Alternate title: The Giants are going to the NLCS, baby!!!
I dislike Mat Latos. Strongly. Part of it is because he comes off as obnoxious. That’s just his persona. He’s the kind of player that elicits passion from fans, which is a good thing, I suppose. But I hate him. And admittedly, most of my distaste for Latos — give me some credit here for not saying “Latos intolerance” — stems from the fact that he’s really good at his job. Prior to this game, he had made 11 starts against the Giants in his career. In ten of them, he lasted six-plus innings. In ten of them, he allowed three runs or fewer. In eight of them, he allowed two runs or fewer. He’s given the Giants fits over the years, and I hate him I hate him I hate him.
And then there’s Buster Posey. 2012 NL MVP. Symbol of all things great in this world. What can I say about Posey that hasn’t already been said, that isn’t already apparent?
Anyway, let me cut to the chase. This happened, folks:
Buster Posey hit a grand slam off Mat Latos in the final game of a postseason series. And it was glorious. I’ve watched it over and over and over again, and it doesn’t get old. There’s Posey gazing at it — both hands on the bat, then just the right hand, then the casual bat flip. There’s Latos, not even bothering to look at it. Just a quick hop step, then a steady walk away from the mound. And then, perhaps my favorite part: Ryan Hanigan. You can pinpoint the second his heart rips in half. The whole thing is simply beautiful.
You know who’s made it easy to forget about Melky Cabrera? Gregor Blanco. He reached base three times in Game One, scored one of the Giants’ two runs in Game Three, and homered yesterday. Today, he got things started in that six-run fifth inning by leading off with a single. Another year, another outstanding minor-league signing for the Giants.
I’ve praised Bruce Bochy for his bullpen management in this series, but he left Matt Cain in the game too long. It worked out, thanks in large part to Buster Posey — who continues to impress on both sides of the ball. But not without making me a nervous wreck in the process. Results: good, process: meh. But it worked, so I guess there’s not much point in dwelling on it.
Matt Cain, by the way, did his job today. Surprise, surprise.
Remember when George Kontos was a “maybe” for the postseason roster? It’s a good thing that all worked out because he’s played a crucial role in this series. Four appearances, each of ‘em scoreless.
At the top of the list of things I was wrong about this season: Brandon Crawford. His performance today — and all season long, for that matter — speaks for itself.
The tying run reached base for the Reds in the sixth inning. And the seventh. And the eighth. And the ninth (in fact, the winning run reached base there). It had to be that way; I don’t know why, it just had to. The baseball gods care not about my mental health.
With the game on the line — the season on the line, really, the Giants got it done every time.
Tying run at the plate? Oh, here’s a strike-’em-out throw-’em-out double play.
Tying run at the plate? Oh, here’s a spectacular inning-ending catch.
Winning run at the plate? Oh, here’s an eleventy pitch at-bat, culminating in a flyout.
The Giants’ big lead in yesterday’s game enabled Bochy to rest Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Sergio Romo, as I mentioned. Sure came in handy today, eh? Romo threw 35 pitches. He’s only done that once in his career, and that was way back in 2008. He had made eight postseason appearances prior to today, and his previous high in pitches: 15. He exceeded his previous postseason career high by 133%. Yeesh.
I thought the Giants were toast just a few days ago. They were facing elimination, against a 97-win team, with all three remaining games on the road. Now, they’re the first team in baseball history to come back from an 0-2 deficit and win a five-game series by taking three straight road games.
Baseball, man. Baseball, baseball, baseball. This stuff is crazy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. THE GIANTS ARE GOING TO THE NLCS!
– The Giants finally broke out on offense today, which was a relief to see. After scoring four runs over the previous three games, the Giants tallied eight runs today. Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, and Pablo Sandoval each homered; Joaquin Arias knocked a couple doubles; Hector Sanchez reached base three times. Giants pitching limited the Reds to three runs on the afternoon, but the eight runs the lineup produced weren’t superfluous — in building a big lead, they enabled Bochy to rest Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo.
– Onto Hector Sanchez. I’d like to clarify a few things: I don’t think the Giants’ best lineup has Hector Sanchez at catcher, and that doesn’t mean that I hate Hector Sanchez. As a matter of fact, I actually really like Hector. And I think he’s a pretty talented player — a catcher capable of posting a 95 OPS+ in the majors at age 22 isn’t exactly easy to come by.
But again, I don’t think the Giants’ best lineup — currently — has Hector in it. Brandon Belt is quite clearly a better defender at first base than Buster Posey, and Buster Posey is quite clearly a better defender at catcher than Sanchez (Sanchez had some pretty cringe-worthy glovework at various times in today’s game, even); and Brandon Belt (118 wRC+) is quite clearly a better hitter than Hector Sanchez (86 wRC+) at this moment in time. In the postseason, I think the modus operandi should be to field the best lineup at all costs. Naturally, I want Posey at catcher and Belt at first base for every one of these games. It doesn’t make or break the Giants — and I’ve never suggested that this is the case; but every little thing makes a difference, and I think the team should capitalize on every possible advantage.
Hector hit a single and drew a couple walks today. That’s awesome. It should go without saying, but I want to see him perform well whenever he’s put in the lineup. I was pleased with his work at the plate today, and the Giants’ performance as a whole. Do today’s four plate appearances (along with shoddy defense, no less) change my opinion on the matter? Nope.
– The best part about today’s game: Tim Lincecum. 4.1 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, 0 BB, 2 H. I know the Giants’ offense is better than what they’d done over the first few games in this series. As great as it was to see them finally produce, I’d expected it. Timmy, on the other hand? I don’t really know what to expect out of him at this point. For the first time since Aaron Rowand was still a thing, Lincecum went three-plus innings without walking anybody. His only other walk-less appearance since that game back in June of 2011? His previous relief appearance in this NLDS, when he went two innings with two strikeouts. Put the two outings together, and Lincecum’s overall pitching line for the NLDS: 6.1 IP, 1 ER, 8 K, 0 BB, 3 H. In light of today’s poor showing from Barry Zito (who, in all fairness, didn’t get a whole lot of help from Hector or the home plate umpire), I think there’s no question that Lincecum has to take Zito’s spot in the playoff rotation if the Giants do happen to advance to the next round.
Oh yeah, and Bochy — once again — did an excellent job managing the bullpen today.
– Don’t forget: if Johnny Cueto doesn’t incur that injury in Game One, the Giants are stuck facing Cueto/Latos/Arroyo/Bailey this series, and there’s no Mike Leake. These things aren’t to be taken for granted. Never take Mike Leake for granted.
I can’t even begin to pretend to understand what I just watched. But I’ll tell you one thing: I was getting ready to say good-bye to the 2012 Giants — to write an end-of-season post, pointing out that despite the thrashing the Giants received to put an end to their season, we shouldn’t forget that 2012 was a great ride. No need for that. Not today, at least.
For most of the game, the score was tied. Both teams were in it. But it didn’t feel like it. For most of the game, it felt like the Giants were done, waiting for an inevitable end to their season. Like they were just going through the motions. It took them until the sixth inning to get their first hit of the game. Marco Scutaro singled to right to put an end to the no-hitter; Pablo Sandoval then came up, promptly swung at the first pitch — nowhere near the strike zone — and flied out. That’s the kind of game it was.
Through nine innings, the Giants had one hit. Had the game not been forced into extra innings, the Giants would have become the first team ever to collect fewer than three hits in back-to-back postseason games. It took the following tenth inning sequence to bring the Giants a victory: Buster Posey singles to right; Hunter Pence, with a full count, hits a grounder mere inches from Scott Rolen that goes through for a single; Brandon Belt and Xavier Nady each strike out swinging; runners advance on a passed ball from Ryan Hanigan (who had only allowed three passed balls during the regular season); Joaquin Arias hits grounder to Rolen, Rolen bobbles it, his throw to first is late — and Posey scores on the play.
That’s what it took for the Giants to win this game. They struck out 16 times. They drew only one walk. They collected only three hits, none of which drove in a run. And yet they walk away with the victory.
Not to be forgotten in all of this: the outstanding efforts from every Giants pitcher in this game, particularly Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogelsong was able to move past a rough first inning, holding the Reds to one run over five innings of work. Credit Bochy as well, here — he pinch hit for Vogelsong in the sixth inning, something he probably wouldn’t do in normal circumstances; even though Aubrey Huff didn’t get a hit, the Giants went with the bullpen for the rest of the game, and the bullpen shut the Reds down.
And that’s where Sergio Romo comes in: in the ninth inning of a tied game, he set the Reds down in order. Bochy stuck with Romo after the Giants took the lead, even though a) it meant letting Romo hit and b) Romo rarely has long relief appearances. You know how many times Romo pitched two innings this season? Once. But he came out in the tenth, and once again set the Reds down 1-2-3 to seal the win. Kudos to Bochy, again, for sticking with Romo there.
So the Giants live to see another day. It wasn’t pretty. But a win’s a win. And if the Giants can somehow manage to pull off two more of these, they’ll advance to the next round. They’re still hanging by a thread, skating on thin ice — whatever you want to call it. But they’re one step closer to the NLCS. Baseball’s weird.