Friday, October 29, 2010

Is This Heaven?

"There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what's possible." -- Ray Kinsella (Field of Dreams.)

Ian Kinsler, meet your fate.

All through the post season I've been waiting for that one moment that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, something that would cause me to finally believe that this personal four-decade Bataan Death March of fandom was about to come to a glorious end. I wanted a sign from above, an indicator that the powers that be were finally, mercifully on our side.

In Game Two, I got it. I don't have much hair (at least not where I want it), but what I possess was at full attention.

In a scoreless game, Kinsler hit a rocket to lead of the Rangers fifth.. The center field wall at AT&T Park is 399 feet from home plate, and Kinsler's ball traveled EXACTLY 399 feet. Now I'm no geometry whiz but the force and trajectory required to get a baseball from Point A to Point B would seem to dictate that a said ball dropped directly on top of the fence should result in a home run. Replicate the feat 1,000 times and the ball goes out on 999 of them.

Kinsler's didn't. It caught the padding and backspun into play, Andres Torres played it off the wall, and Kinsler was limited to a lead-off double and he died right there -- the Rangers' chance to grab a lead spoiled. The rest is history. The Giants broke through in the bottom of the frame. Matt Cain threw a masterpiece. The Giants smashed open a tight game late for a 9-0 win over Texas. San Francisco has a two-games-to-none lead in the 106th World Series.

Just saying it produces that same hair-raising effect.

The San Francisco Chronicle asked the question this morning: "Reasonable people in an enlightened era do not believe in fate and destiny, do they?"

I'm not reasonable. I'm a Giants fan, and I'm hungry! There is no rational explanation for the way the first two games have played out, so I'm comfortable believing in lucky socks and pixie dust.

If someone had told you one of these teams would go off for 20 runs over the first two contests you'd have smiled and said that, yes, Texas has one heck of an offense. If you'd been told the offensive juggernaunt would be the Giants, you'd have summoned the guys in white coats and had that same someone submitted for immediate drug testing -- not that I speak from experience or anything.

We expected to get good pitching, even though the Lee-Lincecum duel never materialized. But the truth of the matter is that the Giants' best postseason pitcher hasn't been The Freak. October has been the coming out party for Matt Cain.

It's long been discussed. Cain, the longest-tenured Giant despite his youth, was projected as an ace. It never happened, and although he's been a solid starter throughout his brief career his star has been eclipsed by newer arrivals like Lincecum and Buster Posey.

Until now.

Matt Cain has arrived, and did he ever pick the right time to show up.

The numbers aren't staggering by themselves: two strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. But make no mistake about it, Matt Cain dominated the Rangers. Oh, they had some threats, but when Cain got into trouble, he was at his best.

Pitching to contact, he didn't overpower the game so much as he got it to cooperate. The Rangers cash in oportunities. That's their game. Cain just shrugged and kept pounding the stirke zone, leaving the Rangers wanting like a homeless guy waving a tin cup outside the Embarcadero BART station.

Let's put it into context. Lincecum got press for his 14 strikeout performance, Jonathan Sanchez for his Jekyl & Hyde act, Madison Bumgarner for his age (or lack thereof). All Cain has done is go the entire postseason without surrendering an earned run. Nothing. Cliff Lee was supposed to be unbtouchble? Note to Faux Sports, ESPN and MLB Network: you picked the wrong guy for that graphic.

And to make the story even more appealing, to what did he credit his success? According to Cain, his catcher has "magic fingers." Seriously. It's that close to Cole Trickle being told he's driving on special tires. How can you not love this guy? Cain is the personification of this season of discovery, of rebirth, of exceeded expectations. Thee's no presentese. Al Davis would love this. Just win, Baby!

Which brings me to Edgar Renteria.

I'm getting sick of apologizing. I swear I'm only going to do it for two more wins. But darn it, Edgar, I'm sorry. You stunk all year. You spent more time gathering dust on the shelf than a Members Only jacket. And now, with your career likely down to its final days, it's you who really came though. Two hits: the tiebreaking home run in the fifth and a two-run single in the eighth that effectively ended the competitive phase of the ball game. Okay, you did drop a throw from Posey that cost the team an out, but given the end result we'll let that slide (don't ever do it again).

That's the way it's been: a different hero every night. Game One belonged to Freddy Sanchez and Juan Uribe, Game Two to Cain and Renteria. Javier Lopez is the secret weapon that everyone suddenly knows about. And in case you hadn't noticed (and ESPN clearly hasn't), Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff are also getting it done. Even Aaron Rowand contributed.

Think about this. If you counted Rowand's pinch hitting appearance in the ninth spot, the bottom third of the order went 4 for 8 eight in Game Two, driving in seven of the nine runs. What is the world coming to? I'm sure the Rangers had all sorts of designs on how to control Posey and Burrell. Nobody, especially the Rangers, expected Uribe, Renteria and Rowand to be Murderers' Row.

Ross was involved in a play that won't show up in the box score, but I gotta comment on it. Josh Hamilton's sinking liner with Young on first could have been a game changer. I've been there, and the "I've got it, no I don't" feeling is sickening. Look at the video of Ross's dive. He knew he couldn't catch the ball. That hands-down gesture was intended to smother it. Ross was going to take that hop in the teeth if he had to, but that ball was not skipping past him. If it does, there's a run home and a man on third. Instead the runners moved a scant 90 feet, and Cain diffused the rally.

That was a difference maker, one of many the Giants have pulled off. Baseball is a game of little things. I've been told size doesn't matter (a story for another time)  but sometimes the little things play big.

This shouldn't be happening. A team that couldn't hit all year just set a record for runs scored in the first two games of a World Series while an offensive powerhouse is struggling. The Rangers rolled out an untouchable ace - who promptly got bombed. A Texas bullpen that had been more than capable couldn't find the plate with a laser sight. The Rangers running game is stuck in neutral.  On the other side we see guys who haven't contributed a lick all season coming up big. Players pulled from the scrap heap are suddenly heroes.

These are not the Barry Bonds Giants anymore. No stars, no drama, no recliners in the clubhouse. Just 25 guys (and maybe "The Machine") pulling on the same end of the rope, and they're well on their way hanging Texas with it.

The AT&T Park sound system blared out Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" after the game. I can't be the only one who got the chills when the fans began singling along and drowned out the PA on the lyric "Ooh, we're halfway there."

But it is only halfway. I've been punched in the emotional chops too many times to start planning the parade. If the evil Jonathan Sanchez shows up on Saturday, we've got ourselves a fight. But if he's on his game, well, this could be a very memorable weekend.

"Can I ask you something? Is this heaven?"
"It's Iowa."
"I could have sworn it was heaven."
"Is there a heaven?"
"Oh, yeah. It's the place where dreams come true."

"Maybe this is heaven."


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