Thursday, October 21, 2010

Finally, A Chance to Phinish the Phillies

Kharma is a beautiful thing when it's on your side.

On two separate occasions it appeared fate and poor umpiring (not to mention Santiago Casilla) were conspiring to rob the Giants of a win in this most crucial of contests. Then kharma, the fickle and sometimes brutal muse that she is, looked upon the Orange and Black... and she smiled.

Game Four of the NLCS went into the plus column, and suddenly the G-men find themselves one win from the unthinkable -- a trip to the World Series.

Despite entering it leading the series two games to one, this was a contest the Giants absolutely had to have. A loss would have effectively turned the series into a best of three with Philadelphia holding home turf. Instead, it's the Giants with a chance to close it out at home, and it's Philly on the respirator. The Phils knew it, that's why Roy Oswalt pitched the ninth.

For the entire postseason,  the Giants have survived on pitching and luck. They got little of either in Game Four. This time they had something better.

Welcome back, Buster Posey. With all due respect to Messers Halladay and Oswalt, we have our our R.O.Y., and I like ours a lot better.

To be sure, Posey has been a big part of the team's success. He's largely the reason the Giants are where they are, and his deft handling of the pitching staff can't be ignored. But offensively he'd done nothing to help the team in games one through three. In fact, the middle of the line-up has been a huge black hole. Until this night.

Four hits (two doubles, two RBIs) and one of the biggest clutch at-bats of the year in that edge-of-your-seat ninth inning. Add in a defensive play that still has me scratching my head (catcher's gloves are not meant to snag short hops) and the kid had a heck of a night. And he had help. Aubrey Huff had three hits and scored the winning run. Panda smashed a crucial two-run double. Then a struggling and banged up Juan Uribe contributed a booming sac fly that sent the home faithful into pandemonium.

What made it so special was that this win didn't follow the script. A team that isn't built to come from behind, did exactly that. A team that has to win with pitching faltered on the mound. A team that needs to have the breaks go its way seemed to have the cosmos rallying against it. None of that mattered.

About those pitchers. Although tagged for three runs in 4 2/3 innings, Madison Bumgarner deserved better. Two of the runs scored after he departed as Casilla melted down for the second time in the series. True, MadBum set the table, but it was the pen that put the fork in his night. After the Giants rallied it was yet another bullpen failure, this one by Sergio Romo, which ratcheted up the pucker factor to an even more uncomfortable level.

Which brings me to this point. I hate sliders. Couldn't throw one as a pitcher, couldn't touch one as a hitter, and couldn't teach it worth a rip as a coach. It's a devestating pitch when it works, but it's also the easiest pitch to foul up. In Game Four, without fail, when the Giants gave up a crucial hit it was on a hanging slider. Casilla was overpowering Polanco with heaters, then hung a slider to cough up the lead. Romo served up a fat Frisbee to Werth to surrender yet another lead. It was the slider that deserted Bumgarner in the fifth. Get the wrong tilt or release and it spins up to the plate screaming "hit me" like it was Rihanna on a visit to Chris Brown's house.

You know what else hits hard? Fate. Yep, you knew I was gonna get back to this kharma thing, right?

Twice the Giants got screwed. Pablo Sandoval's much-replayed drive down the line was a fair ball, and I'm convinced Oswalt clipped Uribe with a pitch in the ninth. Those are usually the calls that leave you feeling like you got screwed with your pants on. No way Pablo bounces back with hit, and Uribe is doomed -- right?

Pablo lines a shot to the gap to plate two and give the Giants the lead. Uribe gets a chance to swing a delivers the game winner. Kharma? Gimme a big wet sloppy kiss, you beauty!

Fate even played a role in setting up the game-winner. If Ryan Howard isn't guarding the line, Huff's ground-ball single is a routine out. Posey's hit to advance him came on a cue shot down the line that might be caught in another ballpark, but at AT&T Werth had to guard triples alley. For both: right place, right time.

So, the Giants have one shot to close it out at home, and it's Timmy Franchise on the hill. Is there anyone else you'd want out there?

This is by no means over. The Phillies are two-time defending NL champs for a reason, and they're countering with their own ace in a rematch of Game One hurlers. The Giants need to show some killer instinct and finish them quickly.

Maybe, just maybe, it's fate.


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