The Giants answered the Cardinals’ walk-off victory in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series with one of their own Tuesday afternoon.
As if summarizing the way their respective offenses have operated in this best-of-seven series, the Cardinals’ win ended Sunday on a dramatic home run – and the Giants’ ended on a bunt.
Cardinals reliever Randy Choate fielded Gregor Blanco’s sacrifice attempt in the bottom of the 10th inning and threw it down the right-field line, freeing Brandon Crawford to score from second base and bringing the Giants streaming out of their dugout to celebrate a 5-4 win in Game 3.
The Giants took a 2-1 series lead over the Cardinals in the first postseason game to end on a pitcher’s throwing error since the 10th inning of Game 4 in the 1969 World Series. After squandering an early 4-0 lead and going eight innings without a hit from a position player, the Giants compiled a game-winning rally that included a walk, a single, three failed bunt attempts and one poor throw.
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“Rocks and slingshots,” said Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery.
It started with Crawford drawing a walk against the left-hander Choate, who held left-handed batters to a .093 average during the regular season. Crawford fouled off two 2-2 pitches from the sinkerballer before taking the eighth pitch of the at-bat for ball four, snapping a streak of 16 consecutive batters retired by St. Louis pitching.
Juan Perez tried twice to advance Crawford with a bunt – and twice fouled the attempt off. But Perez lined Choate’s 1-2 pitch up the middle for a single that put Crawford in scoring position.
“If you fail doing your job, getting the bunt down, you’ve got to make sure you at least hit the ball hard somewhere,” Perez said. “I was just concentrating on hitting a line drive somewhere.”
That brought up Blanco, whose first bunt attempt also dribbled foul. But Blanco put the second try in fair territory to the third-base side, forcing Choate to field the ball, wheel around and throw to first.
“He put down a perfect bunt,” Flannery said. “Put pressure on people to make plays, and that’s what you have to do.”
Choate’s throw sailed wide of a sprawling Kolten Wong as Crawford rounded third base for home, giving the Giants their fifth walk-off postseason win in franchise history. The Giants became the first N.L. team to win a playoff game on an error since the 1986 Mets won Game 6 of the World Series on a grounder under Bill Buckner’s glove.
“He’s a good fielder,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Choate. “Errors happen. That’s it.”
“If there’s an unconventional way to win a game, we’ll find it,” Crawford said. “But we don’t care how we get the runner in. It’s happened kind of a lot lately, but we’ll take it.”
Early on, it didn’t appear the Giants would need another unorthodox rally. They jumped out to a four-run lead in the first inning against Cardinals right-hander John Lackey, all four runs scoring after two were out.
Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval both hit fastballs the other way for singles and Hunter Pence drove a high 0-2 fastball down the right-field line for a double that scored Posey. Lackey walked Brandon Belt intentionally to bring up Travis Ishikawa, whom manager Bruce Bochy had bumped up to the seventh spot in the order before the game.
Ishikawa hit Lackey’s first pitch for a towering fly ball to right-center field that bounced off the base of one of AT&T Park’s archways for a bases-clearing double. While Lackey seemed to indicate he thought right-fielder Randal Grichuk should have caught the ball, Ishikawa admitted he, too, was surprised by where it landed.
“The way it came off the bat I thought it had a really good chance of going out,” said Ishikawa, whose three RBIs were one more than he’d totaled in 28 previous postseason at-bats. “I saw the replay and saw it hit the bottom of the fence, and now I’m just happy that it fell for a hit.”
It staked the Giants – who had entered Tuesday batting .197 with men in scoring position this postseason – and starter Tim Hudson to a first-inning lead for the first time in eight playoff games. But the Cardinals chipped away against Hudson, finally erasing the deficit in the seventh.
Wong hit a two-run triple off the wall in right-center in the fourth inning and Jon Jay manufactured a run in the sixth, lining a leadoff single to left, advancing to third on two groundouts and scoring when Jhonny Peralta yanked a chopper that hopped over the glove of third baseman Pablo Sandoval into left field.
Bochy let Hudson stay in to face Wong again, which paid off with Hudson inducing a fly ball to Blanco in center. But Bochy let Hudson return for the seventh, and with one out, Grichuk hit Hudson’s first pitch off the left-field pole for the Cardinals’ 12th homer this postseason, tying the game 4-4.
Bochy said Hudson “was going to see the first two” hitters of the inning before the Giants turned to their relievers. Jeremy Affeldt replaced Hudson after Grichuk’s at-bat and threw the first of 32/3 scoreless innings by the Giants bullpen, which surrendered three homers in Game 2.
That kept the Giants in position to win going into the 10th despite the fact they’d had only one hit – a fourth-inning single by Hudson – after the first inning.
“Our pitching allows us to be in games without slugging with people,” Flannery said. “And we can score without hits. We’ve proven that.”