The 2012 San Francisco Giants Postseason - Part 2

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Part I was here.

When we last left, the 2012 San Francisco Giants had become the first team to win a National League Division Series after trailing 2-0 to earn a spot in the NLCS against the defending World Champion Cardinals.  This was the first time in over half a century that the previous two World Series Champs had met in the postseason. 

The Cards were the better club, not by a lot, but with a five game regular season Pythagorean advantage, if you were picking, even if you were an unrepentant Giants fan, you’d pick St Louis. 
And after the first four games, with the Giants down 3-1 and Barry Zito on the mound, it looked like you were right.

The 4th youngest starter ever to win a World Series game is Madison Bumgarner, and he got the ball in Game One.  For most of the season that would have been appealing, in his 8 starts between July 13 and August 20 Bumgarner had 56 innings pitched and gave up 12 earned runs (1.93 ERA) – but on August 20 Bumgarner threw 123 pitches and seemed to leave his arm on the Dodger Stadium mound.  

In his final seven starts of the season he pitched 36.2 innings giving up 24 earned runs (5.97).  The Reds smacked him around in Game 2 of the NLDS and here he was again.

Six earned runs in less than 4 innings later, he was out of the game and we had dropped Game One.
2011 World Series MVP David Freese hit a two run homer in the second, and even though Bumgarner escaped without further harm after putting two more runners on, we went to the bottom of the inning with only a 31% win expectancy.  If there’s one message I’d like you to take from these recap pieces, it’s that you want to score first in a baseball game. 

The score was unchanged going to the 4th, and you already know that’s turning out badly – doubles by Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. Single by Mr. Chief Justice Jon Jay (I’ve never actually heard anyone call Jay that, but they should) and a homer by the man every Giants fan expected would beat us to death in this series, Carlos Beltran (he was our deadline deal in 2011; he was fine, but given his age and contract status our giving up Zach Wheeler, the top prospect in the organization, was a prima facie crappy decision) made it 6-0, the Cards win expectancy was 96%, Bumgarner was out of the game and we were effectively down in the series.

The Giants fought back in the bottom; singles by Marco Scutaro/Hunter Pence/Brandon Belt got us a run, a triple by Gregor Blanco/double by Brandon Crawford got us 3 more, and it was 6-4 with Tim Lincecum, who seemed to return to form in his NLDS relief appearances, coming to the mound.
Lincecum was good again – two hitless innings – but we only had two harmless singles left in our bats – and 6-4 was the final.

27 home innings in the playoffs – the Giants had led in none of them.

In 2009 Ryan Vogelsong had a 4.54 ERA for the Orix Buffaloes.

In 2012 he started Game Two of the NLCS.

And he was up early, Angel Pagan became only the second man ever with two leadoff homers to begin a game in postseason history; an advantage the Giants relinquished in the second, when Chris Carpenter doubled home Kozma.  1-1 into the 4th when Belt blooped a double/Blanco poked a single/Carpenter threw a ground ball away/Pagan walked to load the bases with two outs/Marco Scutaro hit a single to left that cleared the bases when it was kicked by Matt Holliday.

Earlier, Scutaro was leveled by a Holliday takeout slide that had the series taken a different turn would have marked the Cardinal left fielder as one of the great villains in Giants lore.  But now it was 5-1 through 4 and with a 92% win expectancy the Giants were about to level the NLCS at 1.  Vogelsong went 7, never really getting touched, and the Giants added two in the 8th on a single by Ryan Theriot.  Theriot replaced Scutaro, making this the first time in postseason history that two players at the same position for the same team drove in multiple runs in the same game. 

I time shift virtually everything I see on television; when you set a DVR for a baseball game the default time is for a three hour recording.  I always bump that an extra hour. 

Game 3 of the NLCS ended nearly 7 hours after it began. 

Matt Cain v. Kyle Lohse in St Louis for Game 3; San Francisco scored first – a third inning leadoff single by Pagan/double by Scutaro/groundout by Sandoval scored a run and made it 1-0.  Beltran beat us again, even from the bench; an injury kept him out of the lineup in Game 3 and his replacement, Matt Carpenter, hit a two run homer that flipped the game in the bottom of the third. We left two on in the fourth, the fifth, the seventh – they tacked on a third run just before the nearly 3 and a half hour delay and we never put another runner on base. 

The winner of Game 3 wins a best of 7 series over 70% of the time.  And that was St Louis.

We needed Lincecum in Game 4; the two time Cy Young Award winner, the guy with a career ERA under 3 against the Cardinals, the guy who had only given up 3 hits in nearly 9 innings of bullpen in the playoffs thusfar. 

We got the other guy.

Four batters into the game we were down 2-0 (single by Jay/walk by Carpenter/single by Holliday/sac fly), we went into the 2nd with only a 29% win expectancy and it was time to think about the offseason.  Pence cut the lead in half in the second with a homer but Lincecum didn’t escape the fifth, double by Carpenter, single by Holliday, single by Yadier Molina; we left the inning down 4-1, with only a 12% chance to win the game, and with all of the confidence rebuilding Lincecum did out of the bullpen having unraveled completely – not only were we about to lose to the Cardinals, but both Bumgarner and Lincecum looked to be headed to the winter broken in some indefinable way. 

The Cards cut up the pen to pad the lead, 2 in the 6th; 2 in the 7th.  Sandoval hit a two run homer in the 9th and we were down 3 games to 1. 

With Barry Zito on the mound.

In MLB history, 76 of the postseason series went 3-1.  65 times the team with the lead went on to win.
So that’s where we were.  In St Louis against the defending champs, down 3 games to 1 just a matter of days after crawling back from a 2 games to none hole with three road wins.

Sometimes, I think in a 1.21 jigowatts type of way, of how I would approach sports wagering if I woke up having returned from the future.  Even were I holding the latest edition of Grays Sports Almanac and reading that the 2012 World Series Champions had been the Giants, I’d have a helluva hard time actually putting down all the money in my wallet down 3-1 on the road with Barry Zito the last Giant 
guarding against elimination.

Incidentally, in that scenario do you hook up with teenage Lea Thompson even though she’s your mom?  Where are we on that?  Am I too old to tell that joke?  That’s a new concern; I’ve looked for the funny most of my life, and I recognize that with age I lose my feel for the ball; it’s less that I can’t find what seems funny to me, but more that I can’t be certain that translates to anything that anyone out there might care about.  I used to act when I was an undergrad; a year ago or so was the 20th anniversary of a show I did that opened up a new theater complex they built on campus.  In the hallways backstage were old cast pictures; I’d look at them sometimes, dated photographs, wondering what  became of those actors, how distant and remote and irrelevant and yesterday they seemed. 

They did a revival of the show I was in for that 20th anniversary; meaning there was an actor two decades younger than I am playing my part – looking at my photograph, wondering for a fleeting moment what happened to me and then quickly not caring even a tiny bit.  I’m from the past.  I went to college before there was an internet.  I didn’t own a computer all through law school.  I don’t need the DeLorean to go back to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, I’m still there, in a fading green room photograph at my alma mater.

With his Cy Young ten years in the rear view mirror, Barry Zito may have felt like he was from the past as he took the mound in Game Five.

He was good enough early, the Cards loaded the bases in the second, but the pitcher, Lance Lynn, ground into a double play.

Lynn, himself, was better – striking out a half dozen of the first eight Giants to come to the plate.

Better, at least, until the fourth, an inning from which Lynn wouldn’t emerge.  Singles by Scutaro/Sandoval led off the inning, an out later, Lynn looked to get an inning ending double play of his own, but threw a Pence chopper off the second base bag that plated the game’s first run.  After the second out, singles by Crawford and Zito (the only bunt single of his career) scored three more; we were up 4 and went into the bottom of the inning with an 87% expectancy to keep the series alive. 

And Zito held it there; St Louis put a man in scoring position in their 4th, but then not again until the bottom of the 9th, after Zito had given way to the bullpen and Sandoval had homered for the final margin of 5-0.

I was beginning my senior year of high school in 1987; as a Bay Area transplant living in rural Ohio, the dominant characteristic that people associated with me was my public devotion to all matters San Francisco.  You know Boston Rob from Survivor?  That was me; take away the fame, the couple of million bucks, and the charisma – I was the guy in the Giants cap.  In 1987, for the first time in my life, we were a game away from the World Series, up 3 games to 2 and headed to St Louis needing to win 1 to close it out.

We didn’t.  It was as painful an event as I had gone through in my first 17 years.  The statute of limitations has probably expired on teacher/student gambling, as I may have lost a wager with the varsity basketball coach.

A quarter century later the circumstances were reversed; we were down 3-2 but headed home.  And now I was the varsity basketball coach.

Okay, that part’s untrue, but in the movie version where I travel back in time to bang Lea Thompson, perhaps that’s my character arc.

What is true is that prior to 2012, the number of teams who won 4 road elimination games in the same postseason is none, and it wasn’t anymore. 

What is also true is Game 6 was over early.

Vogelsong struck out 9 to win his second game of the series; a Scutaro walk/Sandoval double/groundout got us started with a run in the first, and we added three the following inning that put it out of reach: Belt triple/Crawford walk/Kozma run scoring error/with two outs a Scutaro double/Sandoval single that made it 4-0 and put our win expectancy at 93%.

The Cards picked up a run in the 6th, we got it back in the 8th. 5-1 was the final and we were about to host the first seventh game in San Francisco in 50 years.

Winning Game 6 flipped the math - Over the past 35 postseasons, 14 previous teams had won a Game 6 at home to force a Game 7 with 13 of those 14 teams then going on to win Game 7.

Make that 14 of 15. 

Down 3 games to 1, the Giants outscored the World Champion Cardinals 20-1 in the last three games of the NLCS.  9 of them came in Game 7.

1st: Pagan single. Scutaro single. Sandoval run scoring groundout.
2nd: Blanco single.  Moved to second on a groundout. Cain run scoring single.
It’s only the second inning.  It’s only 2-0.  Our win expectancy going to the top of the third was 74%. 
Score first.  This is what I’m saying.
3rd: Scutaro single. Sandoval double. Posey walk that ended Lohse’s season. 

Hunter Pence then triple hit (not hit a triple, he hit the ball three times) a game ending, bases clearing broken bat ground ball up the middle that knuckled toward the bag in a way that you’re unlikely to see outside of Rose Park in Mishawaka. We tacked on two more and exited the third up 7-0, with a 98% chance to go return to our second World Series in three years.

We got one more in the 7th and a Belt homer in the 8th, staving off an increasingly heavy rain long enough to win 9-0. 

Win what? 

The pennant.  The Giants Win the Pennant.  Again.


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