A wild pitch to score the winning run and a catch for the ages by Giants right fielder Hunter Pence to quell a Washington Nationals threat and a courageous performance from a supposedly fading Ryan Vogelsong – who gave the Giants every ounce of ability and commitment he had.
It was enough, barely enough. It propelled the Giants past the favored Washington National on Tuesday night in a crazy, improbable, somewhat illogical 3-2 win. It secured the Giants third trip to the National League Championship series in five seasons.
It was the latest chapter of unforgettable October games for the Giants.
But we’ve seen this before. This is what the Giants do.
Baseball pundits can forever debate whether the Giants were actually better team than the Nationals.
They can point with derision how the Giants beat the Nationals on Tuesday night: A bases loaded walk, an infield out and a wild pitch – that’s what vanquished the team with the best record in the National League.
They can question why the Nationals rookie manager Matt Williams would go with a rookie in Aaron Barrett in a critical seventh inning when, presumably, he had veteran Nationals relievers and starters at his disposal. Barrett’s wild pitch scored the winning run.
The mighty Nationals could ask: Are you kidding us? That’s how we lost?
Yeah, that’s how the Giants do it.
Four years ago they beat the Atlanta Braves on an umpire gaffe and horrendous Braves fielding. Balls hit by the favored Texas Rangers struck the top of outfield walls and bounced back into play in the World Series, stranding runners that should have scored.
Two years ago, there were three ridiculous wins over a seemingly superior Cincinnati Reds team in the divisional series – the only time all that season the Reds had lost three in a row at home. In the NLCS, they were 3-1 down to St. Louis in the cauldron of Busch Stadium and Barry Zito saved them. I saw it and I still don’t believe it.
Then there was Pablo Sandoval humbling Justin Verlander and Gregor Blanco’s magical bunt that stayed fair and Sergio Romo daring to throw a fastball to Miguel Cabrera to get the final out.
“Nobody gives us credit,” Giants ace Madison Bumgarner said on KNBR, the Giants flagship station after the win.
It’s better than OK. The Giants are continuing one of the great runs in the history of an ancient franchise that couldn’t win in October when it was all about Barry Bonds, but win big now when its about a collective mentality of shared success.
After so many wins like Tuesday’s there is simply an expectation that wins like Tuesday will happen. This was without star center fielder Angel Pagan, whose absence left gaping holes at the top of the Giants lineup and in a diminished Giants outfield where bench player Juan Perez had to start in left field when he probably wouldn’t have caught a glimpse of the field if Pagan were playing.
The result on Tuesday was that the Giants hit 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They left ten runners on base.
Between Pence, third baseman Pablo Sandoval and first baseman Brandon Belt – the heart of the Giants order – they could only muster one a slim 1-for-10.
Vogelsong would not have been the choice to pitch Tuesday had the Giants not had to use Yusmeiro Petit in an 18-inning victory in Washington D.C. on Saturday.
“Vogey” seemed like he was pitching for his life. He was like a man who wanted to pitch today so he could pitch at least one more time in the NLCS or beyond.
He had looked so vulnerable all season long, yet he didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning.
How is this possible? That’s the question that trails the Giants in moments like these.
Well, they have a completely homegrown infield led by Posey, one of the standout players of his generation. They have a dynamic, positive force in Pence – whose sixth inning catch off Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth will be replayed for years. Pence was acquired two years ago by a front office that picked up Jake Peavy to replace Matt Cain to huge success. It was the same front office that signed Tim Hudson and developed Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo.
Pagan went down. Cain went down. Tim Lincecum forgot how to pitch. Belt was lost for most of the season. They keep winning. They keep believing.
“Every time we’re here, and I’m getting ready for a game, I just think back to when I was a kid playing in the backyard and making believe I was in this situation,” Vogelsong said afterward.
Then the Giants made the dream a reality. It’s what they do. It’s what they always do.