Reflections, Thoughts, Memories, Heroes. #SFGiants #THREERINGS #WorldChampions

Where to start?

Let’s begin with second guessing:

1. Ned Yost was destined to cost the Royals a game at some point in this postseason. It was going to happen in one of three ways: (1) bunting, (2) stealing, (3) a rigid approach to his bullpen.

He did so well for so long, but the bunt in the fifth inning against Bumgarner was a gift for the Giants. If you watch Bumgarner you know his biggest struggles tend to come early. How much more so given the short rest and entering the game in an unfamiliar situation. Bum still needed a good play (and great positioning) from Juan Perez to get out of the inning, but that bunt changed everything in my mind.

2. Maybe the biggest second guess of the night, came in the ninth inning. Alex Gordon hit a single that the Giants turned into a disaster. [Side Note: this play, in my opinion, is the single greatest difference between the #THREERINGS Giants and previous iterations. In another life, the Giants blow this game thanks to that misplay. But not this team. Not Bochy’s Giants.]

There are many Royals fans, and baseball fans in general, who wished Gordon was sent/ran through the stop sign. I have to be honest, as that play was unfolding in seemingly the slowest of slow motions, I could see it happening: Buster Posey having to block home plate to win the World Series. Of course this crazy postseason would end that way.

But, Gordon didn’t run. There are couple reasons he didn’t go home. One is that he was slow out of the box, assuming the ball would be caught or drop in for a single. He didn’t kick it into high gear until he rounded first.

Also, Brandon Crawford. This is the time to sing the praise of Brandon Crawford. I know he made more than an acceptable amount of errors this year, but how is he NOT a gold glove finalist? He made three fantastic plays in this game that saved the game.

  • First, in the second inning he made a ridiculously smooth play on an Aoki chopper right after Affeldt came in to get a force at second. That play is really, really  hard to make, and he made it look easy. That’s part of the problem with Crawford, he makes hard things look too easy and I think that means he gets taken for granted sometimes.
  • Second, Panik deserves all the credit in the world for his amazing play on the Hosmer double play in the third. The range, the instincts, the flip, all incredible. But the flip was a bit of a rainbow and it threw the timing of the play off, which meant that Crawford had to make the throw flat footed. And he gunned it to barely nail a diving Hosmer at first. You have to have an incredible arm to make that throw.
  • Third, on that fateful ball that Gordon hit, the Royals didn’t send him because Crawford (a) make an incredible pick up on a bad short hop throw…if he muffs that throw Gordon scores easily, and (b) has that incredible arm. Most of the breakdowns of that play I’ve read have Gordon being thrown out easily. The only way he scores there is if Crawford throws the ball in the stands or if Gordon blows up Posey and knocks the ball out, which we all know is illegal now.

One more thought on this play. I know Royals fans will replay it again and again and debate whether Gordon should have gone, but I actually think he should have stayed at second base. In a weird way Juan Perez may have saved the game by bobbling the ball and allowing Gordon to go to third. That meant Bumgarner was able to stay in the wind up. The way he was pitching it may not have mattered, but he had only been in the stretch for a few pitches all night, and hadn’t thrown from the stretch since the 5th. If Gordon’s on second Bum’s in the stretch and maybe that makes a difference. We’ll never know.

3. One final second guess: Hosmer is getting a lot of flack for sliding into first base on that double play. And he should. I never like that play. But, what about Lorenzo Cain sliding head first into second!!! That is one of the dumbest plays I have ever seen. Slide in feet first and maybe he throws off Crawford, or makes him jump which takes something off the throw, anything but head first.

Reflections on 2014:

I posted this last night/this morning, but it bears repeating: The Giants just won the World Series for the third time in five years without:

  • Angel Pagan, leadoff man and starting center fielder (really think about that for a minute. Not only did they lose Pagan, but it meant relying on Blanco, who is an admirable fill in, and Ishikawa/Perez/Morse. It worked out, but a lot of us thought the Giants were done when Pagan had to shut it down).
  • Matt Cain. Again, who would have thought the Giants could survive this. This team can survive a lot, but not losing a key starting pitcher. It’s an interesting thought exercise to wonder how this all would have gone done with Matt Cain. It is easy to think they would have had an easier time. Certainly, they would have fared better against the Royals with another dominant starter. But, you never know.
  • A Buster Posey home run. Or extra base hit for that matter. In terms of the guys who were there and played, this is the most remarkable part of the story. In order for the Giants to overcome the aforementioned loses one would think the only way to do it was with an otherworldly display by Posey. Now, let me say that in many ways he was otherworldly. Just not with the bat. The dude was so tired. He caught all but 2 innings, including all of the 18 inning game (that game might be the biggest factor in the Giants winning it all and in Posey wearing down). He played great behind the plate and he guided the pitchers through. He doesn’t get enough credit for the way he calls games and handles pitchers. Also, huge hat tip here to Panda and Pence who were awesome. So awesome.
  • Tim Lincecum. Most Giants fans could have envisioned the Giants doing well this season without Lincecum. He was a huge question mark coming into the year and no one really batted an eye when he went to the bullpen. But, think back over the years and is there anyway you could see the Giants winning a third ring without Lincecum contributing in some significant way? Hard to imagine.

The Royals beat an Angels team that was missing it’s ace. They beat an Orioles team missing three All-Star components of it’s starting lineup. But, they could not beat a Giants team missing some key pieces. What a resilient group of guys.

Madison Bumgarner:

The most amazing thing I had ever seen in baseball prior to this October was Barry Bonds. I know Bonds is a polarizing figure, but I will defend him as the greatest hitter of all time to my death.

And here’s the reason why: it wasn’t the number of home runs or the great distances they traveled (although that was amazing).

Barry Bonds was a marvel because he might only see 1 hittable pitch per game, sometimes per series. And he’d crush it. To do that requires an incredible discipline and an ability to repeat flawless mechanics at any given moment.

I know Bonds was all hopped up on a variety of things (who wasn’t at that point in the game’s history), but no amount of HGH can help you do what Bonds did, which is crush the ONLY good pitch he saw over a period of hours or even days. It was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen on a baseball field.

Until this October. Madison Bumgarner is good, I have no doubt about that, but I have never seen anything like that. No offense to Orel Hershiser, Dave Stewart, John Smoltz, Andy Petite, Roger Clemens, Josh Becket, Livan Hernandez, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Lester, and others.

The only thing I can compare it to is Curt Schilling and even he tweeted last night that Bum’s performance was the best ever. You shouldn’t be get people out that often. He did it. Unreal.

Not to be overly pessimistic, but the Giants relied heavily on Tim Lincecum in 2010 and he’s know a spot reliever. They relied heavily on Matt Cain and he had bone spurs removed from his elbow. They just relied more heavily on Madison Bumgarner than either of those guys, and so naturally I am worried about the long term effects.

If anyone is big enough and strong enough to bounce back it’s MadBum, but man that was a lot of innings/pitches.

On the Giants Good Fortune:

One of the redeeming qualities of Bumgarner’s dominance is that it seems to be taking away form the “Giants-are-lucky” narrative. It’s hard to call a team that wins #THREERINGS in five years lucky, but I’m still glad to not have to hear about it, at least not today.

Having said that it is worth reflecting on the Giants good fortune this postseason. Any team, no matter how talented, requires some good fortune to pull this off, so here we go:

  • I still think the biggest break the Giants caught came when Clint Hurdle chose to start Edinson Volquez in the Wild Card Game. He could have not started Gerrit Cole in game 162 and saved him for the WCG (his best/smartest decision). Or he could have gone with Francisco Liriano (a better matchup with all the lefties in the Giants line up). He went with option 3. It may not have mattered because MADISON BUMGARNER. But, still a big break for the Giants.
  • I think the second biggest break the Giants got was not having to face the Dodgers. They’d seen them so many times all year, and especially late in the season, and didn’t fare so well, especially against Zach Grienke. I think seeing a relatively unfamiliar foe in the Washington Nationals was important. Not having to face Clayton Kershaw (and Greinke) was a gift. The Nationals can pitch too, really well, but the psychology of facing the Dodgers in a short series would have been a huge challenge. So, thank you Nationals for having a better record than the Dodgers.
  • And thank you Cardinals for beating the Dodgers.
  • And thank you Matt Williams and Mike Matheny for the poor handling of your bullpens. (Although the pressure the Giants apply to teams had something to do with that).
  • Finally, the Giants caught a break by facing a very good Royals team that lacked the one thing they needed: an ace to match Madison Bumgarner. Now, the Royals may have one (Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy could be that guy as early as next season), and certainly James Shields was thought to be that guy, but they had no one to answer Bumgarner. Of course, there may not ever have been an answer to Bumgarner, but imagine this Giants team facing the A’s or the Tigers. There may have been other ways to beat those teams, but certainly their starting pitching would have been an overall advantage. Instead they got a team with just as many question marks in the rotation as they had, which allowed the room for Bumgarner to rise far above all.

Favorite Memories:

  • Crawford’s slam
  • Bumgarner’s first shut out
  • Strickland striking out Ian Desmond with the bases loaded
  • Yusmeiro Petit, 18 innings, and a Brandon Belt home run (h/t to Panda)
  • The worst intentional ball of all time
  • Santiago Casilla
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Ishikawa’s bases load double
  • The Bunt
  • Jeremy Affeldt, so many times, so many zeros
  • The comeback
  • Hunter Pence in the field, and at the bat
  • Ishikawa’s error
  • Michael Morse’s home run
  • Romo being nasty again
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Jeremy Affeldt running to first base
  • The Ishikawa Walk-Off
  • Pence’s homer
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • The Strickland meltdown
  • Second guessing game 3 (Posey vs. Hosmer)
  • The game 4 uprising
  • Joe Panik
  • Madison Bumgarner’s second shutout
  • Juan Perez taking Wade Davis off the top of the wall
  • The game 6 meltdown
  • Sacrifice flies, “runs-thrown-in”, Michael Morse’s cobra power
  • Crawford’s glove
  • I love Joe Panik
  • Panda wink’s
  • Jeremy Affeldt again
  • MADISON BUMGARNER
  • Buster crying
  • Sabean crying
  • Affeldt crying

In Conclusion:

Back in 2010 the Giants erased all the bad postseason memories that had haunted fans for decades. When they did it again in 2012 it lead me to think about correlations between past shortfalls.

In my mind, 2010 erased 2002. They were the closest comps I had at the time, and it seemed to be a cosmic baseball even out: every time tragedy could have struck they avoided it. 2012 made up for 2003, good teams that got themselves in holes. 2003 couldn’t dig out, 2012 did.

But, then this year happened, and at first I thought this was about 1993. An 88 win/second wild card team taking it all seemed to make up for a 103 win/no postseason tragedy.

But, now I’ve changed my mind:

  • 2010 was about the whole history, not any specific year. It was about an unlikely band of misfits doing what all the star powered offensive machines of years past could not do. It was a tiny pitcher filling the large shoes of Bonds, Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Clark, Williams, and reaching heights they never could in San Francisco.
  • 2012 was about 2003, 2000, 2004, 1997, 1998, 2009, etc. Any team that fell just short, erased by a team that should have/could have been put down 6 times.
  • 2014 is the one that heals the wounds of 2002. The parallels between the teams and the series were eerie. Young upstart vs. veteran experience. 2 Wild Card teams. Giants win game 1, Royals/Angels win 2 and 3, Giants come back at home and win 2 big games, Giants give away/blow game 6, and then a final game 7. Once again, the Bochy Giants are so different from the Dusty Baker Giants. No folding, no giving up, no backing down. Road teams were 0-9 in the last 9 games 7’s dating back to 1982. If you lose game 6, you lose game 7, or so it goes.

And so, of course, as they have so many times in the past 5 years the Giants defied the odds, bucked the trends, and emerged, unbelievably, victorious. Kings of the Mountain.

World Champions.

-SB

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