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World Series #2: Series Gets Serious

World Series Giants Royals BaseballKansas City scored five runs in the sixth in which the Giants used five pitchers. Call it a Royals Flush. A night after the Giants won the battle of aces, the Kansas City Royals turned their doubters into jokers as they rolled to a 7-2 win in Game 2 to even up the World Series. Missouri is the Show Me State, so it is fitting to ask what the Royals showed us Wednesday night. No. 1, they have speed, as demonstrated when Lorenzo Cain scored from second on a bullet single to left field. Few runners would even think about heading home on that play. Some of the post-game analysis said Cain only tried it because inexperienced left fielder Travis Ishikawa doesn’t possess a powerful arm. Fact is, Cain could have beaten a speeding train to home plate. No. 2, the Royals can whack the ball around the yard, as they demonstrated in their sixth-inning offensive assault. No. 3, the flame-throwing bullpen trio performed up to the hype. And most interesting, they  were supposed to be the ones to crack on the big stage against the post-season tested Giants, yet it was a Giant who completely lost it in a nationally televised tantrum that surely embarrassed his veteran teammates.

Despite the dominating defeat, Giants fans should not despair. The Royals victory sets the stage for one of the grandest weekends in San Francisco baseball history. The Giants won the World Series of 2010 and 2012 on the road. Orange and Black Nation can now dream about a sweep, a Sunday clincher at home and a parade next week. AT&T Park is the biggest, longest-running party in the country with daily sellouts in one of baseball’s all-time environments, and the place will be revved up Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Of course, Giants fans shouldn’t get too carried away — some precipitation could affect play, and this pesky Royals club is good enough to rain on the Giants parade

Bring the broom: Here is  the recipe for a Giants sweep. The big concern now is the bridge between the starters and the back end of the bullpen of Sergio Romo in the eighth and Santiago Casilla in the ninth. The ineffectiveness of Jean Machi and Hunter Strickland in the game-changing sixth in relief of starter Jake Peavy raises legitimate concerns about the ability of the Giants middle relief corps to hold down the Royals if a starter lasts fewer than six innings. Here’s how the Giants should plan for the next three games: Game 3 is a Tim Hudson-Yusmeiro Peitit show. Hudson needs to survive at least five effective innings, and Petit can carry it for three innings and hand it off to Casilla. Ryan Vogelsong needs to go a minimum, six, maybe seven, and it’s all hands on deck to close it out. That puts game 5 in the hands of Madison Bumgarner.

Triple threat: The HDH bullpen, as they call them in Kansas City, lived up to expectations. Kelvin Hererra hit 100 mph in 1-2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Wade Davis threw a perfect inning in the eighth and closer Greg Holland struck out the side in the ninth. Untouchable? Their appearances came with the Royals in command, so they were pitching with a big margin for error. Looking forward to seeing them work against the Giants in a tight game where one mistake can be costly.

Blame Bochy? Just about every post-season move has turned to gold for Giants manager Bruce Bochy. The exception is reliever Hunter Strickland. Bochy can’t stop believing in Strickland despite the overwhelming evidence against him. Strickland came in for the fateful sixth, and threw a wild pitch and followed that by allowing a two-run double to Salvador Perez and a two run-homer to Omar Infante, his fifth big fly of the post season. Strickland’s tirade at himself appeared to also be directed to the Royals, who responded by coming onto the field. Bochy needs to sit him down with battery mate Buster Posey for some advice on how to act like a big leaguer. Still, knowing Bochy, I wouldn’t be surprised if Strickland ends up recording some big out before this one is over

Timmy: Tim Lincecum looked good, retiring five batters before breaking down with some type of back strain. I can’t help wonder whether the long non-activity contributed to the strain, as he tried to show his team that he could still get outs. For a moment, it looked like the old Timmy, face of the franchise, and Giants fans couldn’t help but fantasize seeing him come in to save the day at AT&T. Now one is left pondering whether Lincecum just threw his final pitch as a Giant if he can’t physically compete in this series. Lincecum has played the loyal teammate through his non-use in the post season, but there has to be some resentment inside, especially when he sees Bochy continually going to Strickland over him with mostly awful results. Lincecum is still on the payroll next year, but would he and the Giants really want to keep the relationship going if the club is afraid to use him? Final thought on Lincecum: If he had been brought in to relieve Peavy, would he have kept the Royals from scoring at all? Based on what Lincecum showed when he did pitch, the score would have stayed at 2-2 and they might still be playing.

Speed kills: The Royals haven’t been able to unleash their speed game yet. Posey even gunned down Alcides Escobar in the first. Kansas City should be aware that history shows the Giants will resort to dirty tricks to control base runners. The Royals topped the AL in stolen bases with 153, led by Jarrod Dyson (36), Escobar (31) and Cain (28), The Dodgers of 1962 led the NL with 198 steals, led by Maury Wills with a record 104. The Giants grounds crew created a sand  pile at first in a July game to slow runners, and followed that up a month later by over-watering to make a mud puddle at first. The ploy worked as the Giants bogged down the Dodgers running game, and went on to edge them out for the pennant.

Sunday celebration: Fans at AT&T will be ready for a party weekend and possible party Sunday night. But while the Champagne awaits a possible clincher, the Royals sobered the Giants crowd in Game 2. This team can pitch, catch, run and hit, and it’s hard to create a scenario that doesn’t have the teams heading back to Kansas City after hard-fought weekend at AT&T.

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