You knew the end was going to be tortuous.
After going up three games to one in the National League Championship series, the San Francisco Giants, behind their “Freak” ace, Tim Lincecum, failed to close out the Philadelphia Phillies at AT&T Park, 4-2, much to Giants fans’ dismay. Knowing they were headed back to Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies were granted new life, with a real chance of winning the series in seven. For San Francisco, it was further torture for a team that seemed to not only invite it, but somehow thrive in it.
Game 6 pitted Roy Oswalt – the pitcher who gave up the winning run in Game 4 to Juan Uribe – against Jonathan Sanchez. It was the same matchup that saw Oswalt dominate in Game 2, 6-1, throwing 8 innings, allowing only one run on three hits. Once again, Sanchez was outmatched against Oswalt and the Phillies offense, allowing two runs in the first inning, seizing control of the game.
The Giants bats suddenly woke up in the third, off an Aubrey Huff RBI and a Buster Posey bloop error that allowed Huff to score from second. Despite the runs scored, Andres Torres was thrown out at home as the possible go-ahead run. Ultimately, the Giants left 11 runners on base, in a game where every hit, every run counted. It didn’t help that Sanchez, after a bench-clearing HBP on Chase Utley, was yanked from the game in the 3rd inning, after only recording 2.0 IP.
Luckily, Manager Bruce Bochy had just the contingency for the situation. In fact, if Giants fans can recall, it was a contingency that former Giants manager Dusty Baker failed to enact in Game 6 of the World Series against the Anaheim Angels. With the series at stake, and not desiring a Game 7, Bochy did the only thing he felt necessary:
He threw the kitchen sink at the Phillies offense.
After taking out Sanchez, he decided to exhaust his bullpen, even going so far as using his previous game starters, to shut down the Phillies, and keep the game tied. After a two-inning shutout by left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, Bochy gave the ball to Game 4 starter Madison Bumgarner, who proceeded to throw another two shutout innings. Shortly thereafter, left-handed relief specialist Javier Lopez pitched another shutout inning, taking the game to the eighth inning.
By then, Oswalt had pitched 6.0 innings of 9-hit, two-run ball, relieved by steady right-handed reliever Ryan Madson. After retiring Pat Burrell and Cody Ross, two of the Giants best hitters, 3B Juan Uribe stepped up to the plate. While his sacrifice fly was the highlight of his NLCS, and did have crucial hits in the series, he was still 2-for-12 in the NLCS before this at-bat, and 3-for-27 in the postseason. Not many Giants fans could honestly say he would end up being the hero of the game.
Yet, somehow, he did. He inexplicably took Madson’s first pitch – an 89-mph changeup – 346 feet out of Citizens Bank, giving the Giants the lead, 3-2. Then, in a move that was meant to seize the moment, Bochy put “Big Time Timmy Jim,” Tim Lincecum, on the bump for the eighth inning. After striking out Jayson Werth, he proceeded to give up two hits to Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez. Realizing the move wasn’t as successful as planned, Bochy stopped playing around, throwing “certified ninja” and the best closer in the National League, Brian Wilson, out for a five-out save. He got the first two outs with a line-drive double play by Carlos Ruiz, ending the eighth. At this point, Giants fans from around the country could suddenly taste the World Series. It was in their grasp, provided Wilson could finish the save, and fans could keep from having a collective heart attack.
The torture, however, could never let Giants fans off that easily.
After PH Ross Gload grounded out to second base, Wilson walked SS Jimmy Rollins, then failed to turn a series-ending double play on Placido Polanco. Wilson proceeded to walk Utley, each ball more inexplicable than the last. Then up walked the Phillies’ best hitter, 1B Ryan Howard. Despite his lack of success in the series, he was always a threat to take a pitch deep – even against a fireballer like Wilson.
Wilson’s first pitch read as strike one, looking. After two balls, Howard swung at a low pitch for strike two. Another ball by Wilson, and it was a full count. One more off-pitch, and the bases would be loaded for Jayson Werth to potentially take it to a Game 7. Admittedly, Wilson even knew the next pitch would be his last.
“I was basically just trying to throw it as hard as I could,” Wilson admitted after the game. “I didn’t want to be in the position to walk another guy. I have to get this guy now.”
And get him, he did. He threw a perfect 90-mph backdoor slider low and away, striking Howard out, looking. As C Buster Posey leapt into Wilson’s arms in celebration, it was over. The Giants were National League champs. Needless to say, with his three home runs – including his two solo shots that took down the Phillies in Game 1 – and his timely hitting throughout the series, CF Cody Ross was awarded NLCS MVP. Not bad for a Marlins castoff who thought he would be sitting on his couch at home, without a major league job, for the playoffs.
“I’m in such a daze,” Ross said after the win. “This is the most unbelievable experience I’ve ever been a part of.”
It was also an experience that Giants fans will never forget. For all the times they have been tortured by the team’s play throughout the season, it seems it has all been worth it.
Despite their inability to close out the Padres earlier in the season, they succeeded in their final regular season game.
Despite losing home field advantage to the Braves in a Game 2 heartbreaker, they succeeded in taking the series at Turner Field, in four games.
Despite their inability to close out the NLCS at home in Game 5, they succeeded in Philadelphia, in Game 6.
And now, with their first NL Championship since 2002, the Giants will now try to complete the job they left on the field in 2002 – win their first World Series, interestingly enough, against another AL West team. The Texas Rangers, behind an undefeated postseason pitcher Cliff Lee and ALCS MVP, and eventual AL MVP, LF Josh Hamilton, won their first ever AL Championship.
After the matchup was set, many experts believed that the Rangers, despite not having home field advantage, would have a significant edge over the Giants. Their offensive firepower, behind the likes of Hamilton, 2B Ian Kinsler, PH Vladamir Guererro and former Giants C Bengie Molina, looks markedly better than anything the Giants have to offer. While many experts could admit the Giants’ offense was timely, could they be timely again against a supposed powerhouse offense that knocked around the Yankees’ rotation at will?
In any case, the Giants have earned the NL title with all-around team play. Every player – from Lincecum to Posey to Uribe to Wilson – had to contribute to get the win. And, while the Giants have a knack for playing in close games, the truth is, the Giants know how to win in close games. With the Giants’ pitching staff vs. the Rangers’ potent offense, expect many more close games in the coming World Series.
So … who’s ready for more torture?