Monday, November 1, 2010

Youth is Served as Giants Near End of Quest


Funny how the mind works. Midway through Game Four I thought of a high school baseball tournament in Las Vegas several years ago. The team I was chaperoning was very deep in pitching. Playing a team from the LA area well into the tourney, our side tossed a kid out there who normally played shortstop but, truthfully, was also an accomplished hurler.
Five inings into a masterpiece, the opposing coach was marveling, "This is your number four?"

After being blanked 4-0, the Rangers have to be asking the same of Madison Bumgarner, who did what no 21-year-old fourth starter should be able to do. With ice water in his veins and lightning in his left arm, the Giants rookie (with a little help from his friends), has this unlikely bunch of castoffs just one win away from baseball immortality. After 56 years, the Promised Land is in sight. San Francisco is one victory away from hoisting the trophy for the first time.

I'm trying very hard not to get too excited. We've been here before. We've seen the Giants six outs away from a title only to have the rug ripped from beneath their feet. But this team is different. No stars, no flash, just business. This isn't the Bonds-Kent Giants that came so perilously close eight years ago. This, dear friends, is a team. They truly are geater than the sum of their parts.

I wonder what the thought process could be in the Rangers' locker room. You don't look at the Giants' line-up and say "Don't let this guy beat us." You can't pitch around the big bat because they don't have one. It's not the way one would set out to built a team, but it's hard to argue with the dynamic. Because it doesn't make sense to target one guy for special attention, the end result is each of them is gonna get a chance to beat you. It's nine-cylinder Russian routlette, and the Giants keep firing at the opportune moment.

Look at the list of unlikely heroes from Game Four: Edgar Renteria with three hits, Freddy Sanchez with superb defense, Aubrey Huff with a big blast. And, Madison Bumgarner...Holy Cow.

Bumgarner's outing will go down in Giants lore. He threw 130 miles an hour. He turned bats into sawdust. He sold hot dogs during the breaks. He fanned Vladamir Guererro on a pick-off throw. Steve Nebraska was seen worshiping at his feet. It was that kind of night, one that'll undoubtedly get better with each re-telling. But the reality, well, actually, he was that good.

Eight innings, three singles, no runs, and two ABs in which he made Guererro wish he'd signed that deal with the Giants back in '03. At least then he wouldn't have had to face MadBum and look like a fool on national TV. Jeez, Bad Vlad was anything but, looking like he was swinging underwater.

Before I go any further, it should be noted that home plate umpire Bill Miller sucked. I mean, really sucked. The strike zone was the size of  Karl Rove's conscience, and it shifted more than Meg Whitman's position on immigration. For four inings neither pitcher nor batter had any clue what was or wasn't a strike. But as the game progressed, you could see Bumgarner and Buster Posey figure it out. They took what was being given, worked both sides of the plate, and never let the Rangers get untracked. Texas, on the other hand, had a severe case of Gumby shoulders. Lots of belly-aching about calls instead of making adjustments. One team was there to gripe, one was there to play.

I hope Jonathan Sanchez was taking notes. Everything Sanchez did wrong in Game Three, Madbum did right. After a four-pitch walk to open the game had me reaching for the Alka Seltzer, the baby-faced Carolinian just shrugged and went to work. Three hours later, the Giants were on the doorstep of history.

Who'd have thunk it. The Rangers weathered CC Sabathia. They outguned David Price. They took down Andy Pettite. They even roughed up Tim Lincecum to a degree. But the gangly lefty tied Texas up in knots. The Rangers managed to get one, no joke, ONE runner as far as second base -- and that happened 6 2./3 innings into the contest. It wasn't that Bumgarner took the Rangers out of the game, it was that he never let them get into it.

It should frighten opposing teams to know that the Giants' battery from last night has trouble getting into an R-rated movie. Their combined ages wouldn't make them old enough to remember JFK. Ironic, since either could run for President right now and carry the Bay Area vote.

Bumgarner had help early. Freddy Sanchez bailed him out in the first by turning Josh Hamilton's hot shot into an inning-ending double play, then snow-coned Jeff Francoeur's line drive to end the second. With the Giants fielding a defense-first unit, Bumgarner just pounded the edges of the strike zone and let his teammates do the rest.

I don't know what possessed Bruce Bochy to go with the line-up he did. At first glance, I thought it was a drastic overreaction to Game Three. I thought it relied too much on Huff and Posey to get the job done, and neither had been setting the world on fire. So, what happened?

Uh, the defense made plays. Cody Ross flashed some serious leather in left, replacing Pat Burrell. Posey made the Rangers think about wasting the few baseruners they got by gunning down Hamilton on a steal attempt. And those struggling bats in the middle of the line-up? Huff and Posey both went yard.

It's one of those bizarre occurances that you don't try to explain. If the head cheerleader shows up on your doorstep with lingerie and a six-pack, you just enjoy the moment. The Giants are making all the right moves at the right time. If Bochy rambled off five random numbers right now, he'd nail the SuperLotto winners.

How to you describe this team? I think the best description is that they are all Andres Torres. They are grinders. They don't go out and destroy anybody: they wear them down. They're the guy who picks himself after crashing into a wall 999 times, absolutely convinced that the next collision will be the one to knock it down.

Ask Texas hurler Tommy Hunter about that "grinding" thing. Hunter didn't pitch badly yet only lasted four frames -- largely because of pitch count. His 60th pitch came in the third inning. In four combined ABs, Torres and F Sanchez alone worked him for 31 pitches. Wanna think that didn't have something to do with it when Hunter, immediately after a long Sanchez AB, tossed a meatball to Huff?

So it all comes down to this. The Giants have their ace on the hill, and if a team that hasn't dropped back-to-back games in the postseason can capture one of its next three, the spell will be broken. There will be rainbows and unicorns for everyone, dogs and cats will make peace, and Lindsay Lohan will get sober. I may even write something nice about Brian Sabean (and I'll have to change the sub-head on this blog, dammit).

While I can't make plans for a celebration just yet, that would be tempting the baseball gods and we all know how fickle they are, I have begun to ponder what I would do if the Giants actually won. There are a number of personal celebratory activites that come to mind, but one keeps boiling to the top.

I think I'll go strangle a rally monkey.

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