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Matt Cain, who has been a civilian much of this year for the San Francisco Giants, was at the back of the team’s 11th champagne party in 48 months, standing next to Madison Bumgarner but taking it all in nonetheless from a safe and dry distance.
So when he was asked the one obligatory question of the evening – “Can you explain the winning run of this game for your children when the time comes?” – he half-smiled and said, “No.
“I’m watching like you are. But I can’t explain the third run. Or the first two runs either.”
In other words, he got one of the two right answers to explain San Francisco’s series-clinching 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals. In the National League Division Series.
The other, of course, is “Somehow this is who we are, and somehow this is what we do. Beats the hell out of me.”
How the Giants beat the Nationals in the four games and 16 hours of this series are a tale in and of itself, with each game getting progressively weirder. If there is an overarching lesson to be pulled from the series as a whole, it is only that pre-series analysis is a hot steaming torrent of nonsense, start to finish, top to bottom.
Take note of this when you sit down to analyze the NL Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals that begins Saturday. And drink while you're taking those notes. You’ll need it.
Yes, the entire Giants-Nationals series was a bizarre collision of baseball things not normally seen in one setting, but Game 4 was in its own way the zenith of madness. Indeed, it encapsulated in its own way the entire Giants season by sticking it into a lens fashioned from funhouse mirrors.
Ignore the merely remarkable – Ryan Vogelsong’s fifth consecutive exemplary postseason start (he is the third pitcher in baseball history to allow only one run in each of his first five playoff starts), Hunter Pence’s latest and greatest crash-test-dummy catch (he put a dent and a name to the fourth archway as Pence’s Turnbuckle on Jayson Werth’s sixth-inning triple-in-training), Bryce Harper’s third gargantuan home run for Washington (by altitude this time rather than longitude or latitude), and the exemplary work of the Giants bullpen for a fourth consecutive game.
No, it is much better to wrap your skull around the delicious 125 feet the Giants needed to score their three runs, because they actually took the team’s year-long narrative and turned it into an Internet meme.
First, the mundane – Brandon Crawford’s one-out line single to left off Washington starter Gio Gonzalez. Then the ridiculous – Juan Perez’ agonizingly slow chopper to the right of the mound that went through Gonzalez’ legs. Then the preposterous – Vogelsong’s sacrifice bunt that third baseman Anthony Rendon charged far too late. Then the embarrassing – Gregor Blanco’s four-pitch walk to score Crawford. And finally, the routine – Joe Panik’s pedestrian grounder to first baseman Adam LaRoche that scored Perez.
That’s 50 feet, plus 35, plus 100, for 185 total feet of offense – a routine fly ball, or two two-hope grounders to third.
But wait, it got better, and when we say better, we mean more downright ludicrous.
After Harper doubled home the first Washington run in the fifth and caromed a fly ball off the 8:30 Southwest flight to Portland to tie the game in the seventh, Washington manager Matt Williams got caught in one of those rookie manager maelstroms that occasionally happen this time of year.
He opened reasonably enough with the second of his two lefthanded relievers, Matt Thornton, who retired Blanco. But he them gave up successive singles to the team’s new plush toy, Joe Panik, and catcher Buster Posey. Williams then opted to bring in rookie right-hander Aaron Barrett rather than his more accomplished and experienced late-inning men, Tyler Clippard or Craig Stammen. And Barrett turned it all to hash, walking Pence, and then throwing a wild pitch to score Panik with Pablo Sandoval up. The ball caromed straight up from the backstop, which takes 30 feet off the total of 185, plus the 25 feet it gained while airborne, meaning that the Giants won the game with 130 feet of baseball.
And it could have been worse. Barrett intentionally walked Sandoval and threw another wild pitch on ball four (again, let me remind you, ON AN INTENTIONAL WALK!). Catcher Wilson Ramos retrieved the ball quickly, though, and Barrett got to home plate in time to prevent Posey from scoring a pie-fight-quality fourth run.
But three slapstick runs were enough, as it turned out, because Vogelsong gave the Giants 5.2 innings of two-hit ball, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla pitched heroic eighth and ninth innings, and Pence sealed his Cartoon Network Adult Swim animated series by pushing the right field wall back about eight inches with his rib cage.
And, ultimately, these are the 2014 San Francisco Giants. They do what they do, they don’t know exactly how they do it, but they’ve done it too long not to be able to do it some more. The St. Louis Cardinals know this from 2012, and trust us on this, they will look upon the Giants in Game One of the National League Championship Series as what they have finally revealed themselves to be:
The mutant product of the Insane Clown Posse and a gathering of warlocks.
There are forces here that neither they nor we fully understand, but take care to wear rubbed-soled shoes to prevent electrical shocks. This is way more than Torture. This is the occult with cleats.
-- Ray Ratto, CSNBayArea.com