The evening began with Barry Bonds throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for Game Four of the National League Championship Series. Giants fans roared out their love for the man who built their ballpark and created so many electrifying moments with his soaring game-changing home runs. But that was so 2003. For the 2014 post-season Giants, it might have been more realistic to have the first ball thrown out by little Matty Alou, one of best bunters and contact batsman in S.F. Giants history. The Giants, now a win away from heading to their third World Series in five years after rope-a-doping the Cardinals again 6-4, have not only sworn off the big fly, but seem to have little regard for scoring runs by getting base hits. The Giants still haven’t hit a homer in the NLCS, and they’ve made an art form of bringing a run home without the batter getting a hit. The Bonds era was terrific when He came to the plate, but you’ve got to keep an eye on all 25 of these characters on the 2014 version of the club because you never know where the next game-changing moment is going to come from.
The Cardinals jumped all over an ineffective Ryan Vogelsong, finishing off the Giants usually rugged post-season starter with an old-fashioned homer by Kolten Wong for a 4-1 lead in the fourth. This is the kind of blow that usually takes noisy home crowds out of the game. Not so this time for three reasons: (1) They’ve seen their team enough in the post season to know that something weird and positive is likely to happen; (2) Secret weapon Yusmeiro Petit was warming up in the bullpen and had the track record of being able blank the opposition, and for proof of that you can contact the Washington Nationals; and (3) People come to AT&T for the party as well as the game and as long as the garlic fries, beer and Irish coffees are being served, no one is really going to let their daubers down until the seagulls start circling late in the game when all hope is lost.
AT&T is equipped with pretty much everything you’ll need except a phone booth, but somehow the Giants part-time starter/long reliever had found a place to change into his Superman costume, and when Petit arrived on the mound the whole place was ready to sing “When the Lights Go Down on the Cardinals.” Petit didn’t disappoint, striking the side out in the fourth and hurling three shutout innings. The Giants, meanwhile, scored runs the more traditional way on RBI singles by Buster Posey and Hunter Pence to cut the lead to 4-3 in the third.
Then came the zany sixth. Some have been saying that the Giants are just downright lucky in the way they score runs, and would point to the sixth as another example. But on further review these pull-a-run-out-of-the-hat innings have more to do with sound baseball than luck.
First, the Giants are putting the ball in play, striking out only 19 times in four games. Second, they haven’t committed any errors and I can’t recall any mental misplays either. Third, their bullpen has given up just three runs in four games, and all of those came in the Game Three defeat. So the Giants are doing very little to hurt their chances, while forcing the other team to play almost perfect ball. So after a Juan Perez pinch-hit walk and Brandon Crawford single puts two on and none out, Matt Duffy executes a textbook sacrifice bunt to move the runners up to second and third. Then the Giants picked on poor Cardinals’ first baseman Matt Adams. Gregor Blanco rolled a 75-footer that Adams couldn’t get to quick enough to get the speedy Perez at home. Joe Panik continued the abuse with a grounder right at the bag that Adams snared. If he immediately threw to second, he could have started the inning-ended double play. But by touching first, he took away the force at second, and his off-the-mark throw to try to get Blanco was too late. Adams also could have kept a better eye on Crawford at third, who eventually scored on the play. Posey then made in 6-4 with an actual base hit to score Blanco. Was all this bad luck for the Cardinals? Consider this: Would their pinch hitter have placed down such a perfect bunt? And if those two balls were hit to the slick-fielding Brandon Belt, would the Giants first baseman had made better plays to prevent both runs from scoring? I’m voting yes?
Yet, it must be said that there is nothing wrong with the two-run double or three-run homer. The Giants have left 34 runners on base, a huge number for four games. When opportunity knocks, sooner or later you’ve got to the answer the door, and the Giants might be well advised to cash in with a Big Fly or Big Double when the big chance comes calling in Game Five.
Just after the final out in Game Four, most fans rushed to the exits to join in the sea of red lights to negotiate their way home. But a small faction stayed back, soaking in the drama they had just witnessed as Tony Bennett’s “I left My Heart in San Francisco” drifted through the mostly empty stands. We’ve seen it all at AT&T since 2000, from the highs of the Barry Bonds Show to heartbreaking defeats and lost seasons to the euphoria of two championships. As the final chords of “San Francisco” were sounded, the remaining fans let out one more cheer, filled with confidence because they know that their team is more plucky than lucky, and that it might be enough to kick off a wild party the next night when they returned for Game Five.