One: A date with destiny
So the 2010 National League Western Division Championship will be decided on the last day of the season. Or the two contestants still standing, the San Diego Padres, and “your” San Francisco Giants will play an overtime game Monday. Either way, it’s crunch time.
The Padres have taken two straight from the Giants, looking comfortable, relaxed and perfectly at home in Mission Creek ballpark. Meanwhile, the Giants have struggled; meaning pitchers Matt Cain and Barry Zito have turned in back-to-back sub-par performances.
Are the fans terrorized? No doubt or uncertainty concerning the Giants’ final triumph will be tolerated, although nothing is more uncertain than Giants’ baseball in 2010 and the fans know it. Stressed, yes. Tense? For sure. Intense? Are you kidding? There’s a word for it around Mission Creek on Sunday: “torture.”
Two: Sr. Ambiguity
Over the past couple years, Jonathan Sanchez has developed a reputation for inconsistency. One game he can be great, the next game not so great or truly terrible. And it’s not just game by game, it’s inconsistency within games as well.
Take today’s second inning. Ryan Ludwick slams Sanchez’ first pitch into right center field, sending Jose Guillen back deep into the shadows to make the catch. Jonathan then walks the next batter on four pitches: two changeups low, two fastballs high, really high. The weak hitting Scott Hairston strikes out, but then Sanchez walks Chase Headley — two high fastballs and two low changeups.
This is a perfect situation for the Padres to push in a run, but Sanchez douses the flames before they can spread by striking out San Diego pitcher Mat Latos. Sanchez may be off, but he doesn’t let the problems get to him like before. He makes adjustments and moves on.
In May, in the last game of a three-game series with the Padres, Sanchez pitched extremely well, only to lose 1-0 to Mat Latos. The Giants got one hit that day.
Although the Padres’ hitting has been weaker and more inconsistent than the Giants’ of late, their fall from first has as much or more to do with their pitching. At the All-Star break Brian Wilson predicted the team that would win the division would be the team whose pitching staff did not wear down. Lately, the Padres’ pitchers have shown serious signs of wear and tear. Especially Latos.
Andres Torres leads off for the Giants with a double that hits the left field foul line, but the umpires call it foul, igniting a torrent of boos. So Torres returns to the plate, hits the ball hard a couple more times (really foul), then laces a single to right. Though the Giants don’t score, they are making contact, something they did not do in May.
Five: First lead
After the game yesterday, Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy was asked if he would go with Sanchez today. He said he would and thought “Jonny will give us a chance.” But as he did in August, when he snapped the Giants’ pitchers out of their collective funk, Sanchez does more than give the Giants a chance: in the bottom of the third, he takes leadership. Sanchez surely noticed Latos was getting ahead of hitters early by throwing strikes on the first pitch. The first pitch Latos throws him is a fastball down the middle and Sanchez drives it deep into Triple Alley in right center field.
As astounding as his hit is, Sanchez’ base running is a revelation. He runs swift and smooth; he glides, like the current in Mission Creek and winds up standing on third. Freddy Sanchez gets the message, singling Latos’ second pitch to score Jonathan Sanchez and the crowd, on its feet, most of whom can never keep their Sanchez’ straight, goes nuts. It’s the Giants’ first lead in the series.
In Section 311, fans, especially male fans with cups of beer in their hands, approach hysteria. Israel, the Section’s usher and benevolent dictator, keeps people from falling off the railing while refusing to repress his own fervent rag-waving joy.
Bob flew in from New York yesterday for the game. He’s been a Giants’ fan all his life even though the team came to San Francisco the year he was born. It’s a family thing, a neighborhood thing (a New York thing). He’ll fly back tonight.
A friend sends an email from Marrakech saying he has enlisted a local snake charmer to enchant the Padres, so not to worry. He also assures me the bed and breakfast where he stays contains no concealed CIA-sponsored torture chambers.
Seven: A terrorist’s last threat
Jonathan Sanchez leaves the game in the sixth to an orange ovation.
In the seventh, the Padres put two men on base with two out and the ever-dangerous Miguel Tejada at the plate,with the even more dangerous Adrian Gonzalez on deck. Ramon Ramirez pitches for the Giants.
Nine agonizing pitches later, Tejada strikes out.
Eight: Go Buster!
As catcher and clean up hitter, Buster Posey has had a lot of responsibility and leadership thrown at him for a rookie. Could he be wearing down offensively?
It’s true he’s made no noise in this series with his bat. Now hitting against Padre star reliever Luke Gregerson in the eighth, Posey takes a called strike on an inside slider. Gregerson likes that pitch so much, he throws it again, and Buster slams the ball to left. Earlier in the game, left fielder Scott Hairston made a brilliant catch at the wall off Pablo Sandoval.
Not this time Scott. Posey’s hit lands five or six rows deep, to make the score 3-0.
Nine: A Season’s End
Did Brian Wilson pitch his customary heart attack ninth inning? No. Although it takes him a eternity to get the first batter out, Wilson serves the Padres nothing but devilish fastballs and sliders on which to hang their prayers. Then he turns off the lights and makes the sign of a cross.
San Francisco wins the West and will host the Atlanta Braves on the banks of Mission Creek this Thursday.