Scutaro produced a run on Pablo Sandoval's tricky comebacker, which Lohse sensibly converted to a fielder's choice. Blanco singled and took second on a slow grounder in the second; Cain himself punched a two-out single into center for the third Giant pitcher's RBI of the series and a 2-0 lead. Then came the eleven-batter, reality-defying third, which seemed to encapsulate the Giants' whole postseason (and may have caused a brief drop in attendance at AA functions back in the Gateway City).

It started off with Scutaro, or as we like to call him, "single to left." Sandoval boomed an opposite-field double down the line; Holliday's alert fielding held Scutaro at third. Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist went out either to encourage Lohse or to stall for time; regardless, Lohse walked Buster Posey on a 3-2 pitch and Mike Matheny went and got him. Reliever Joe Kelly entered the lions' den and was greeted by one of the most bizarre occurrences ever seen on a baseball field. Willing to trade a run for a double-play ball, Kelly got his wish as Hunter Pence chopped a grounder toward short, his bat shattering as he made contact. The flying head of the bat, severed from its handle, struck the ball twice more as the various objects sailed across the infield. Pete Kozma, who had instinctively taken a step to his right at the crack, suddenly saw the ball curve past him to his left and roll out to center field where Jon Jay, perhaps fearing radioactivity, overran it. All three runners scored and Pence stood at second, beneficiary of the most unlikely double ever seen around these parts. Brandon Belt's bouncer up the middle was deflected by the well-intentioned Kelly away from both Kozma and Daniel Descalso; all hands safe. Blanco walked to load the bases a second time. Brandon Crawford grounded one behind second; Kozma made the stop but had no play as Pence scored. Loaded again, and still nobody out. Kelly then fanned Cain, and Pagan hit another one to Kozma, who lobbed to Descalso, whose throw to first was late as Belt scored. Scutaro, up for the second time, walked to load 'em yet again, and after Matheny brought Jose Mijares in as the inning's third pitcher, Sandoval lined one to Allen Craig at first to end it.

The remainder of the game was devoted primarily to speculation about how long Cain would stay in-- "NO!" he bellowed at Bruce Bochy as the latter came out to relieve him with two on and two out in the sixth-- and whether the Cardinals would score at all, and how many times Joe Buck and Tim McCarver would remind us of that nine-run comeback at Washington, and, as the ninth inning approached, whether the San Francisco mist would turn to rain and dampen or, worse, delay the impending festivities. The bottom of the seventh saw Aubrey Huff ground into a run-scoring double play, and ended with Angel Pagan thrown out at the plate; an inning later Belt absolutely crushed a Jason Motte fastball high over the right-field wall and onto the promenade. The drizzle evolved into a downpour as Javier Lopez gamely tried to end the affair; slopping around on the mound, he sandwiched two outs between two walks and "Boch" called for Romo. The deluge continued as groundskeepers spread Turface on the mound and Mike Matheny stood stone-faced and soaking wet on his dugout steps. Had the game been close, Matheny and his team would have deserved, and likely gotten, a rain delay. Instead, Romo got Holliday on the popup and the Giants began singin' in the rain.

It will be Justin Verlander for the Tigers tomorrow night, and probably Barry Zito for the Giants. Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner have both been mentioned as possibilities for Game Two, which would leave Ryan Vogelsong and Cain to start games in Detroit. The Tigers swept the New York Yankees in four straight while allowing less than a run per game; their starting quartet (Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer) has a collective rep similar to that of the 2010 Giants. Yes, the fearsome foursome are rested and ready, unlike the Giants, but we get the feeling that won't matter much. Who in his right mind, at this point, given all that's gone down over the last two weeks, would risk his hard-earned cash betting against the San Francisco Giants, champions of the National League?    

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