"And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was ... Jonathan Sanchez? And playoffs followed with him. And power was given unto them over the San Diego part of the earth, to kill with slider, and with fastball, and with splitter, and with the unexpected three-bagger ripped to the seventh archway of the earth."
-- Revelation 8:8 (revised)
It's not a stretch to get into metaphysics at a time like this -- a Jonathan Sanchez triple to break the ice in a crucial game is undoubtedly one of the signs of the apocolypse. The incredulity in Duane Kuiper's suddenly-falsetto voice as the shot rolled into triples alley said it all. No freaking way was this happening. After all of the freak plays, bad calls, front office blunders and on-field miscues that had punctuated the improbable 2010 season, one of the most bizarre occurances of the season was actually breaking the Giants' way.
Sanchez provided five effective innings on the hill (and for once Bruce Bochy had the sense to go with a quick hook when he started to unravel), but it was one lazy fastball from Mat Latos and one improbable swing that provided the signature moment in the penultimate game. Sanchez's three-bagger sparked a two-run outburst that stood up, and the San Francisco Giants are the 2010 champs of the National League's Western Division.
Read that last line again and savor it. I'll wait.
There are going to be a lot of theories about how a very flawed Giants team amassed 92 wins and hunted down San Diego in the final month of the season. But first, let me just enjoy this for a while. I'm serious. Go for some ice cream, grab a beer. Come back later. I'll still be trying to wipe the grin off my face.
Okay, back to business. What happened? How can this team that at couldn't hit water falling out of boat, had a BP pitcher for a fifth starter and a bullpen that permitted more lazer shots then the encore of a Kiss concert right the ship and earn its first trip to the postseason since 2003?
"And a child (named Buster Posey) shall lead them."
--- Isaiah 11:6 (revised)
You can talk about the rise of Madison Bumgarner, the acquisitions of Pat Burrell and some solid relief arms, the rebirth of Aubrey Huff, the emergence of Andres Torres, or even San Diego's September melt-down, but the Giants were two games over .500 when "The Kid" arrived. They were 20 games over the rest of the way.
I won't overstate Posey's value (as if I could) -- the pundits have been heaping sufficient amounts of much-deserved praise on him for weeks. But it was beyond appropriate that his eighth-inning blast gave Brian Wilson (and Giants fans) room to breathe and, for the first time, finally allowed this blogger to really believe IT was gonna happen.
It wasn't easy. The Giants needed just one win out of three weekend games, and drug out the torture longer than the final act of Lord of the Rings.
On Friday, Matt Cain's fastball was straight and the Padres feasted. On Saturday Barry Zito turned into pudding and the offense spent yet another day in hibernation. There were clues, and they weren't subtle, that this was gonna be a disaster.
Is there anyone who saw Will Venable catch Aubrey Huff's blast in the ninth on Friday and (a) wonder why in the name of Bobby Richardson the Padres had him playing that deep and that close to the line in that ball park, and (b) didn't take it as an omen that the Baseball Gods were gonna whiz on San Francisco once again?
Hey, I believe in omens, kharma, curses, fate, whatever you wanna call it. Richardson, earthquakes, rally monkeys, JT Snow running in quicksand...what's next, locusts? This was shaping up to be a meltdown on a Chernobyl-ish level. And then...
Sanchez closes his eyes and belts one into triples alley. Torres whiffs and the opportunity all but evaporates, only to see Freddy Sanchez get the clutch two-out hit the Giants prayed for all year but never seemed to find-- a solid shot up the middle to plate the first run of the game and allow me to breathe for the first time since Thursday.
The kharma began to swing. Seemingly everybody expected Denorfia to glove Huff's drive to left center, including Huff. When Denorfia's lunge came up inches short and Freddy came around to add the second run, I got that same feeling you get when a pure "10" walks into the bar. Excitement at the possibities; dread that hopes could be dashed faster than you can say Claudine Longet.
And the fear was coming to pass when J-San lost his focus in the sixth. In a rare moment of clarity, Bochy didn't let this one escalate. Then came the moment everyone is talking about while still missing its true value.
Two on, none out, Yorvitt Torrealba at the plate to face Santiago Casilla. Why Torrealba wasn't ordered to bunt is beyond me. Instead his hopper was gloved at third by the Kung Fu Panda. Pablo Sandoval stepped on the bag and fired to....second?
Talk about a gamble. Every convention of baseball says you throw to first. It's an easier play, the batter didn't get the head start baserunners do, and you don't have to hit a moving target. But Sandoval defied convention. The difference? In both cases there are two out and a man on, but the Giants gained 90 feet....90 HUGE feet.
How huge? Perennial Giant killer Scott Hairston's grounder into the hole extends the inning if that runner is at second base. With a runner at first, Uribe has a play on Torrealba. That small gamble was the difference between runners at the corners and the Giants heading back to the dugout. Ill-advised? Yep. Lucky? Maybe. But perhaps the baseball gods owed us one.
Maybe said gods were trying to balance out the umpires, who seemed to have hung out the "Let's Screw the Giants" sign. Mike Everitt's inexplicable call of foul on Torres' first-inning should-have-been double had third base coach Tim Flannery close to a stroke and everyone from Stevie Wonder to Hellen Keller screaming "Are you blind!" And when plate umpire Tim McClennan started denying appeal requests on check swings, it certainly looked less than kosher.
A personal note. I like Tim McClellan. I've met Tim McClennan, I have photos of me with Tim McClennan. He's a nice guy. And I wish he'd pull the knife from my back because that game was butchered. The Torres call threatened to suck the life out of the team before things really got started. And when McClelland decided to engage in a battle of wills with Posey, it seemed as though the deck was stacked.
There were rough spots, to be sure. Casilla's error on Eckstein's would-be third out in the seventh was the kind of "Oh bleep, here we go again" moment Giants fans have come to fear...and expect. The ghosts of Seve Finley and Scott Spezio were whispering in my ear, causing blood vessels to burst at an alarming rate. Tying runs on board and the Padres' 3-4-5 lurking.
Ramon Ramirez, a mid-season reach vilified in Boston, fans Miguel Tejada. Threat ended.
Giants clutching up? What in the name of Bobby Thompson is going on here?
When Sergio Romo howled coming off the mound after whiffing Torrealba to finish the eighth, I howled with him. I scared my wife, made one of my 18-month-old boys jump out of his skin (Daddy is sorry, Danny) and woke the other from his nap. Hey, his name is McCovey. He needed to be awake to see this anyway.
Posey provided the exclamation point with his eighth-inning rocket, and then it was over. Brian Wilson pitched a quiet ninth -- with the added entertainment value of watching Luis Durango try to walk on a 1-2 pitch. Kharama even showed a sense of theater by having the son of a former Giant (Will Venable) flail at the final pitch to send all those who bleed Orange and Black into delerium.
Me? One big fist pump before sagging into the couch. A big smile and a bigger sigh of relief -- one son on either side of me with quizzical looks on their faces as Mommy explained to them that the tears creeping out of Daddy's eyes were a good thing, that for once the Giants -- the thorn in his side, the rock in his shoe, the itch he couldn't scratch -- had made him VERY happy.
That elusive World Series ring is still along way off, but Wilson said it best in his postgame comments. The Giants have a shot, if for no other reason than there are only eight teams still standing and they're one of them. And with their pitching, well, stranger things have happened.
Dare to dream? Me, Mr. Cynical? Why not?
Perhaps it was fitting that the Giants clinched on the 59th anniversary of The Miracle of Coogan's Bluff. If a flawed team led by a wet-behind the ears slugger, a long-haired freak, a flamethrowing southern boy and some DH cast-offs nobody else wanted can win the division, I guess miracles still happen.
The San Francisco Giants; Western Division Champions.
The world really is coming to an end.