The 2012 San Francisco Giants Postseason - Part I

Thursday, November 29, 2012

2010 was the worst year of my life.

My dad died.  My house got foreclosed.  My baseball team won the World Series for the first time ever. 

You wait your whole life to win the World Series – and when you do there isn’t enough room in your brain to enjoy it. 

2012 has been (with apologies to the perfectly reasonable admonition made by Albert Brooks in Broadcast News) the best year of my life. I got married. I left a crappy job to take the best one I ever had.  My baseball team won the World Series. 

It feels pretty good.  If you have the means, you should go to there. 

For those who missed any of the 11 requisite playoff wins, maybe your cable was out for example, I was able to catch each game.  Let’s go to the videotape.  

The Giants lost the first two in the NLDS at home against a superior Reds team (their pythagorean record was solidly better; if you were picking…even if the Giants are your favorite team… you would have picked the Reds to advance) then needed to go to Cincinnati and sweep 3, which the Reds hadn’t allowed all season. 

Season’s over, right?

Matt Cain entered with a postseason scoreless streak of 21+ innings and he got beat in Game One. Cain gave up a 2 run homer to Brandon Phillips in the third.  Baseball’s a data rich endeavor; there’s enough baseball history that we know even that early in a baseball game, that home run gave the Reds a 72% probability that they were going to win the game.  When you’re watching game one of the NLDS and see that Phillips homer; if you say “not really a big deal, it’s the third inning of game one” – you’re wrong, you’re about to go down 1-0.

Which we did – Jay Bruce homered in the 4th and Cain was gone after five.  Buster Posey, soon to be named NL MVP, homered to lead off the 6th, but when you’re down 3-1 with no outs in the bottom of the 6th, you still have only a 22% chance to win the game.  Santiago Casilla took that 3-1 deficit into the ninth inning and expanded it giving up 3 singles and a wild pitch.  Add in a passed ball and the Reds took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the 9th.  We loaded the bases with one out against Aroldis Chapman, but only managed a run and lost game one on a Posey strikeout.

That ended a streak of 8 straight Giants Game One postseason victories; San Francisco had never won a playoff series after losing game one and the Giants organization hadn’t done it since ’21.  That’s how quickly a short series can end – Phillips hits that game one 3rd inning homer and you’re in a hole the franchise hadn’t climbed from in more than 90 years.

And then we got 2 hit and lost Game Two 9-0.

Raise your hand if you had the Giants winning the World Series after Game 2 of the NLDS.  I’m as big a Giants fan as I know, my hands are down.

Well, they’re at the keyboard, but you get the point. The season was over. 

Ryan Ludwick homered off Madison Bumgarner in the second, and when the Reds got 4 singles in the 4th, scoring 3 more runs, their win probability went up to 89%.  We had only a Brandon Belt single by the top of the 8th when Cincinnati ripped Jose Mijares and Guillermo Mota for five more runs.  A Posey 9th inning double was our only other hit of the night.  We were down 2-0 and traveling to Cincinnati.

9-0 was the largest postseason shutout defeat in the 130 year history of the Giants organization.

It’s over.  Right?  Come on.  Only one team ever came back in a five game series after losing the first two at home, the ’01 Yanks.  Our season rested on Ryan Vogelsong, with a career ERA in Cincinnati over 5.00.

We got only one more hit in Game 3 than we did in game 2.  Do you see what I’m saying?  We got 3 hit on the road in an elimination game.

How did the season not end there?

It got bad quick; 3 first inning singles and a walk got the Reds a run and moved them to 64% win probability for the ballgame.

We evened it up without a hit in the third on a walk, a hit by pitch, and a sac fly.  When Vogelsong got through the bottom giving up only a couple of walks, it was the latest point in any game of the series so far that we weren’t losing.

This was not a close series is the point I’m making.  We were getting our ass beat. 

We didn’t get our first hit of the game until a Marco Scutaro single in the 6th; Scutaro had a terrific last two months since coming over from Colorado, but had done less than zero in the NLDS to that point; a quiet bat in a line of quiet Giants bats.

Jeremy Affeldt took over in the bottom and gave up a couple of baserunners – but that 1-1 tie remained until former Dodgers closer Jonathon Broxton got the ball in the 10th inning (if you’re unaware – the Giants don’t like the Dodgers.)

So, understand where we are –the Giants were getting one hit in Game 3 after getting two hit in Game 2, but greeted Broxton with back to back singles to open the 10th, by Posey and Hunter Pence (who was unable to get down a bunt earlier in his at bat). Back to back strikeouts looked to close out our inning – but a passed ball and a Scott Rolen error on a weak Joaquin Arias ground ball scored what would be the winning run.  Scott Rolen is one of the great defensive third basemen of all time; 8 Gold Gloves, over 20 wins above replacement defensively for his career; he’d be a Hall of Fame candidate if the electorate understood the value of playing the type of third base that Rolen played.  But that’s past tense, now Rolen is just a guy hanging onto a job that shouldn’t be his any longer; in this instance, taking advantage of former Giants manager Dusty Baker’s weakness for veterans and playing at the expense of NL Rookie of the Year Candidate Todd Frazier. 

Sergio Romo locked down the bottom of the tenth – and we stayed alive.

We struck out 16 times.  And got only 3 hits.  All singles.  In an elimination game.  On the road. The Giants were 5 for 61 in games 2 and 3 for a batting average I don’t feel like computing, but it’s tiny.

How did the season not end there?

The Wild Card was added in ’95, 21 times a team had gone down 0-2 in the NLDS.  21 times that team had lost the series.

The Reds best pitcher in 2012 was Johnny Cueto, but he got hurt early in Game One, forcing a shuffling of the rotation – that meant using Mike Leake in Game 4 against Barry Zito, one of the all time biggest free agent busts in MLB history.

Leake wasn’t up to it.  He gave up a leadoff homer to Angel Pagan to begin the game. The first postseason leadoff homer in the history of the franchise.

Zito wasn’t up to it.  He walked three in the first to tie the score. 

And it was game on.  Gregor Blanco hit a two run homer in the second, we went up 3-1.

Zito gave one back with a homer to Ludwick, and after a two out walk to Dioner Navarro he was out of the game, replaced by George Kontos, who was replaced an inning later by Jose Mijares, who then gave way, with 2 out and 2 on in the 4th, to 2 time Cy Young Award winner and the very worst pitcher in the major leagues in 2012, Tim Lincecum. 

He got out of the inning and then we opened it up in the fifth.  Double by Arias.  Double by Pagan. 4-2 Giants.  And when Pagan scored after a sac fly, it was 5-2 Giants and we had an 82% probability to win the game and even the series.

Lincecum got the Reds in order in the bottom, but gave one back in the 6th.  5-3 good guys headed to the 7th.

Where we put it out of reach.  Double by Arias.  Double by Scutaro.  Only his second hit of the series. A 422 foot two run homer by Sandoval.  8-3 Giants and that’s the final score.  Lincecum threw both the 7th and the 8th, 4+ relief innings with six strikeouts for Lincecum, the winning pitcher for Game Four.

We had 8 extra base hits in Game 4.  More than any game in the regular season.

Winner take all Game 5.  Our first winner take all game in a decade. 

That would be game 7 of the 2002 World Series.  Not a great result that. The guy in the wristbands in the other dugout might remember. 

In 130 seasons the Giants franchise never had a perfect game.  Not Mathewson or Hubbell or Marichal.

If we had gone .500 in 2012, Matt Cain’s perfect game in June against the Astros still would have made it a memorable season.  I assume you’re like me; somewhere around the fifth inning if your guy hasn’t given up a baserunner you start thinking about it and with increased excitement after each out.  And eventually, hundreds/thousands of times, win or lose – that excitement fades.  Matt Cain threw a perfect game in 2012, it was one of the greatest moments in Giants history and it would have made any outcome during the regular season worth it.

But the thing is we didn’t go .500 – we won the NL West and after consecutive road wins had forced a Game 5.  Matt Cain on the mound against public enemy number one for Giants fans dating back to his brash days as a San Diego Padre when he (among other intemperate comments) signed a baseball “I Hate SF” Mat Latos. It wasn’t just rhetoric – Mat Latos has whipped us; 11 career starts and an ERA of 2.19. 

So many deep breaths.

Both sides put two men on in the first – no runs scored.

There wasn’t another hit until the 4th, when both sides singled – no runs scored.

A dead even game in a dead even series going to the fifth inning of Game 5 – when we ended them.

Blanco single through the left side.

Crawford triple into the right field corner.  His first hit of the series.

An error that made it 2-0.

Scutaro walk.

Sandoval single.  Bases loaded.

Posey hits a 434 foot grand slam.  And it’s 6-0 and over. This was only the 4th grand slam in a winner take all double elimination game in MLB history. I lived in Ohio for many years and would take a trip to Cincinnati each season to watch the Giants come to town.  I had some crappy nights at Riverfront.  Every single one of them got erased in that moment; in some pocket of the space-time continuum a teenage version of me is taunting that entire Reds crowd.   Loved it.  Loved it. 

Cain gave up 3 and the Reds left two on in both the 7th and 8th; Romo gave up 1… in the 9th  at 6-4, with 1 out, 2 on and Jay Bruce up – there was a real white knuckle “did I celebrate too soon” moment – but the Reds were out of bullets; Romo survived a 12 pitch at bat, and the score held.

Somehow, someway – the Giants were alive.

And nearly as quickly – dead again.  Down 3 games to 1 to the Cardinals with Barry Zito on the mound….

(end of Part I.  A cliffhanger!)

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