Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The San Francisco Giants face the St Louis Cardinals in Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis this afternoon. Game time is slated for 3 PM local time (4 PM EDT). The series stands tied at one game apiece after the Giants' rousing 7-1 victory at AT&T Park two nights ago.

As has been iterated, re-iterated, pro-liferated, and ex-pectorated to the point of insanity, what the Giants needed most going into Game Two was a dominating effort by the starting pitcher, a proven way to set things right and restore an air of inevitability to this team's spirit. Monday night, Ryan Vogelsong flat-out delivered. We'd stop short of calling it an overpowering performance, because "overpowering" is not Ryan's style. But inning after inning through seven frames, he was consistently ahead of the hitters, keeping them guessing, off-balance, and reactive. Every other Cardinal at-bat seemed to result in a gentle fly ball to Hunter Pence in medium-deep right, or a sharp grounder to either side of second base. Vogelsong allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven; his only lapse came in the second when a carelessly placed 1-1 pitch was belted over Angel Pagan's head in center by Ryan's opposite number, Chris Carpenter. The two-out double was enough to score Pete Kozma, who had walked, to tie the game, but the tie didn't last long. As it happened, Carlos Beltran was the only Redbird to figure out Vogelsong: he doubled leading off the third but his teammates failed to get the ball out if the infield, his two-out double in the fifth likewise went for naught, and his first-inning walk set up the most-discussed play of the night but gained no runs for his team. Bruce Bochy turned the final two innings over to Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo, and that was that.

For the second time this postseason, Angel Pagan led off with a home run, and just as it did a week ago in Cincinnati, the blast seemed to energize the Giants lineup. Once again it was the fourth inning when things broke open. Brandon Belt, awakening from his slump for sure, doubled with one out but had to hold at third on Gregor Blanco's through-the-hole grounder to left. Carpenter got Brandon Crawford on a comebacker but made an awkward lob wide of first; Allen Craig trapped it to limit the damage but Belt scored to break the 1-1 tie. Exactly as he did a week ago, Vogelsong then laid down a sacrifice to advance the runners, and as before it paid off big-time. Carpenter had to have that sinking feeling as he threw four straight balls to the free-swinging Pagan to load 'em up, and then Marco Scutaro limped painfully to the plate and ripped a two-RBI single to left. It was 4-1 as Matt Holliday charged the ball, and then it was 5-1 as Holliday overran the ball to a cacaphony of jeers and insults from the sold-out crowd, who had seen quite enough of the Cardinals' left fielder already.

Holliday's first-inning takeout slide into Scutaro, which successfully broke up a double-play attempt, falls somewhere in between a 'normal' hard-nosed play and a true 'cheap shot' (ref. Scott Cousins). Most Giants acknowledged Holliday had no intent to injure, but few seemed willing to just 'let it go' either. The collision appeared to have twisted Scutaro's leg up high, near the hip joint; though in obvious pain he was still well enough to deliver the game's key hit in the fourth, but as time went on his mobility got worse and Ryan Theriot replaced him in the top of the sixth. True to form, it was Theriot who delivered the coup de grace, a two-run single in the eighth that completed the night's scoring. Though X-rays and MRI seem to indicate no serious injury, Scutaro's status for today's game remains uncertain and the fallout from all this may not yet have settled. Holliday's first at-bat today against Matt Cain might be instructive as to the Giants' collective mindset.

Cain has had five day's rest since last Thursday's clincher in Cincinnati, and the big guy has flourished this year on extra rest. If Cain can pull a "Vogelsong" and go deep into the game, that will give the lineup confidence against sixteen-game-winner Kyle Lohse, who at 34 has had the best season of his career. One of these NLCS games is bound to be a pitchers' duel; our money's on this one.

The Detroit Tigers hold a 3-0 lead over the New York Yankees as the teams square off in Detroit tonight. CC Sabathia will attempt to prevent the sweep, but if his snakebit teammates don't start to hit a little, it may not matter... Kudos to Brandon Crawford for not emulating Ozzie Smith in that emotionally-charged first inning. Holliday had no need to fear a cowardly blow to the back of the head... The Bochmeister remains mum on a Game Four starter, because he has the advantage of using Tim Lincecum in relief today if Cain falters. Even if "Boch" doesn't use Lincecum in such an eventuality, he's making Mike Matheny think about it, and that's what managers do... Quiet congratulations to Aubrey Huff, who has reached base in both of his NLCS pinch-hitting appearances and who scored a run last night... Rain is in the forecast for today's game, which may become tonight's game as a result. As a rule, baseball hates to postpone post-season games. Anyone else old enough to remember Game Four of the 1977 NLCS, with commissioner Bowie Kuhn sitting defiantly, arms folded, as a regular deluge fell upon old Veterans' Stadium in Philadelphia and the game went on?

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