SAN FRANCISCO – This wasn’t a classic game because 11-4 routs never are classic, but the details of this rout won by the San Francisco Giants were the definition of fierce situational baseball by a desperate team.
A loss on Saturday to the Kansas City Royals would have pushed the Giants to the brink of losing the entire 2014 World Series, perhaps at home today before their devoted fans. By the third inning Saturday, a hugely impressive Royals team was ahead by three runs and threatening to blow the game open.
Every core decision made by Giants manager Bruce Bochy was being obliterated on social media, a reality in today’s world where everyone is a critic and has a platform to vent unfiltered ignorance.
Why did Bochy start veteran Ryan Vogelsong instead of rushing Giants ace Madison Bumgarner into the fray on three days’ rest instead of his customary four?
With Vogelsong pulled from the game in only the third inning while trailing 4-1, Bochy made another mystifying decision by inserting reliever Jean Machi – who has been hit hard this October.
This was it. Series over. The “genius” in Bochy had truly lost it and hung the Giants’ chances on a slippery pole of misplaced loyalty to his guys.
Then Machi promptly issued a walk to load the bases full of Royals.
AT&T Park, a joy factory on most nights, was quaking like a fawn in a lion’s den.
Suddenly, Machi was one misplaced pitch away from walking Royals starter Jason Vargas – making it 5-1 Royals – and setting the Giants up for the kill by the Royals’ superlative shortstop, Alcides Escobar.
Machi’s climactic pitch to Vargas cut through a fog of collective anxiety as it twisted toward home plate. Strike three! Vargas didn’t think it was a strike and, at the very least, it was a razor-close call.
Don’t be fooled – this eventual 11-4 Giants victory was that close to being a completely different story.
“Machi made things a little scary there,” Bochy said.
The manager’s moves were vindicated as the game progressed. In truth, Vogelsong was forced to exit the game in the third inning due the bad luck of softly hit balls by Royals batters that traveled just far enough to elude gloves. Some of the more damaging hits by the Royals to chase Vogelsong never left the infield.
Those are the breaks that destroy painstaking planning, even when the planning is reasoned.
“It’s part of the game now more than ever,” Bochy said of the second-guessing machine on social media platforms.
“You can’t change how you feel, your gut. You have to go with it.”
Once the Giants escaped the third, they began chipping away at the deficit and the moves by Ned Yost, the Royals manager, began to backfire.
Twice in key situations, Yost had brought left-handed pitchers into the game to force Pablo Sandoval – the Giants’ third baseman – into batting from the right side of the plate. It’s his weaker side.
But both times, Sandoval – who has been ill with flu-like symptoms – stroked huge hits to drive in key runs. Meanwhile, Bochy’s decision to start the youthful Juan Perez in left field – instead of the slugger Michael Morse – proved inspired.
Bochy’s reasoning was that the swirling winds on Saturday, and Morse’s lack of mobility, would create too many opportunities for the Royals to stroke hits over and past Morse.
Not only did Perez make a key running catch in left field, he drove in a run. But most important of all, the Giants scored runs and evened the game early enough to prevent Yost from deploying three powerful relievers he has at his disposal late in games.
Where on Friday the best Giants hitters were silenced, on Saturday it was a hit parade by Gregor Blanco, Joe Panik, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Perez and Brandon Crawford.
Did the Royals outthink the Giants or just get lucky in Game 3? Neither. These two teams seem destined to take it all the way to seven games.
Yost is even hoping for it: “We’re tied 2-2 in the World Series; how much more fun can that be?” Yost said.
“Somewhere inside of me secretly I had hoped that it would go seven games for the excitement and the thrill of it. Sure looks that way.”
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.