Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The San Francisco Giants face the Kansas City Royals in Game Seven of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium in Independence, Mo., tonight. Game time is slated for 7 PM local time (8 PM EDT). The Royals evened the Series emphatically last night with a 10-0 blowout win.

As many had predicted going in, this World Series has now gone the distance. The two teams have showcased their brand of baseball on different nights, and for the 36th time in World Series history there will be a winner-take-all finale. It hasn't been a classic Series, exactly-- there's only been one close game, and the one come-from-behind rally turned into a rout-- but it's been entertaining, and neither team has been cheated or forced out of its style of play for long. Totally unlike the two other World Series of the Giants' Bruce Bochy era, this one has been an ongoing test of strengths and weaknesses for both sides. Now one more test remains.

There's little to say about last night's game, Sadly, Jake Peavy's tendency to pitch to contact is exactly what the Royals thrive upon, and their seven-run second-inning explosion is a perfect model of their style. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas opened the frame with single-single-double, the first two hit softly and the third hit hard, all early in the count. It set the pattern. Yusmeiro Petit began warming up, Dave Righetti visited the mound, and Peavy fanned Omar Infante on a couple of nasty cutters. With second and third, one out, a tough spot, Peavy made his pitch to Alcides Escobar, who grounded meekly to first. Brandon Belt looked Perez back to third, but looked a little too long-- Escobar, running down the line, dodged Belt's awkward swipe-tag and was safe, to load 'em up. In came the infield, and Nori Aoki fouled off four pitches before slicing a cue shot through short. Only one run scored, but this was the signature hit of the inning, and the game.

That was it for Peavy, an inning and a third. Petit made his third appearance of the postseason-- but his first with inherited runners on base. Whether or not that was the reason, he was a different pitcher this time. Lorenzo Cain blooped one that dropped in front of Gregor Blanco in center-- running at the crack with one out, both Moustakas and Escobar scored. Hosmer doubled to center, scoring Aoki and Cain, and Billy Butler finished off the barrage with another double, Hosmer scoring the seventh run. Five were charged to Peavy, two to Petit, and the game was essentially over.

Yordano Ventura, making his second Series start, was inconsistent early, and he nearly let the Giants right back in it in the third by walking the bases loaded with one out. Buster Posey, thirsting for the big hit, first-pitch grounded into an inning-ending double play. Taking heart, the young Ventura settled down and finished with seven three-hit innings, the walks his only blemish, and got his first post-season win. He'll likely earn many more.

Jean Machi pitched three innings, thankfully taking one for the team and allowing single runs in the third and fifth. Hunter Strickland gave up his obligatory homer, to Moustakas, concluding the scoring, and Ryan Vogelsong contributed one inning. These guys saved the Giants' bullpen for needed duty tonight, and other than two double plays turned by the infield, that's about all for Giants positives on this Royal-blue night in Kansas City.

The seesaw nature of this series continued. After being outscored 16-4 over the last two games, and held scoreless for 14 consecutive innings, the KC lineup was due to break out, and the Giants, who'd gotten a hit every time they needed one two games in a row, fell silent for the first time since Game Two. The fragile nature of the Giants' starting "rotation"-- which amounts to Madison Bumgarner and a lot of hope-- is perhaps the most worrying issue we face as Game Seven looms. 

Tim Hudson is scheduled to start his second game of the Series, and if it's anything like his first start, the Giants should win the game and the championship. But we all know that's a mighty big "if." Peavy didn't exactly rock the house in Game Two, but he did carry a 2-2 game into the fifth. Last night, in his second start, he was in trouble from the get-go, and showed it. "Huddy" is less likely to reveal his emotions, but he too tends to pitch to contact-- and hittable balls low in the zone are at the top of the Kansas City menu along with barbecued ribs. The Giants will face Jeremy Guthrie again, whose Game Three effort was similar to Peavy's in Game Two-- except that Guthrie's relief got him out of his sixth-inning jam. Strangely enough, the home field may give Guthrie little advantage; he benefited most nicely from the ample confines of the 'Bell.

There is no indication Bruce Bochy will substitute Madison Bumgarner for Hudson, starting the ace on two days' rest. But there is every indication "Bum" will fill a Randy Johnson role, ready to come in on short notice as the Big Unit did in Game Seven of the 2001 Series, and work his way to a win.   

This, That, and Th' Other
When we think of ace lefties and Game Seven on two days' rest, we think of Sandy Koufax, shutting out Minnesota on three hits in the 1965 Series, and we think of the Cardinals' John Tudor, winner of Games One and Four, getting lit up by the George Brett-era Royals in this very park in 1985, KC's only world championship...  Much of the pregame fodder last night centered on Game Six and its amazing pedigree. There's Carlton Fisk's twelfth-inning body english in 1975, Reggie Jackson's three-pitcher three-pitch consecutive home run barrage in 1977 (we heard both those amazing moments over the radio while at work in San Francisco's Marina district), Bill Buckner's through-the-legs agonizer from 1986, and David Freese's Series-turning walk-off homer in 2011. Then, of course, they had to bring up Dusty Baker handing the game ball to Russ Ortiz in the seventh inning of Game Six, 2002, holding a 5-0 lead. And people wonder why baseball folk tend toward superstition!

Of course, the most replayed Game Six moment of all around these parts is Jorge Orta's infield single in the ninth inning of the 1985 Series, in which he was called safe by umpire Don Denkinger despite plain evidence he was out. Many believe this cost the Cardinals the Series, which is utter nonsense. Orta was the leadoff hitter and he represented the tying run. Following Denkinger's honest mistake, to which he has always owned up like the class act he is, the Cardinals, quite simply, collapsed, a team-wide choke job that carried over to the next day's 11-0 massacre. Recounting that ninth inning may help us get our mind off last night's debacle, so here goes. With Orta on first, Steve Balboni stood in, a double-play candidate if ever there was one. Instead, he singled to center. Jim Sundberg then flubbed a bunt attempt, giving the Cards a gift as they got the lead runner at third. One pitch could end the Series now; instead catcher Darrell Porter allowed a passed ball, both runners moving into scoring position. (If you're looking for the one play that cost St Louis the game, folks, that was it.)  Todd Worrell then had to load the bases with an intentional walk, and Dane Iorg's two-run single won it. If you really think all of that is Don Denkinger's fault, you are in serious need of mental help.

The "Denkinger play" is similar, in fact and in legend, to "Snodgrass' Muff," the fly ball which, dropped by center fielder Fred Snodgrass, is alleged to have cost the New York Giants the 1912 Series. As with Orta, Clyde Engle, who hit the fly ball, was leading off the inning, and like the '85 Cards, the Giants were ahead by a run, and in both cases the error represented the tying run. Many mistakes had to follow for that game to be lost, and they did. Principally those mistakes were made by the greatest of all pitchers, Christy Mathewson, who was also dog-tired and perhaps trying too hard. Harry Hooper followed the "muff" by crushing a drive to deepest center, over 400 feet; Snodgrass hauled it in Willie Mays-style but Engle was able to tag up and advance to third. Matty, who rarely walked anyone, walked Steve Yerkes, perhaps pitching around him to set up a double play. Tris Speaker popped one up in foul territory wide of first, but Mathewson called off Fred Merkle and Chief Myers, the catcher, couldn't get there in time. Given the reprieve, Speaker singled in the tying run. On the late throw home Yerkes took third and Speaker, critically, took second. Matty had to walk Duffy Lewis to set up the force, but he couldn't get Larry Gardner to hit one on the ground. Instead, Gardner lifted a fly ball to right, deep enough to score Yerkes with the Series-winning run. Snodgrass' legacy is that both runs were unearned thanks to his error, but as you can plainly see, his teammates gave him plenty of help in losing that game, in perhaps the greatest World Series ever played.

Well, this little jaunt down Out-Of-Memory-Lane has kept us from ruminating on all the Game Sevens the Giants have faced down throughout history (hint: all of them ended badly until the arrival of "Boch"), and you know that can't be bad.  

This is our fiftieth year of Giants fandom. After decades of discouragement, we had abandoned all hope of ever seeing our beloved boys win a world championship. Now, our guys have won two in four years, and are one win from a third in five years. As die-hard fans, we have been blessed beyond all measure, and win or lose tonight, we know this team, at this time, has been more than worthy of our unfailing devotion. It's been a great, and unexpected, season, and now's the time to finish it, with one more win!


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