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Relentless: A Place for Giants

I was so focused on the games in the National League Division Series that I didn’t even realize the Giants had moved. The day after the Giants dispatched the Nats, I kept reading stories about the series that referred to the Relentless Giants. I’m a California native, but I had no idea where the town of Relentless was located. I finally tracked it down using my GPS and Google maps and discovered that Relentless was in Dogged County, south of Unflinching, and just east of Determined.

The Giants scored nine runs in 45 innings, and won the series in four games. A Nobel Prize mathematics genius couldn’t make those numbers work out to three victories in four games. Pitcher Jake Peavy, who arrives on the mound in a bad mood, set the tone with a gritty five-plus innings start in a Game One Giants victory. Game Two lasted so long that the Nats’ Jayson Werth could have started out clean shaven and still looked like a caveman when it ended. Most teams would have lost it 1-0 in regulation, but the Giants rose from the dead with a ninth-inning score, and then won it nine innings later with a solo homer. Two mistakes on one play — Madison Bumgarner’s unwise and off-target throw to third on a bunt — doomed the Giants in Game Three, and had the whole town of Relentless wondering how their punchless-at-the plate boys were going to stop the Nationals now.

Some call it small ball, the art of manufacturing runs without the big blast. But what happened in Game Four might be better described as mall ball. The Giants just sort of hung around most of the day, browsing the storefronts for some bargain runs. Two runs scored on wild pitches and another on a weak ground ball for a NLDS 3-2 clincher. Chicks dig the long ball, but in Relentless, the gals can’t get enough of those wild pitches.

Still, the Giants might have their backs against the wall today had not Hunter Pence slammed his  against the wall with a spectacular Game Four catch to rob Werth of a possible triple. The catch Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series is often referred to as the greatest ever, although even Mays has said he made better ones. I don’t know if I’ve seen a better one than Pence’s, not only because of the high stakes but because of his disregard for his own safety with the inevitable crash against the fence.

As in 2010 and 2012, one of the keys to the Giants success in the post season was shutting down or containing big opposing bats. In the 2010 NLDS, the Giants held Atlanta slugger Jason Heyward to 2-for-16 with eight strikeouts. The Phillies’ powerful Ryan Howard struck out 12 times in the NLCS. Texas cleanup man Josh Hamilton went 2-for-20 in the World Series. In the 2012 NLCS, the Giants limited game-changer Matt Holiday of the Cardinals to 5-for-25. It was even worse for World Series foes Detroit, as Prince Fielder went 1-for-14 and Miguel Cabrera was limited to 3-for-14. Against the Nationals, the three-four spots in the order were silenced. Werth hit .059 with a 1-for-17, and Adam Laroche hit .056 with a 1-for-18.

The shutdown of sluggers didn’t apply to Bryce Harper. The Nationals’ 21-year-old left fielder put on a show on the field and at the plate. Two of his three homers came against Hunter Strickland, who gets up to 100 mph. One shot was last seen heading to McCovey Cove, and I assume it has landed by now. After the Game Four wallop, Harper gave the dagger eyes treatment to Strickland as he rounded the bases and then screamed at him from the dugout. A wiser veteran, perhaps manager Matt Williams, apparently straightened him out later, and Harper pretty much offered an apology to the Giants and the entire community of Relentless.

So for the second consecutive year, the Giants meet the Cards in St. Louie-Louie. History says the NLCS will be an even competition. Since the Giants moved West in 1958, they have played the Cardinals 666 times. St. Louis leads the head-to-head series 337-329. The Giants hold the lead in runs scored by just 2,805 to 2,803. Giants fans should brace themselves with the certain-to-come references to the overused phrase The Cardinal Way, used to describe how the organization develops players through its farm system and teaches them winning ways and winning attitudes. Google The Cardinal Way, and you are still getting references to it 20 pages later. Google The Giant Way, and the first three listings are the Giant Causeway, a Northern Ireland tourist attraction of basalt columns formed by an ancient volcano; Andre the Giant; and the New York football Giants.

Well, whatever Way the clubs are using, it is working. For the fifth year in a row, the National League contestant in the World Series will be either the Cardinals or the Giants.

Which raises the obvious question: What happened to the Dodger Way?

The Dodgers’ bubble machine used for dugout celebrations has been put into storage for the long winter after the Cardinals burst their bubble in the NLDS. This was not the plan when the new ownership promised an instant world championship. Injuries to the pitching staff were a challenge to the Dodgers this year, but under Millionaire-Ball, it was always thought that the club would use its cash to fill any need that developed. That didn’t really happen. I wrote back in July that the key to the Giants vs. Dodgers success this season would come down to a faceoff between Buster Posey and Yasiel Puig. Both had the talent to dominate play and carry their clubs. Posey, with a hot September offensive stretch and now with his post-season performance, has been a key in propelling the Giants. The slumping Puig was benched by manager Don Mattingly in Game Four, the most important game in the 2014 Dodgers season.

I would vote for Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw as MVP, but can we cool it with the Sandy Koufax comparisons? In the 1963 World Series, Koufax threw two complete game victories in five days while striking out 23. In the 1965 World Series, Koufax threw two shutouts on two-day rest and struck out 20. I realize Kershaw is not making these comparisons and that he shows great respect for Koufax, but the rest of us need to see Kershaw star on the big stage before we get too carried away with the regular season performance.

Giants fans danced on the Dodgers graves when they heard their rivals were eliminated in the NLDS, but still, a Giants-Dodgers matchup with a World Series berth at stake would have been riveting. Game Six of the NLCS was scheduled for Oct. 18, the 125th anniversary of the first-ever official game between the franchises. The series would not only have been a fierce competition, but also would have served as a glorious celebration of one of the greatest rivalries in sports history.

The Giants would have probably been the underdog to the Dodgers, just as they are to the Cardinals. But the Giants and their fans are not likely to be fazed by that role. That’s just the way the good folks roll in Relentless, Ca., where they can’t wait for a victory parade right down Never Say Die Boulevard.

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