The History of the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Here’s an unabridged history of my beloved SFG when we’ve reached one step away from the World Series.

1971 Pirates over Giants 3 games to 1

-’71 was the worst of our NLCS teams (until 2014) with a “real” regular season record of 88-74 (that was our pythagorean record, comparing runs scored/allowed with the rest of the league). The Pirates had a 101 win pythag (and went on to win the WS) so they were clearly the better team, despite the Giants having taken 9 of 12 during the regular season.

I was a year old during this series, so my memories of it are spotty.

We won the first game, 5-4, on a big 4 run 5th inning. We were down 2-1 hitting against not yet crazy Steve Blass; Chris Speier (by Wins Above Replacement one of the 20 best SFG of all time) led off with a single; Gaylord moved him over to second; Ken Henderson grounded out – and then Tito Fuentes hit an improbable 2 run homer (he had only 4 homers during the season). My mother holds a curious affection for Fuentes, and other than his name’s similarity to Tito Puente this homer is the most likely reason. 

Willie Mays, who had a solid bounceback season in ’71 (6.3 WAR; I use a combination of B-Ref and Clay Davenport’s calculation for what I think is a good cross-section of historical analysis and that’s the number I’ll be referencing) making him our best player, walked and then Willie McCovey hit our second two run homer in the inning, giving us the 5-2 lead. Gaylord Perry gave up 2 in the 7th – but it was 1971 and that didn’t automatically mean a pitching change (beyond Perry and Juan Marichal, who were both just okay, we had a really poor pitching staff) and Perry not only finished the inning – but finished the game – even when, with 1 on and 1 out and a 1 run lead in the 9th inning he had to face Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.

He got them both (he is, as of the end of the 2014 season, still the 6th greatest SFGiant of all time after all) and we took game 1.

That was it for the good guys – we gave up 15 hits and got ripped apart in Game 2 (9-4); game 3 was in Pittsburgh – Marichal giving up just 4 hits in a complete game 2-1 loss – striking out six and not walking anyone. Our only run was in the sixth – and we left the bases loaded, really our only chance to break it open – and then Richie Hebner snapped a 1-1 8th inning tie with a homer and we went down in order in the 9th.

We came back with Perry on 3 days rest and he got torched, the Bucs broke a 5-5 tie in the 6th by plating 4 more, and that 9-5 score ended our only playoff appearance in the quarter century between '62 and '87.

1987 Cards over Giants 4 games to 3

Those 88 pythagorean wins in ’71, Mays’s last full season in San Francisco, that was our high water mark for a long, long time; we dropped to 79 pythagorean wins the next year, bumped to 85 in ’73 – and then settled in for the sub-.500 1970s:

’74 – 71 pythag wins
’75 – 79
’76 – 71
’77 – 75

In ’78, my first full season following the Giants consciously, every day (I was seven), listening to the games, looking at the box scores (I’m rickety old, I’m Gran Torino old, keep the government out of my Medicare old) we ticked up to an 83-79 pythag – but then…

’79 – 73
’80 – 73
’81 – 57-54 (over .500, but the strike keeps the totals low)
’82 – 79
’83 – 80
’84 – 69
’85 – 67

So – the only +.500 pythagorean season was the strike season. 15 years of just nothing at all happening for the Giants. This was my boyhood. 

If you want to understand why San Francisco embraced the 49ers so wholeheartedly; the marketplace wasn’t particularly competitive.

As Giants fans know – it turned around in ’86; we had a pythagorean record of 90-72 – leading to 1987.

The ’87 Giants had a pythagorean record of 93-69; still, in 2014, tied for 6th best in SFG history. Better than the Cardinals’ record. Significantly better than the Twins – who had a sub-.500 pythag. As a 16 year old high school senior with the lead in our September production of 12 Angry Men (I wasn’t a very good actor – I worked very hard, but it wasn’t until the very, very end of my acting career as an undergrad that I was able to get enough bodily comfort on stage to be anything other than a guy reading lines in an animated way. I largely read them well; had it been a radio soap opera, I would have been more successful; why hasn't my entire life been Joyce Jordan M.D.?) my level of Giants ardor was such that when we were tasked with giving our characters names (the jurors, for those unaware, are only numbered in the play – I was Juror 8, which is better than being Client 9) in order to develop backstory, I said my name was Jeffrey Leonard. I caught a break in that my director was less engaged in the pennant race than otherwise one might have been and that my curious choice to play most of my scenes with one arm down at my waist did not cause more than just an eyebrow raise.

I thought we were going to the World Series and thought so most of the season – and as our lead over the Cardinals built – and the Twins, who were clearly inferior, were sticking it to the Tigers, baseball’s best team in ’87 – for the first time in my life I may have said out loud that we were going to win the whole thing.

I was unaware about how life worked when I was 16 years old. There were the two Daves, Letterman and Addison, and there were the Giants and since I didn't have regular access to boobs that was essentially it.  We had been eliminated in ’86 on my birthday by a Mike Scott no-hitter, but that wasn’t enough to communicate the simple calculation:

Giants Baseball = Torture

I was..I guess one could call me semi-popular my senior year of high school, at least compared to my station in every previous year of my life. And as a SFG fan in rural Ohio, I quickly became associated in the minds of seemingly everyone I met with the Giants (I had a wager on the NLCS with the varsity basketball coach; I think the statute of limitations on teacher/student gambling has probably passed). I felt a complete sense of personal investment with the outcome of the ’87 NLCS.

This did not work out well.

We split games 1 and 2 in St. Louis. They got Rick Reuschel in the 6th inning of Game 1; breaking open a 2-2 tie with 5 hits and 3 runs in an inning from which probably Roger Craig (weirdly, San Francisco simultaneously had a beloved baseball manager and a beloved near Hall of Fame running back with the same name) should have, at some point, gone to the pen. We got one more late for the 5-3 loss. 

Dave Dravecky threw a 2 hitter in Game 2; Will Clark homered in the 2nd, Leonard homered in the 4th (his second homer of the series) we had a couple of intense skirmishes with the Cards in the mid 80s that focused on Ozzie Smith – and his 2 run 8th inning error was some sweet frosting on the 5-0 cake.

We blew a 4 run lead in Game 3 and lost 6-5; we got 3 in the second, added a Leonard homer in the 3rd – Atlee Hammaker (google All Star Game grand slam if you’re unfamiliar) gave two of them back on a Jim Lindemann homer in the 6th – and then it fell apart in the seventh; Caveman Robinson entered after a leadoff single to Jose Oquendo; then Whitey Herzog outmaneuvered us. Curt Ford, who was neither Curt Flood nor Disco Dan Ford and so I do not remember him, and Dan Driessen, who had been our first baseman just two years prior, had consecutive pinch singles cutting our lead to 4-3. Lance Johnson, the White Sox Lance Johnson – remember? – pinch ran, stole second – and then he and Ford both scored on a Vince Coleman single that gave the Cards the lead and ended Robinson’s night. They’d get one more in the inning – and it was 6-4. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth Harry Spilman homered to get us to 6-5, but Todd Worrell, older brother of our future closer, got Kevin Mitchell to end the game.

And then we won games 4 and 5.

We came back in game 4. The Cards got 2 off Mike Krukow in the second; a Robby Thompson 4th inning homer cut it in half – and that man again, Hac Leonard – one flapped down his way around the bases with a 2 run homer in the fifth. Buster Posey’s 2010 was our best season by a catcher since Bob Brenly’s in ’87 – and Brenly homered in the 8th to give us a 4-2 lead – and Krukow – still today, right now, this very second in 2014 an enormously popular radio voice for SFG, finished them off to tie the series in his biggest performance ever.

When we left Game 5 with a 6-3 win, up 3-2 and headed back to St. Louis – I could not have felt more confident. Reuschel got hit again – the Cards were up 3-2 in the 4th when Whitey brought in Forsch (the Bob version) and we slapped him around. Chili Davis led off with a single. Will Clark followed with a single. Brenly walked and we had the bases loaded with nobody out – Jose Uribe, late cousin of our future World Series hero shortstop, singled home 2 to give us the lead – and a Mike Aldrete pinch sac fly plus a Robby Thompson triple would plate 2 more and that 6-3 score would hold up the rest of the way. Joe Price – Joe Price came on in the fifth and he only gave up two baserunners over the last five innings of the game (see Yusmeiro Petit from the longest postseason game in baseball history for a 2014 comparable Giant) completely shutting down the Cards to put us a game – A Game! – from going to the World Series for the first time in a quarter century.

My dad, I recall, bought for me a celebratory beer; I was now 17, it would have been (I think) my first – and it sat on ice waiting for us to clinch. (Note – mom says she was the one who bought the beer; her memory may be better than mine on this issue; we may as well add underage drinking to her list, since I've previously outed her as teaching me the point spread when I was a pre-teen.)

Mom: Now, you’re going to give me six points and Notre Dame.
Me: I like candy.
Mom: We’ll bet all your candy. You’ll give me seven points and Notre Dame. For all your candy.

I think my Great Santini moment was Miami beating two touchdown+ favorite Nebraska straight up in the ’84 Orange Bowl. Mom had to take out a second job to cover her candy loss in that one. I think the vig alone was one of those giant Chunky bars.

I never got to drink that beer, however.

Dave Dravecky was nearly as good in Game 6 as was he in Game 2 – good enough that his John Birch Society membership was never again held against him in my house. You throw 15 NLCS innings and give up 1 run, you can complain about the fluoridation of the water supply all you want. 

You can probably find Dravecky speaking at a Tea Party meeting near you some weekend; I feel fortunate he never ran for office in a way that would require my mean Tweeting him.

We lost Game 6 1-0, Candy Maldonado misplayed a 2nd inning Tony Pena flyball into a triple for the only run either team would score in the game. We led off the 5th with back to back singles, but couldn’t score, and that was really all the noise we made in Game 6. Don’t speak of Candy Maldonado to my mother; she still holds him responsible for ’87.

The deciding 7th game – with the beer still on ice?

Over early. Atlee got hammered, we lost 6-0. I don’t like game sevens.

1987 was a long time ago. It was the year Buster Posey was born. It may have been the year of my first sexual escapade (summer, in a car in a church parking lot after seeing Cocktail; she was probably thinking about Cruise and I spent several years doing nothing but thinking about Elisabeth Shue; sort of thinking about her right now. Talk amongst yourselves for a moment.)

1989 Giants over Cubs 4 games to 1

In the history of the San Francisco Giants, no first baseman ever had a better year than Will Clark in 1989, and he lost out in the MVP Award vote to Kevin Mitchell. The 92 win pythag, again, made SFG the NLCS favorites (this time over the Cubs) although not as good as the presumptive AL representative (the curiously large Oakland A’s). Will remains the 5th best SFG ever – Mitch would crack the Top 25.

As we had in ’87, we split the first two on the road. We scored 8 in the first 4 innings of the ’89 NLCS. Greg Maddux is one of the very greatest players in the history of baseball but doubles by Clark and Matt Williams gave us a 3 run first inning and we were steaming. Mark Grace’s two run homer off Scott Garrelts in the bottom was just a speed bump on our way to an 11-3 win.

 Clark homered in the 3rd – then hit a grand slam in the 4th (the last postseason SFG grand slam until Buster Posey won the 2012 NLDS) that’s 10 total bases and 6 rbi from Will Clark off Greg Maddux in the first 4 innings of the NLCS. Mitch hit a 3 run bomb in the 8th to finish it off.

It happened again for Reuschel in ’89 – he couldn’t get out of the first inning in Game 2, he gave up 5 hits – left with us down 3, and Kelly Downs was equally effective – we were down 6-0 after one and effectively out of the game. Homers by Mitch, Matt, and Robby could only get the final score to 9-4.

I was a sophomore in college in October of ’89, and in another play – which, as it turned out, had its performances scheduled for the dates of the World Series. But I was able to make the 90 minute drive home each night to watch the final 3 NLCS games with my family. Were you to walk into their Prospect, Ohio house in the late 1980s, you would have seen two living rooms – one in front and one behind. In ’87, as was it during the full 3 years that I lived there, the back room, a little smaller, was where the television was set up – but by ’89 they had swapped – and now the television was moved to the front room; it was there that, in January, I came home during the middle of my freshman year to watch the Niners’ unbearably anxiety-producing comeback in SB23 (I skipped striking the set after yet another play to come home for the game) by this point the five of us (my parents and my younger brothers) had a very defined seating pattern during important games; I sat on the couch facing the set in between my brothers in the same way that we’d go to the movies together – my dad to the side; my mom, generally too anxious to sit, cleaning the kitchen feverishly during the most nerve-wracking moments.

And so 9 months later, in October of ’89, we were all there again, for Games 3 and 4 of the NLCS (it was just me and mom in Game 5 – it was a day game, dad was at work, my brothers either at school or at some type of after school activity; I don’t recall if I spent the night Sunday or (more likely) drove back to school and then again back to my parents’ house.

Down 4-3 in the 7th in Game 3, we scored 2 in the bottom and won it 5-4. It was 3-3 in the top of the 7th, Caveman Robinon – replacing Jeff Brantley who replaced Buffy Lacoss – gave up a leadoff double to Rick Sutcliffe (consider that with your modern eyes, Sutcliffe hit for himself in the 7th inning of a 3-3 Game three in the NLCS) – he moved to third on a Uribe error – and then scored (actually -Maddux, pinch running) on a Ryne Sandberg sac fly.

Sure, if you’re committed enough to Sutcliffe to let him hit – maybe you let him run from third base in that spot, but I’m not Don Zimmer.

Paul Assenmacher came on – and Robby Thompson (8th best SFG of all time) beat him with a 2 run homer. They got a couple hits off Robinson in the 8th – but we held on to take the series lead.

Game 4 – tight. They score in the first. We score in the first. They score in the 2nd – we get 2 in the 3rd, a Williams single driving home Bret Butler and Clark. Maddux gave up one more and got yanked in the 4th, but Garrelts gave up the lead in the 5th and it was 4-4 when Matty Williams (11th best SFG ever and his bullpen management maybe aided his old club a little bit in 2014) hit a two run homer in the bottom to give us the 6-4 lead. Downs, the worst pitcher on the staff in ’89, was terrific getting us into the 9th – but with two outs Ryne Sandberg’s single brought Steve Bedrosian in. A single and a walk loaded the bases for Andre Dawson – but Bedrock struck him out swinging and we were up 3-1, and almost certain to head to the first World Series of my lifetime.

And it happened. We only got 4 hits to the Cubs ten but beat them 3-2 to win the pennant. Reuschel redeemed his previous performances, giving up just the one run through 8 innings – a Clark triple/Mitchell sac fly tied the game in the 7th, and then 3 consecutive Mike Bielecki 8th inning walks led to his removal for Mitch Williams – Will singled through the box scoring 2 – Bedrosian gave up 3 consecutive singles in the 9th to cut our lead to 3-2, but got Sandberg to give us our first pennant since ’62.

We wouldn’t reach the NLCS again for 13 years.

1989 was a long time ago. It was the year Madison Bumgarner was born. He’s the youngest pitcher to win a postseason game in the history of the organization. I started seeing a girl in October; here’s a lesson I learned when I was 19 so you don’t have to: if you start seeing a girl in college not long before she goes home for the holidays, you won’t still be seeing her when she comes back, because she’s going to bang some dude from back home. She’s with her old high school friends, it’s the holiday season, she wants a date on New Year’s Eve – I am absolutely telling you she’s going to bang some dude back home. I learned that in 1989. Granted, I unlearned it when it happened again two years later – but you can do better. Proud of you.

2002 Giants over Cards 4 games to 1

With 90+ win pythags in 86, 87, and 89 – and with a young core of position players that, to this date, make up our best cumulative group in SFG history – you can understand why I didn’t expect it would take over a decade to make another championship series appearance.

But we dropped to an 82-80 pythagorean record in ’90, were down to 76 pythag wins in ’91, and not only did we fall to 72 in ’92, but the club was essentially sold to that Tampa group with Mike Piazza’s father which was going to bring in Goddamn Tommy Lasorda in the front office. Goddamn Tommy Lasorda. That’s where we were at the end of ’92. The death of the San Francisco Giants. 

Worse than the death of the San Francisco Giants – like the San Francisco Giants dying and then having the corpse molested by Goddamn Tommy Lasorda.

And then we weren’t. The team was saved, and the greatest player who ever lived: Barry Bonds, signed as a free agent.

In 1993 we had 98 pythagorean wins; our best team, by a significant margin, since the ’62 pennant winners – we had a double digit lead at the break and then watched Fred McGriff and the Braves lose as many games in the second half as Villanova missed shots in that title game win over Georgetown and we missed the playoffs on the last day of the season.

It was worse than Candy misplaying the fly ball and the earthquake series combined, and the hangover (and the lack of pitching) blew out our seasons in ’94 (58-57 pythag in the strike year), ’95 (61-83), ’96 (71-91).

We lost in the NLDS in ’97, hit 90 pythag wins for the first time since that ’93 season in 1998, dipped a bit to 85 wins in ’99 – then busted out with a 97 pythag win 2000, still the 4th best year in SFG history, and we lost the NLDS to a clearly inferior Mets team. We were the best team in baseball in 2000 but lost consecutive extra inning NLDS games and wound up startlingly missing our best chance at a pennant since ’89. We dipped to 86 pythag wins in ’01 – but all was prelude to 2002, and a 98 pythagorean win season – tying ’93 for the second best season in SFG history.

I was 32 in October of 2002; 31 years after our first ever NLCS we had reached our 4th. I was again at my parents’ house for most of the games in the series – although now, we were all in Florida. They had moved about a decade prior, me, relatively recently – I won some money on a sports game show, in no small part because of my knowledge of the very first SFG ballclub and now was going back to grad school for a Masters in US History. Behind me in those thirteen intervening years since ’89 was my finishing college, law school – moving back to the Bay Area to practice law, and then giving up law to move to Florida to teach. But as I sat with my parents to watch the NLCS, I felt largely the way I always had, had in 1989, in 1987, all the way back to 1971 (although my memory is spotty). We were Giants fans, and we were in it together.

We beat the Braves in the NLDS, as happened again in 2010, getting us our ’87 rematch against the Cardinals. Once again – we opened on the road – but this time we took both Games 1 and 2 in fairly easy fashion. We had a pythag advantage over the Cards and showed it early – a run in the first and then 4 in the 2nd, all off future awful Giant Matt Morris. Benito Santiago singled home Kenny Lofton in the first inning – and in the second, six consecutive two out hits:

Lofton – single
Aurilia – single
Kent – single
Bonds – triple
Santiago – single
Snow – single

…gave us a 5-0 lead and it was done. Kenny Lofton homered in the third; David Bell in the fifth; Benito Santiago in the 6th – and we won 9-6. The next night, we jumped on them again with Rich Aurilia homers in the first and fifth – Jason Schmidt cruised, 4 hits, 8 strikeouts, 1 walk, getting into the 8th and we won 4-1.

Things got tighter in San Francisco. 3 one run games – they got the first, but we took both games 4 and 5 to go to only the third World Series in SFG history. Down 4-1 in the 5th after a crummy outing by Russ Ortiz – Bonds got us back with one swing, hitting a 3 run homer off Chuck Finley. Bonds is the very best player in baseball history, despite what sportswriters and Baby Boomers would prefer you believe and this was his second best season as a Giant (second to ’01) making it the second best season any SFGiant ever had – and he showed up in October, much to the disappointment of those who enjoyed swinging the “can’t do it in the clutch so he really isn’t as good as you say he is” club since his Pirate days. Jay Witasick came on in the 6th – and gave up a tiebreaking homer to Eli Marrero. We loaded the bases with one out in the 7th – but ReggieSanders/JTSnow couldn’t capitalize. In the 9th they intentionally walked Bonds with the bases empty, putting the tying run on – but didn’t pay for it as we lost our first/last game of the series.

Game 4 was a little scary – Livan Hernandez, on the short list for my least favorite Giant ever, gave up 2 in the first, a lead that held up until a two out, two run double by Snow in the 6th that scored Jeff Kent/Bonds. In the 8th it was Santiago – hitting a two run homer (after a two out intentional walk to Bonds) making the Cards pay and giving us the 4-2 lead that became a 4-3 win. Game 5 was scoreless until the Cards got one off Felix Rodriguez (in what should have been his last ever SFG appearance) in the 6th; Morris loaded the bases in the 8th – was left in to face Bonds – and limited the damage to a game tying sac fly. In the 9th it was a two out single by Bell, a single by Shawon Dunston – and a single by Lofton that ended the game and the NLCS.

2002 was a long time ago. My dad was still alive in 2002. I wish he could have seen what happened next.

2010 NLCS Giants d. Phillies 4 Games to 2

The fifth best regular season in SFG history (94 pythagorean wins) earned ab NL West title, an NLDS win over the Braves and a matchup in the NLCS against the 2 time defending NL Champion Phillies. The Giants came into the postseason hot, riding one of the great September pitching staff performances in MLB history – but as hot as we were – the Phils had been baseball’s best team over the second half of the season, and at 95 pythag wins, the best team in the National League.

They were favored – and I picked them to beat us in 7.

I was wrong. Fabulously wrong.

We won Game 1 4-3, our 7th straight one run postseason game dating back to 2003. Two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum beating Roy Halladay, the prohibitive favorite to win the 2010 award.

We swapped third inning homers to open the scoring. Cody Ross, a surprise starter when Jose Guillen was left off the postseason roster at my urging (I’m not saying it was in response to my urging – but believe me, I did some urging like a 16 year old in a church parking lot. I got the Hippy, Hippy Shake, baby) hit one in the top – Carlos Ruiz in the bottom – we escaped worse fate – they had two in scoring position when Lincecum struckout Ryan Howard to end the inning. We put two on ourselves in the 4th on singles by Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell – but a Juan Uribe groundout ended that threat.

We won the game in the fifth and sixth – Ross hit another homer in the 5th; and a Pat Burrell 6th inning double scored Buster Posey to put us up 3-1 – which became 4-1 when Uribe singled home the pinch running Nate Schierholtz.

It wouldn’t be 2010 Giants baseball without a little torture – Jayson Werth hit a two run homer in the bottom of the 6th to make it 4-3, but the Phils couldn’t get a tying runner in scoring position over the final 3 innings, Brian Wilson closing it out with a 4 out save.

Game 2 broke that streak of one run decisions; Jonathan Sanchez, prone to losing control of the strike zone, walked 3 in the first, add a Mike Fontenot error, and we were down 1-0. We tied it in the 5th – Cody Ross hit his third homer in two days, our first hit of the game off Roy Oswalt – but they took the lead for good in the bottom on a leadoff double by Shane Victorino followed by consecutive flyballs which moved him around.

The bullpen melted down in the 7th; the kill shot was a 3 run Jimmy Rollins double off Santiago Casilla that made it 6-1 and sent us home for the middle 3 games all even at 1.

We went home. Took both Games 3 and 4, and essentially ended the series.

Matt Cain shut the Phils down in Game 3. They got two on in the 3rd on a single and hit batsman; they got two on in the 4th on a single and a walk – but we scored first in the 4th; Edgar Renteria, moving into the starting postseason lineup after (correctly) being benched for most of 2010, led off with a single; following two outs and a Burrell walk, Ross and Aubrey Huff hit back to back singles to put us up 2-0; and that became 3-0 the following inning with an Aaron Rowand double/Freddy Sanchez single. Cain put two on in the 7th, but again got out of it – Javier Lopez/Brian Wilson had a harmless 8th/9th to finish the 3-0 shutout.

Game 4 was what we had come to expect – a nearly 4 hour long gutbucket of anxiety. 2 singles off of and 2 wild pitches by Joe Blanton got us a first inning run. Posey drove in his second of the game in the third, doubling home Huff to put us up 2-0. Madison Bumgarner, only 21 years old, got into trouble in the 4th, putting 2 on with 1 out – but got Werth and Rollins, the latter on a called 3rd strike, to maintain our lead.

But he didn’t survive another inning. Two consecutive singles started off their fifth – and after a successful Joe Blanton sacrifice, two consecutive singles cut the lead in half and chased Bumgarner. Casilla followed up his crummy Game 2 with a crummy Game 3, giving up a 2 run double to Placido Polanco.  Then a walk, hit batsman, and a wild pitch gave the Phils 4 in the inning and we were down 4-2.

We got one back in our half – Aubrey Huff (6 wins above replacement – our best first base season in two decades) singled home Andres Torres to get us into their bullpen – and that paid off an inning later when we scored two in the 6th to retake the lead 5-4 after a Burrell walk and back to back doubles by Ross and the then forgotten Pablo Sandoval.

Like most SFG fans, I have a strong affection for Sandoval, who had emerged in 2009 as our best position player since Bonds, but his bat dropped off badly in 2010 and he was an afterthought in the postseason – he had a chance here, after that two run double, to really re-assert himself – but with one out and the bases loaded in the 7th, he ground into a double play.

Our set up man during the season was Sergio Romo he and Casilla really a terrific late inning bridge to Brian Wilson – but Romo was blistered by the Braves in the NLDS, so his coming on in the 8th to protect our 5-4 lead, after an inning opening Howard double, felt loaded with all sorts of peril.

It was a reasonable feeling. Werth doubled to tie it at 5, and the series was in the balance.

Nothing for us in the bottom of the 8th. Nothing for them (whew) in their 9th.

The 11th pitcher of the game was Roy Oswalt, who had burned through us pretty easily in Game 2 – but after a Sanchez lineout opened the inning – we got him. Huff singled. Posey’s fourth hit of the game singled him to third – and Uribe’s fly ball to left scored the winning run.

And 3 games to 1 was a pretty big hammer to drop.

We couldn’t close them out at home, with Halladay beating Lincecum 4-2 in the rematch. Balls were struck, runs were scored, errors were made. But come on – we’re up 3-1, let’s get to the pennant!

Sanchez met Oswalt in Game 6 – and given Oswalt’s dominance in Game 2 and the series shifting to Philadelphia, you could forgive the nervousness. Or worse – the creeping panic after 3 hits and a wild pitch in the first inning gave them a two run lead just as we got off the plane.

We got two singles in the second – but didn’t score, and still down 2-0 the concern rose another notch.

Calm down, Jividen – we’re about to get them back in the third. Look!

Sanchez (the pitching version) and Torres led off the third with singles, were bunted over, then both scored on a single by Huff and a Polanco throwing error.

2-2! 2-2! Now let’s keep the goddamn Phillies off the bases.

Sanchez put the first two on in the third and that was the end of his night.

Then the bullpen won the pennant. Jeremy Affledt threw two perfect innings; we went to the 5th still tied at 2.

Singles by Fontenot and Sanchez (the Freddy version) gave us 2 on with one out in the fifth – but we did not score.

Bumgarner came on for the bottom and loaded the bases. But he got Victorino to ground out to end the inning.

2-2. 2-2. 2-2.

We got two more on, again with one out in the 6th. A Renteria double play ended the inning.

They had a runner at 3rd with one out in the 6th. Bumgarner got Ben Francisco looking and then a Rollins fly ball to end the inning.

2-2. 2-2. 2-2.

Again – again 2 more on in our 7th. Again, nothing.

But in the 8th we got them. Juan Uribe homered off Ryan Madson – putting us up 3-2 – and setting the stage for a 5 out Wilson save; a Carlos Ruiz double play ended the 8th – and after we loaded the bases but did not score in the 9th, Wilson walked two – but got groundballs from Gload and Polanco – and then struck Ryan Howard out looking to end the game and win the pennant.

For the fourth time in SFG history – onto the WS we went.

2012 Giants d. Cards 4 games to 3

The 2012 San Francisco Giants entered the NLCS as the first team to win a National League Division Series after trailing 2-0. 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. 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 any of my recap pieces, it’s that you want to score first in a baseball game more than you think you do.
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.  Not yet an internet meme Hunter 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 9thand 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 couple years ago 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. You may recall my losing a bet to 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 isn'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.

Two years later...we're back in St. Louis, doing it again, again.

The 50 Greatest NBA Players Ever

I enjoy the NBA Network's Open Court program; the current installment is a discussion of the 50 Greatest of All Time squad, to which they then unofficially added 10.

I've written about this before here is my list of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All Time.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Wilt Chamberlain
Michael Jordan
Karl Malone
Tim Duncan
LeBron James
John Stockton
Dirk Nowitzki
David Robinson
Charles Barkley

Oscar Robertson
Bill Russell
Shaquille O'Neal
Magic Johnson
Jerry West
Kobe Bryant
Kevin Garnett
Julius Erving
Artis Gilmore
Larry Bird

Hakeem Olajuwon
Reggie Miller
Moses Malone
Dan Issel
Dolph Schayes
Bob Pettit
Ray Allen
Clyde Drexler
Paul Pierce
Adrian Dantley

George Mikan
Chris Paul
Chauncey Billups
John Havlicek
Scottie Pippen
Rick Barry
Robert Parish
Gary Payton
Jason Kidd
Walt Bellamy

Walt Frazier
Kevin McHale
Dwyane Wade
Steve Nash
Patrick Ewing
Paul Arizin
Horace Grant
Pau Gasol
Shawn Marion
Bob Lanier

And the ten who just miss...
Chet Walker
Elgin Baylor
Dwight Howard (still active)
Wes Unseld
Dominique Wilkins
Bailey Howell
Elvin Hayes
George Gervin
Dikembe Mutombo
Kevin Durant (still active)

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