Monday, October 3, 2016

  W L GB
New York 87 75 - Syndergaard starts Wednesday.
St Louis 86 76 1 Matheny's postseason streak ends.

Giants defeated LA, 7-1, to sweep the series and clinch the wild-card berth.
New York lost at Philadelphia, 5-2, the only loss by any of these three clubs all weekend.
St Louis defeated Pittsburgh, 10-4, but fell one game short.

Giants defeated LA, 3-0, as rookie Ty Blach outdueled Clayton Kershaw.
New York defeated Philadelphia, 5-3, to clinch the top wild-card spot. 
St Louis defeated Pittsburgh, 4-3.

A day of rest. No one-game playoffs to determine the wild-card finalists in either league.

The Weekend
What a bonanza! Not even the most optimistic Giants fan could have expected it would work out this way. Even those blindly confident of a sweep could not have imagined rookie Ty Blach would out-pitch Clayton Kershaw as he did Saturday, and few indeed could have foreseen the Giants' lineup using Kenta Maeda for batting practice as they did yesterday. But he did, and they did, and we're going to the postseason with our San Francisco Giants! And if the road ahead looks steep-- and indeed it does-- remember that the Giants went forth in 2014 with an 88-74 record, one game better than this year's, against a nemesis ballclub in their home park. And that one worked out fairly well. This one? It could be over two days from now, a week from now, or it could last until the week before the election. 

Saturday's game kicked off with the New York and St Louis games in progress and both contenders winning. But if Ty Blach felt any pressure, he disguised it as confidence. The rookie southpaw allowed three singles and a walk, with only one Dodger reaching scoring position, struck out six, and went 2-for-3 against Kershaw!  Angel Pagan's leadoff homer in the fifth broke a 0-0 tie, and the Giants' two runs in the seventh were set up by a grievous throwing error from Justin Turner. Pagan again had opened the frame with a single, came all the way around from first to score on the error, and Gordon Beckham got his first-- and last-- Giants RBI with a sacrifice fly. Charged with two earned runs, with one unearned, Kershaw left after that inning.  Blach turned his gem over to Sergio Romo for a quick, ten-pitch ninth, and the Giants walked off knowing they had, at a minimum, forced a tie and potential playoff for the last wild-card spot. For their part, LA lost the chance to take home-field advantage from Washington in the upcoming NLDS. 

More than any one event in the game, it was a slow, building excitement as fans realized young Blach was proving equal to the task. He made it through the lineup once, then twice; he got a thin one-run lead; he made it through the late innings, and as he remained in the game even after Kershaw had left it, the 41,320 in attendance fully realized what they were seeing and let loose with an extended  roar of approval. Blach finished with 99 pitches, his first career win, and, we hope, a place on Bruce Bochy's postseason roster.

Sunday, it was "Mercurial Matt" Moore, the third lefty starter of the three games, and as always we wondered which Matt Moore we would see. "Good Matt" is the guy who nearly no-hit these Dodgers at Chavez Ravine; "Bad Matt" was on display right here just ten days ago, as the same LA ballclub sent him packing after one disastrous inning.  Well, it was "Good Matt" all right, but "Good Matt" was only necessary for about two innings, because by then the Giants had given him a 5-0 lead. Denard Span opened the first inning with a single, Brandon Belt followed with a double, and Buster Posey scored both with a single to right. In the second Joe Panik singled, Conor "Man On Fire" Gillaspie doubled, and Moore grounded back to the box, sacrificing Panik who had unwisely broken for the plate. But Span followed with a triple past Yasiel Puig in right, and Posey delivered his third RBI of the game with another single to make it 5-0. Moore had a no-hitter through four; the Dodgers touched him for all three of their hits and their only run in the fifth, and then it was 13 straight retired after that. Four more singles and some defensive comedy in the Dodger outfield plated two more Giants runs in the eighth, at which we texted, "We're putting 'em to rout! Post-season, here we come!" And after Sergio Romo allowed a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Andre Ethier in the ninth, it was a three-step walk to that post-season door. Rob Segedin's two-out fly ball settled into Pagan's glove in left, and the celebration began in earnest.

Like tule fog rising up out of the swamps and dry beds and the cracks in the earth, sleepy and slow, first dreamily swirling its soft tendrils around your ankles and then rising, thickly, enveloping more and more until the very landscape seems altered, altogether different and somehow mysterious-- the Giants' undefinable,  inescapable "playoff mojo" was back and permeating through the 'Bell this weekend. After ten weeks of rumbling, bumbling, and stumbling, blowing an appalling number of leads and generally playing like a team searching for itself, the Giants snapped out of it with a bang, winning five of their last six to make this postseason push. From comments made by the Dodgers and Colorado Rockies over the past week, you could tell they weren't talking about the club that finished this season 30-42. They knew they had faced the one that began the season 57-33. And that team, sports fans, can beat anybody. Whether it will, of course, is another matter.

And so it will be Madison Bumgarner against Noah Syndergaard Wednesday evening in the borough of Queens, New York, at Citi Field. 8 PM EDT is listed as the starting time. "Bum" and "Thor" met on this very site five months ago, with the Giants winning the game and saving a road series.  It wasn't the pitchers' duel many expected then, and this next one may or may not be the same way, but it's the first step for both clubs. The winner moves on to Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Cubs, winners of 103 games, and that's all that needs to be said about that for now. 

Vin Scully has been the voice of major-league baseball for so long now it's not only impossible to imagine the sport without his gentle, unobtrusive, yet authoritative cadence, it's going to be impossible to hear it. So many of today's game announcers and commentators have developed and polished their style under the influence of Vin's consummate professionalism, we fans will be hearing the echoes of Vin's delivery for decades to come. It was he, more than anyone, even his predecessors and contemporaries Red Barber, Jack Buck, Ernie Harwell, and Mel Allen, who defined the commentator as a distinct, and specific, part of the game. He wasn't the lovable, eccentric Harry Caray, whose unique style no one emulates. Vin was all about setting the standard-- an imitable, if rarely achievable, standard.

We first heard Vin on the radio back in 1965, being that there was a Dodger fan in the house. And he had a long association with San Francisco, mostly because of the proximity and familiarity of the Dodgers and Giants, of course, but there were other moments as well. Some may not remember that Vin, in addition to Dodger games and the old NBC Game of the Week, also did football broadcasts for CBS years ago. His final call was one few of our age or persuasion will forget-- the 1981 NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Cowboys, played at Candlestick Park on January 10, 1982. We were huddled in a warm kitchen on a record low-temperature day 3000 miles from the 'Stick as Vin made the call: "Clark caught it!...  It's a madhouse at Candlestick!" Vin Scully artfully conveyed the converged tension, release, and sudden exuberance of such a moment many times, and he never had to shout. Dick Enberg, among others, carried on with Vin's distinctive influence on the broadcast of NFL games for decades afterward.

The length and breadth of  Vin Scully's career, 67 years at the mic, from age 21 in Brooklyn replacing the legendary Red Barber, to Sunday's last broadcast at AT&T Park, was filled with historic and memorable events. You can cite his perfect response to Hank Aaron's 715th home run-- he simply let the long, loud, uproarious response of the crowd speak for itself, without marring the moment with a single word-- or to yesterday's kind, magnanimous, and perfectly unassuming farewell to a life's work spent sharing his company with others, or to any of a dozen other moments, as the epitome of Vin Scully's career. They're all out there for posterity. We'll miss him, and we wish him a long and joyful life the rest of the way-- with God's blessing, maybe even long enough to see his beloved Dodgers win another World Series. Ordinarily that might be asking a bit too much, but we'll make an exception for Uncle Vin. He deserves it. 

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