SAN FRANCISCO – There will be no local championship celebration in this gorgeous home of the San Francisco Giants – not this weekend, not this year.
If the Giants eventually prevail in the 2014 World Series – and the odds are against them after a razor-thin 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Friday – they will have to do it on the road, as they did when winning baseball’s top prize in 2010 and 2012.
And that, Giants fans, is much easier said than done.
In this series, in this year, the road before the Giants is far more daunting than the comparatively easy joyrides of 2010 and 2012.
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In those years, the Giants never lost a World Series game at home – something they did Friday. For 25 straight postseason games, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval had reached base safely and factored big in Giants glory, but he was fully neutralized Friday.
A Kansas City team that is so similar to the Giants – except for being younger and hungrier – bested every weapon the Giants possess in talent and strategy.
This was the kind of game the Giants typically have won in October by pitching well, playing flawlessly and making shrewd moves that pressured opponents into cracking and making key mistakes.
The young Royals didn’t flinch. They didn’t crack. They made every play in a game that came down to a few key moments where the Royals were just a little better, a little stronger and a little cooler under fire.
“They did a great job; they shut us down,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
When have you heard Bochy say that in the World Series before? You haven’t.
Yes, the Giants lost Game 3 of the 2010 World Series, but that was away from home – in Arlington, Texas. The Giants already had two home wins in their back pocket. They were halfway to a world title and knew more home games awaited them if they had another slip-up. In 2012, the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers in four games.
Going into the Friday’s game, there was a reason for an added layer of tension the Giants had previously been spared. There was a reason why this cauldron of Giants fervor went silent when the Royals jumped ahead in the first inning and held the lead as the tension rose with each passing inning.
Baseball’s numbers and history dictated that Game 3 was a game you had to win to stay on the right side of both.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this was the 55th time in World Series history that teams were tied 1-1. In the previous 54 times this had happened, the winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the World Series 38 times.
Suddenly, the Giants are under World Series pressure like never before to win tonight’s game or face being down three games to one with a final home contest here Sunday – and two games in Kansas City if necessary.
That means the 2014 Royals are in the commanding spot the 2010 Giants were. That means every pitch and play tonight will be seen through a must-win prism – or else.
Going into the game, the Giants will have to forget that these Royals beat them Friday on a macro and micro level.
Over the course of the game, the Giants’ first four hitters in their lineup – Gregor Blanco, Joe Panik, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval – were a combined 0-for-15 at the plate.
Part of that was due to superlative play by Royals outfielders, such as Lorenzo Cain.
But there were also sublime moments of tension when the Royals prevailed by remaining fundamentally sound and simply beating proven Giants stars.
The key sequence came in the sixth inning, when the Royals led 2-0 and it was imperative that Giants reliever Javier Lopez get one more out to get his team out of the inning.
Lopez, who has been unhittable in previous postseasons, got two quick strikes on first baseman Eric Hosmer. This was textbook Giants. They would escape further damage and ride the wave of fan fervor to mount a comeback.
But Hosmer kept fouling off pitch after pitch, in some cases barely getting any bat on the ball at all. Lopez seemed fully in charge – until Hosmer stroked a single to center field, driving in the Royals’ third run.
It proved to be the winning run. The Giants scored two runs but couldn’t get past the superior young pitchers the Royals deploy late in games.
And then it was over, 3-2. A huge section of Royals fans in deep blue went crazy and stayed that way for an hour after the game – something you’ve never seen here in World Series play.
The Giants fans left quietly.
“I don’t know if there is a better bullpen (in baseball),” Bochy said. “You’ve got it tough when you are facing those guys.”
Exactly. The Giants have got it tough.
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.