Sunday, October 12, 2014

The San Francisco Giants defeated the St Louis Cardinals, 3-0, in Game One of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis last night.

Madison Bumgarner pitched seven and two-thirds innings of four-hit shutout ball, striking out seven and walking one. He extended his personal postseason scoreless-inning streak in road games to 26-2/3, an arcane but remarkable record dating back to the 2010 NLCS at age 21. His "Road Warrior" persona was the talk of the postgame shows, where experts engage in the now-familiar routine of trying to explain how the Giants win so many games in October. It's now twelve out of their last thirteen, with a chance to put a hammerlock on the series tonight.

Uncharacteristic errors by the Cardinals' infielders led to three Giants runs early on, and doomed Adam Wainwright to the loss, although he pitched well, escaping several jams in four and two-thirds innings of work. He didn't have his good stuff, and was touched for six hits and three walks, but he and four relievers kept St Louis in the game until Santiago Casilla finally got the last out in the ninth for his third save this postseason. Indeed, the same lineup and batting order Bruce Bochy used in the Washington series was deployed here last night, and thanks primarily to Pablo (3-for 4 with a walk) Sandoval and the nearly-forgotten man, Travis Ishikawa (2-for 3), that lineup delivered, once again, just enough to win despite stranding, you guessed it, ten baserunners.

Sandoval opened the second with a bomb to deepest right that Randall Grichuk gloved with a leap at the wall, but lost after a collision with said wall. Hunter Pence worked Wainwright for a walk, and Brandon Belt dropped a blooper just over short, enough only to move everyone up and load the bases. Wainwright struck out Brandon Crawford for the first out; then, looking for the inning-ending double play, yielded Ishikawa's chip shot into shallow left, Sandoval scoring, bases still loaded. After a strikeout, Gregor Blanco grounded to third, which should have ended it, but reliable Matt Carpenter simply booted the ball as Pence scored and all hands were safe. Wainwright then got Joe Panik on a comebacker, and the Giants had left 'em loaded again-- but for a change, they'd also plated two runs.

"Bum" had enough to make that stand up, but he got another assist in the third. Once again the Giants opened with back-to-back singles (Buster Posey and Pence), and this time Wainwright got the double-play grounder he needed. But second baseman Kelton Wong fumbled the exchange with shortstop Jhonny Peralta; the latter made a quick forceout at second to get one, but left men at first and third. Belt's fly ball to center, which ought to have ended the inning, instead became a RBI sacrifice fly as Posey scored standing up.

That was pretty much it. The Cardinals' bullpen picked up Wainwright ably, allowing only three baserunners over the final four-plus innings. Meanwhile Bumgarner cruised his way into the seventh before a hint of trouble arose. The seventh inning is when the Cardinals came back--twice-- against Clayton Kershaw; in fact St Louis had trailed in all three of their wins against LA before rallying late. Thus when Yadier Molina and Jon Jay hit back-to-back one-out singles in the seventh, the crowd came alive and "Boch" sent Dave Righetti out for a chat with "Bum." Eager to atone, Wong hit a push-'em-up grounder wide of first; Belt's toss to Bumgarner was gloved by the lanky pitcher just as the speedy Wong charged past him to the bag. "Bum" slapped a thigh-tag just before the two tangled legs on the basepaths, neither losing his balance; ump Bill Welke immediately made the "out" call, but to the crowd and the Cardinal bench it looked an awful lot like obstruction. Matheny protested to no avail; the clean tag had made the later contact irrelevant. If there was ever a time for Bumgarner to get a bit rocky, it was this moment, with second and third and pinch-hitter Tony Cruz up. "Bum" may have been a bit distracted when he subsequently stepped off after tapping his lead foot; Molina, Matheny, and both base coaches pointed and screamed "BALK" but no balk was called. What very well could have been the Cardinals' first run soon went a-glimmering as "Bum" fanned Cruz to put another goose-egg on the scoreboard.

Hardly fazed by the late events, Bumgarner batted for himself in the eighth, got the first two outs in the bottom of the frame, then unprotestingly yielded to Sergio Romo, who retired the dangerous Matt Holliday. Casilla needed only twelve pitches to dispense with the Cardinals in the ninth, and there you have it.  When your main points of postgame contention are two phantom judgment calls, you know you've been dominated, and to a man the Cardinals indeed knew it. Bumgarner threw 112 pitches, stayed absolutely calm except for a quick flash of anger when he walked Peralta, and shrugged off controversy afterward. "It was close, no doubt about it," he replied when asked by FOX's Erin Andrews, "but I don't think that I balked." Asked if he'd seen the replay, he grinned. "Nope. haven't seen it yet." Something tells us he won't bother.  It's in the past, and there may yet be a fifth game in this series and another start for Bumgarner.

Jake Peavy starts for the Giants against Lance Lynn tonight in Game Two (7 PM CDT, 8 PM EDT at Busch). Starting  lineups have not yet been announced. Here at Autumn Acres we were speculating whether Michael Morse might bat for Bumgarner leading off the eighth, but that didn't happen. Morse may get the start in left tonight, but other than that we expect little change as long as the Giants keep winning. There's a lot Bochy has in common with the great Earl Weaver-- he rides his starting pitchers, he uses the whole lineup, he works the platoon advantage, albeit in a different way-- but "Boch" also seems a firm believer in the "If it ain't broke don't fix it" motto. As long as the Giants keep winning, he'll keep dancin' with the gal what brung 'im-- and right now, the San Francisco Giants are, indeed, winning. No need to change that!

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