Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Blanco finds ways to help Giants top Cardinals

Cardinals reliever Randy Choate fields a bunt by Gregor Blanco, then throws wildly to first base in the 10th inning to give the Giants the win.
Cardinals reliever Randy Choate fields a bunt by Gregor Blanco, then throws wildly to first base in the 10th inning to give the Giants the win. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Gregor Blanco laid down the sweetest, nastiest bunt of his career and started running. He rounded first base, flew around second, sprinted toward some imaginary finish line even as Brandon Crawford crossed the plate and secured the Giants’ 5-4 victory over the visiting St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday afternoon in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

Later, the amiable center fielder stood in the clubhouse and joked that he kept moving because he feared being tackled by the bearish Pablo Sandoval in the postgame celebration. While that all sounds great, it’s less filling than the real Blanco story.

That was his bunt and his run and his game for the ages, or at the very least, for this season. These have been difficult, disjointed times. Blanco is the Giants’ leadoff hitter only by default, remember – because the popular Angel Pagan is sidelined by a back injury – and he had been far more productive batting eighth or ninth (.333) than at the top of the order (.213). Against these Cardinals, his 0-for-4 afternoon leaves his NLCS average at a feeble .143.

But there was that bunt, and that run, and two superb catches in center field, including a feet-first sliding grab of Matt Adams’ sinking line drive in the eighth.

“This was the toughest wind that I have ever played in baseball,” Blanco said afterward. “That wind was unbelievable. We hit a couple balls that should have been out in any park. They did it, too. They hit balls that didn’t go anywhere. The (balls) were moving from right to left, big time. (Kolten) Wong hit a double in the second inning. That ball seemed really far from me. All of a sudden I end up like, ‘Maybe if I dive, I could have made the catch.’”

The thing about Blanco is this: He hits lightly but rarely drops anything. If he gets to the ball, he owns the play. At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, and appearing much younger than his 30 years, he anticipates almost as well as he runs.

“Gregor gets really good reads on the ball,” noted Giants starter Tim Hudson, “and this is a really tough outfield to play. He’s able to go out there and make adjustments on the balls when the wind messes with them.”

But about that 10th inning, and that bunt, and that speed. Blanco, who lingered near his locker for almost an hour afterward while his 4-year-old son, Gregor Jr., ran around the clubhouse, described the sequence in detail and with great delight. In Spanish and English. In English and Spanish. Over and over, he told his story.

After Crawford led off the 10th with a walk and Juan Perez failed to sacrifice but singled off Cardinals reliever Randy Choate, Blanco was instructed to bunt his teammates to third and second. He fouled his first attempt, all the while closely studying Choate, the veteran left-hander.

“I noticed that the first bunt (foul), the ball was running hard,” said Blanco. “I said, ‘Wow. Come down, work your feet better. I just tried to see the ball and put down a nice bunt. I think it was a sinker, middle away.”

With the sellout crowd sensing something momentous, if not bizarre about to happen, the native of Caracas, Venezuela, angled a bunt that skittered along the grass on the third-base side of the mound. Choate charged the play and grabbed the ball, whirled completely around, then sidearmed a throw that sailed wide of Wong’s outstretched glove.

As Crawford bolted toward third, Blanco charged down the line, and kept going. He wanted to put pressure on the defense, he said, expecting to advance the runner while sacrificing himself. But that’s not what happened, as it turned out. Crazy things keep happening to these Giants. Manager Bruce Bochy said he was playing with “house money” these days and “delirious” with the turn of events.

Blanco, he just wanted to stay on the field. As his teammates stormed the dugout and approached en masse, Blanco kept going, playfully trying to escape the crowd.

“Especially Pablo,” he said with a smile. “He (hugs) really hard. There was no way he was going to catch me.”

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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