Total Pageviews

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's hard to choose the best of Giants' walk-off wins

My mom had eight children, and when we would inevitably ask her which of us she loved the most, she'd say "I love you all equally and differently."

Kind of how I feel about all eight of the Giants' walk-off wins.

Each of those wins have invariably been described as the best one yet, in the same way we tend to think of the most current trend as the most interesting or modern baseball players as better than their predecessors. But if you look back at each of the Giants' dramatic finishes, as I did, you can't argue against any of 'em. They all had that can-you-believe-it factor, and they seemed to come in bunches.

April 8

The Giants defeated St. Louis 5-4 in 12 innings. It was the seventh game of the new season and home opener for the World Champions.

As is the case in several of the Giants' walk-off wins, it took some earlier drama to set up the late-game heroics.

Down 4-3 in the ninth inning, the Giants were down to their last out with no one on when Aaron Rowand singled to center field, keeping the Giants' hopes barely alive. Buster Posey walked, and Pablo Sandoval laced a single to right field for the game-tying RBI.

The Giants could have won the game in the 11th (another recurring theme in these games: the missed opportunities that essentially built  the suspense for the inevitable ending). They had a runner on third base with no outs (Andres Torres had doubled and stole third), but failed to get him home; and after Torres was thrown out at the plate on a fielders choice, the Giants wound up with the bases loaded when Mark DeRosa struck out.

Finally, in the 12th, they took care of business: With Tejada on first with a single and two outs, Torres reached base when the Cardinals' Albert Pujols inexplicably dropped a throw to first. The Cardinals walked Freddie Sanchez intentionally to get to Rowand, but Rowand drove home the game winner with a long single to left field.

"It's obvious we're not dropping torture," said Boss Bochy after the game. "We were looking at a tough loss there and these guys battled back."

The torture bit: SF had taken a 3-2 lead into the ninth when Ryan Theriot, on the 12th pitch, gave the Cards a 4-3 lead on a two-out, two-run single off Brian Wilson after he had him in an 0-2 count.

Dan Runzler got the vulture win.

"It reminded me of last year," he said.

April 9

The Giants defeated St. Louis late for a second straight game, 3-2, this time ending it in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Down 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants had two runners on. Posey had gotten things going with a one-out single and Burrell drew a walk before Rowand flied out for the second out.

Miguel Tejada hit a long fly ball into the left center field alley. It looked like a home run off the bat, but then you saw center fielder Colby Rasmus closing in on it, and then you were resigned to the final out.

But just as he got to the fly ball, Rasmus seemed to shy away from it -- perhaps thinking that left fielder Jon Jay might collide with him -- and stuck his glove out hip level. It glanced off his glove, Tejada had a look of utter surprise, and the game was suddenly over.

Ramon Ramirez picked up the vulture victory, which was marred by the loss of Torres, who injured his Achilles Heel.

May 6

The Giants beat the Colorado Rockies, 4-3, coming back from a 3-0 deficit on Willie Mays' 80th birthday.

In the eighth, down 3-1, the Giants scored two to tie it. With two outs and Posey on first, Burell doubled Posey to third, and Nate Schierholtz -- remember that name! -- shot an opposite field line drive down the line past a diving third baseman Ian Stewart for a two-run double.

In the ninth, Cody Ross led off with a double down the right field line. And, with one out, Freddie Sanchez -- remember that name! -- hit a line drive single up the middle off reliever Felipe Paulino to bring home Ross.

"Happy birthday, Willie," Ross exclaimed after the game. "This is your birthday present."

Wilson got the first of four vulture wins, pitching a scoreless ninth.

"A lot of guys came through in some big situations," Sanchez said.

Rockies manager Jim Tracy had the bitter sound of a sore loser afterward: "We didn't do anything to lose the game. They just came back and won it. They had some good luck, in my opinion, with some well placed hits."

That's right. The Giants were lucky to win the World Series last year, and are still lucky to be winning all these close, drama-filled games.

May 7

The Giants beat the Rockies 3-2 the very next game with a game-winner in the bottom of the ninth.

They were up 2-0 before the Rockies tied it in the seventh. And then in the ninth, with Paulino out there again, the Giants got that feeling:

Rowand opened it up with a single to center; Sanchez singled to left. Tracy brought in lefty Franklin Morales to face lefty Mike Fontenot. But Morales (inexplicably?) uncorked his first pitch to the backstop, moving the runners up to second and third. Next pitch, Fontenot hit a fly ball deep enough to bring home the winning run.

Fontenot, who was filling in as the No. 3 hitter in momentarily supplanting Tejada at shortstop, had also made a spectacular catch on a Seth Smith line drive right at the edge of the outfield grass in the top of the ninth. Good thing because the Rockies got the next two on base before Wilson retired Dexter Fowler. Wilson got his second vulture win a half inning later.

"It's like last year -- there's magic inside," Fontenot said.

"It's similar to last year. We don't do anything easy," Bochy said.

In that game, Madison Bumgarner continued his stretch of winless starts to seven, though he threw well (6 IP, 1 ER).

May 9

For the third time in four games, the Giants waited until the end to strike with deadly timeliness, edging the Arizona Diamondbacks, 1-0.

Tim Lincecum and Ian Kennedy locked up in a 0-0 pitcher's duel over the first eight innings, without too many chances for either side.

In the ninth, with Kennedy gone, Posey walked to lead off. Darren Ford entered as a pinch runner and stole second. Aubrey Huff struck out, leaving the job to Ross, who singled down the third base line for the game-winner.

Who else got the vulture win? Wilson, of course. His third, on the shoulders of Lincecum, who threw eight shutout innings.

"We kind of have that fire going into those last innings knowing anything can happen. And stuff like this does, and it seems to happen to us quite a bit," Lincecum said.

May 20

The Giants beat the A's, 2-1 in the bottom of the 10 inning.

After scoring once in the first, the Giants went quiet as Trevor Cahill matched zeroes with Ryan Vogelsong.

In the bottom of the 10th, with lefty Brian Fuentes in and the game tied, 1-1, Manny Burriss led off with a single to left and was moved up on a bunt by Torres. The A's walked Sanchez intentionally to set up a lefty-lefty matchup with Huff, who foiled the strategy and won the game with a line drive single to right field.

"That's what this team does -- guys come through in the clutch," Huff said.

"Once you do it as much as this team does it, it comes a little easier," Burriss said.

Javier Lopez picked up the vulture win with a scoreless 10th.

May 22

Only two days later, the Giants did it again, only with a bit more flourish. They beat the A's 5-4 in 11, but had to come from behind a late deficit.

Down 4-2 in the eighth, after Tejada led off with a single to center and Fontenot flew out, Schierholtz capped an eight-pitch at bat with a two-run home run to tie the game off Grant Balfour. It was an electric moment -- one of a series that Nate has provided this year.

With one out in the 11th against Fuentes, Ford came through with single to right center field on an 0-2 pitch. He stole second, forcing A's manager Bob Geren to walk Posey intentionally -- the very natural move with Burriss due up.

Except Burriss had to keep up with his buddy Ford with a clutch hit, lacing a single to right field on the first pitch, sending Ford home with the winner. Ford has been out of action since after suffering a sprained ankle on the slide home.

Sergio Romo got the vulture win.

June 6

The Giants beat the Washington Nationals, 5-4, in 13 innings Monday night.

The Giants had to come from behind a 4-0 deficit -- the largest deficit of their eight walk-off wins. Aaron Rowand's solo home run in the seventh may have seemed to be a lone shot in the dark, but turned out to be the foghorn call to arms.

The three-run eighth-inning rally had some of those "well-placed" hits that embittered Rockies' manager Jim Tracy rued, not to mention some of that nicely timed good luck.

Sanchez started it all off with an ugly off-field bloop single. Ross followed with a double down the left field line. Then Huff cracked his bat and lofted a broken-winged fly ball that touched down near the right field line in front of the on-charging Jason Werth (deja vu moment: remember, he hit one in nearly the same spot to off Wilson win an extra-inning game against the Giants last year). Two runs scored easily to cut the lead to 4-3.

The hit broke an 0-for-13 string for Huff following his three home run game last week in St. Louis.

Rowand struck out but rookie shortstop Brandon Crawford kept the inning alive with a single to center field. Then, Nate the Great, with a 2-2 count, stroked one nicely off tough left-hander Henry Rodriguez into left field, sending Huff home. Huff got a good break off second and scored just ahead of the throw, tying the game and giving the Giants that look of inevitability again.

Inevitable or not, the Giants never make it easy. They had a shot to take the lead in that eighth inning with runners at second and third with two outs (Schierholtz had moved up on the throw home), but Burrell struck out.

They also had a chance in the ninth with runners at first and third and one out but failed.

And in the 10th, they had runners and first and second with two outs, but went down.

Finally in the 13th, they put together the right formula: a lead off walk to journeyman backup catcher Chris Stewart -- on four easy takes! After Lopez struck out, Torres lofted a single to right field. It was one of those keep-the-line-moving hits that Bochy preaches, so critical to rallies.

Tejada then hit a slow chopper to shortstop, hit just slow enough to allow Tejada to beat it out and keep the rally going. With runners at first and third, two outs, Sanchez took a 1-1 curve the other way, a line drive single up the right field line to finish things.

Lopez got the vulture win, though he had to pitch out of a bases loaded jam in the 12th and through the tough, power part of the Nationals' lineup in the 13th.


The Giants keep promising to start scoring early so they can avoid the heartburn, but they also seem to thrive on keeping games close and responding late. The burden of all this is that the Giants now are expected to pull out late victories every time. It's more of a shock when they don't than when they do.

Who among us didn't believe that the Giants would pull out a win Tuesday night? With Huff, Schierholtz and Brandon Crawford due up, the Giants down, 2-1, in the bottom of the ninth, the ballpark air (and airwaves) thick with anticipation.

Alas, magic can't be summoned like an order at a restaurant. It rarely comes forth when expected.

No comments:

Post a Comment