Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals, 7-1, in Game One of the World Series last night at Kauffmann Stadium.

There is no guaranteed formula for winning a baseball game, but if you wanted to devise one, it might go like this: score three runs in the first inning, then hand the ball over to Madison Bumgarner. That right there was enough to ensure the Giants' seventh consecutive World Series win, and to snap the red-hot Royals' postseason winning streak at eight. "Bum" allowed three hits over seven innings, walking one and striking out five, and just as he did five days ago in the NLCS clincher against St Louis, he got stronger as the game went on. And the Giants' lineup continued its late trend, which is to break out early, take the lead, and keep swinging. Bruce Bochy's team made it through one postseason series and most of another with just enough runs to win. If the Giants keep scoring six or seven runs a game now, this Series might not survive the upcoming weekend.

The first-inning eruption came at the expense of KC starter James Shields, whose postseason struggles (7.11 ERA) present yet another dilemma going forward for manager Ned Yost. It actually could have been worse. Gregor Blanco, who despite a .170 mark is becoming a force in this postseason, opened the game with a single to center. Buster Posey singled to right with one out, runners at the corners. Pablo Sandoval, who is really becoming a force in this postseason, ripped a double down the right field line. Blanco trotted home, but a fine relay-- Nori Aoki to Omar Infante to catcher Salvador Perez-- got Posey at the plate for the third time this October. Hunter Pence then sat back on a 3-2 fastball and drilled it 413 feet over the wall in right center. Good old Doctor Longball's latest house call made it 3-0, and Brandon Belt did his best to keep it going with the Giants' fifth hit of the frame, but Shields struck out Mike Morse to escape further damage.

The reprieve was short-lived; Shields never got into a rhythm and would be gone by the fourth. Bumgarner, meanwhile, started off as he had the last time-- plenty of stuff, but searching for command. The Royals are a lot like the Anaheim Angels of 2002 in one respect: while they put the ball in play and don't walk much, they do work the count, fouling off pitches until they get the one they want. We saw this in the first after Lorenzo Cain was hit on the foot by a Bumgarner pitch he barely tried to avoid. Slugger Eric Hosmer stepped in; "Bum" had already thrown 15 pitches and Cain had fouled off five. Hosmer jumped on a 94-MPH fastball and whacked it to deepest right-center, a sure double in most parks against most teams-- but Blanco (a force, remember) ran it down with a tremendous effort that Yost later recalled in his postgame interview. Saved for the moment anyway, Bumgarner was not yet out of trouble. Leading off the bottom of the third Brandon Crawford couldn't handle Omar Infante's grounder up the middle, and Mike Moustakas, there to add a little punch in the nine-spot, did so with a sharp double into the corner in right. Pence played the carom perfectly, as though he'd grown up at Royals Stadium, and his throw held Infante at third. Top of the order now, "Bum" in a pickle, the crowd going wild as their Royals were on the verge of doing what they've done all month. Seven strikes later, the fury had abated as both Alcides Escobar and Aoki batted the breeze; the last a 67-MPH curve that seemed to flop  down in front of the plate as Aoki flailed at it.  That brought up Cain, and "Bum" appeared to flinch after a loud foul, walking the bases loaded and bringing up Hosmer as the crowd resumed full howl. The book says you take the first pitch after a walk; Hosmer, writing his own material, grounded meekly to Joe Panik. Having survived the toughest defensive situation in baseball without allowing a run, Bumgarner was in no mood to continue the charade. He retired the next twelve batters he faced, from the fourth through the seventh, and the home crowd gradually became graveyard-whispering quiet as the snoozefest went on.

Having turned back KC's most promising rally, the Giants promptly added two runs to remove the remaining drama from the game. Pence (2-for-3 with two walks, two runs, two RBI) doubled to open the fourth. Rattled, Shields flung one past catcher Perez, advancing Pence to third; that was ball three to Belt anyway and ball four soon followed. Morse ripped a RBI single to left and that was all for Shields. Yost chose his fifth starter, lefty Danny Duffy, to pick up the pieces and, he hoped, save his bullpen. Well, he got one of his wishes. As Duffy warmed up, we entertained the living-room throng with a digression dating back to the days of Robb Nen and Dusty Baker. There are pitchers, we said, who thrive on the edge, who come in with men on base and the house on fire and love to save the day. Then there are those who prefer to start an inning fresh, nobody on and nobody out. It's critical, we opined, that a manager know which type each of his relievers is, and we added that Bruce Bochy most certainly does know, which is one key to his bullpen success. Now Duffy, who started 25 games this year, we believe would have preferred to open the fourth or wait until the top of the fifth, based on subsequent events. To greet Duffy, "Boch" pulled a late-inning trigger, sending up Juan Perez to bat for Travis Ishikawa. Knowing "Bum" had a 4-0 lead with a good chance for more, Bochy was already inserting his defensive specialist into the game, in the fourth inning. And Perez, an accomplished bunter, did just that, moving the runners up, second and third with one out. Now, Duffy may have preferred to walk Crawford on 3-2 rather than challenge him, but with the bases loaded he all of a sudden found the strike zone elusive. Blanco, who has walked six times in 47 ABs this postseason, drew the RBI base-on-balls with only five pitches. It was 5-0 and the wheels were wobbling; they stayed on thanks mostly to Duffy himself, who got Panik and Posey to end the inning. He then settled down and pitched his game over the fifth and sixth, retiring all six and keeping KC in it a while longer.

Seeing Blanco again to open the seventh evidently brought back bad memories for our friend Duffy; Blanco drew his second walk of the night. Joe Panik followed with s scorcher to right center that bounded past Aoki for a RBI triple and brought in another lefty, Tim Collins. He too found trouble quickly; Sandoval's second hit and second RBI of the night, followed by a wild pitch and a walk to Pence. Then, like his predecessor, Collins righted the ship and got the final two outs without incident. In the bottom of the frame, Bumgarner was cruising along when Perez got hold of a 1-2 fastball and belted it into the Giants' bullpen for the Royals' first and only run. After eight shutout innings against Texas in Game Four 2010, and seven shutout innings in Game Two 2012, and six and two-thirds shutout innings tonight, "Bum's" World Series scoreless streak of 21-2/3 was already the second-longest in history, behind only Giant Hall-of-Fame legend Christy Mathewson's 28. "Matty," who pitched three complete-game shutouts in the 1905 Series, remains safe for now. Perez' homer ended the streak, and Bumgarner's night was over after he completed the seventh. Javier Lopez allowed a hit in the eighth that was quickly wiped out by a double play-- executed smartly enough to double up the speedy Aoki, by the way-- and for the ninth out came Hunter Strickland.  The "Four Homer Kid" has spent the last week working on his timing and his motion; there was concern he was tipping his pitches. Strickland's one-out confrontation with lefty slugger Hosmer was the acid test: it resulted in neither a tape-measure home run nor an emphatic strikeout, but a routine grounder on a 2-2 pitch. Pinch-hitter Josh Willingham then struck out on a nasty curveball to end it. Welcome back, kid.  

Jake Peavy takes the mound for the Giants tonight against 23-year-old Yordano Ventura. Roll out the hoariest cliches you can find, people; it's the flame-throwing youngster, winner of 14 in his first full season, against the archetypal wily veteran, who's lost miles off his fastball but gained savvy, poise, and mental toughness in its place. (Oh, Lord, we're already goin' off the rails.) Interestingly, despite his 100-MPH heat Ventura didn't come close to a record strikeout rate; he fanned 159 in 183 innings, which is excellent but not newsworthy. He did also walk 69 men in those 183 innings, which gave the league a .308 OBP against him. He averaged six innings per start and didn't complete a game; of course, if we had the Royals' bullpen we wouldn't let him complete any games, either. And he was outstanding against the Angels in the division series two weeks ago, though he didn't fare as well against Baltimore. As with Shields, his teammates picked him up.

They'll need to do the same tonight. We'll say it: if the Giants win this game tonight, they will win this World Series, and they will win it in San Francisco, before the home crowd for the first time. The only chance at a "classic" series rests on the shoulders of the Kansas City Royals tonight. As the Giants do and have done, again and again, they have gotten off first-- literally, in the first inning last night, and in this first game, as they have done all postseason and in every postseason series since the 2012 NLCS. KC's best chance depends on getting to Peavy early and getting him out of there, establishing their aggressive hit-and-run game from the start. So far, the band is playing the Giants' tune, and we've already seen how that one ends up. When, or whether, it will conclude with a third world championship in five years will become apparent about twelve hours from now.



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