Friday, October 17, 2014

Tough To Top

The NLCS pitted a pair of teams I don't especially care much for in the Giants and Cardinals against each other for the second time in 3 years. I had to root for the Giants, because as I've said many times over, I'm just sick of the Cardinals and I just want them to go away and stop being so smarmily successful.

But if I have to throw some praise at these two teams, I will, and after watching this 5-game NLCS play out, both teams deserve some praise because this was one hell of a series. Sure, the Giants ended up winning 4 games to 1, and if you look back on it 20 years from now, you might think this was sort of a ho-hum kind of series, and you'd be severely wrong. Every game in this series had some sort of weird drama going on, starting with Madison Bumgarner's shutout in Game 1, followed by the Cardinals Home Run barrage in Game 2, an extra-inning throwing error in Game 3 and the back-and-forth Game 4. But it was capped last night by perhaps the most memorable game of them all. In a game that really had just about everything you could want in a Baseball game, the Giants won 6-3 on a walk-off Home Run from unlikely hero Travis Ishikawa. That's what everyone will recall. But what got the game to that point was sort of the epitome of everything that makes Baseball great.

Start with the classic Pitcher's duel that ensued between Madison Bumgarner and Adam Wainwright, a pair of sage veterans (if you can call the 25-year old Bumgarner a veteran—considering he's going to his 3rd World Series, that's all the street cred he needs) that can boast all sorts of accolades. They both got dinged for some early runs but by time the middle innings rolled around, they'd settled in and were just throwing darts at each other. At one point, Wainwright had retired something like 10 in a row which was pretty good, except that Bumgarner had retired 13 in a row. Still, the Cardinals clung to a slim 3-2 lead, which they needed to hang on to if they had any kind of hope of getting the series back to their home park in a situation that could have been demoralizing for the Giants.

But the Cardinals removed Wainwright in the 8th in favor of crafty submariner Pat Neshek and immediately the Giants got off the mat and tied the game courtesy of a lightning-like Home Run off the bat of Michael Morse. Again, the kind of play that might get forgotten given how the rest of the game played out, but a huge hit that tied the game and changed the way the Cardinals handled the remainder of the proceedings. Rather than setting things up for their closer Trevor Rosenthal, the Cardinals went to Michael Wacha for the 9th inning in a tie game. This is all fine and good, considering Wacha's outstanding postseason in 2013. But Wacha was injured for a good share of this year, returned very late in September, was kind of erratic and hadn't pitched in a game at all since September 26th. And now, Mike Matheny threw him out there in the 9th inning of a tie game he couldn't lose? A calculated risk, but it didn't work. Wacha gave up a leadoff single to Pablo Sandoval, followed by a Hunter Pence fly out, but then Wacha essentially lost the plate. He walked Brandon Belt on 4 pitches and then, after Matheny elected to leave him in to face Ishikawa, fell behind 2-0. Needing to throw a strike, Wacha more or less aimed one and the result for him was instant disaster, because Ishikawa shot the pitch straight out over the Right field wall, and the Giants Won The Pennant, the Giants Won the Pennant.

Whichever team ended up winning this series would have done so falling in line with the "Team Above All" theory, because there's no one breakaway star on either side. True, Bumgarner was particularly dominant for the Giants and his NLCS MVP was well-earned. But the Giants still had to win on the days he wasn't pitching, and in those instances, it was usually someone like Hunter Pence or Gregor Blanco stepping up and getting the job done. They continued this little every other year thing they have going on and advanced to the World Series for the 3rd time in 5 years, with mostly the same group of guys that have done it for them twice previously. They'll now match up with the Great Cinderella Story that is the Kansas City Royals in a series that, for once, they'll probably be favored to win. But whatever happens, this should be a real treat of a World Series coming up next week, because these two teams really know how to play the game, and they've already put forth several top-quality efforts this Postseason. I'm looking forward to it.

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