Sunday, October 24, 2010

Playoff Recap: 10/23

Only one game took place last night, but one was more than enough for me. With the Phillies a win away from forcing a deciding game 7 in Philadelphia, game 6 had this Giants fan on the edge of his seat from start to finish. Taking the hill for the Giants was lefty Jonathan Sanchez, while the Phillies countered with Roy Oswalt. Oswalt got the better of this matchup in game 2 of the series, and looked to do it again in last night’s game.

Much like game 2, Sanchez got wild early, and the Phillies made him pay. After getting Jimmy Rollins to begin the bottom of the first, Sanchez walked Placido Polanco. A wild pitch moved Polanco to second. Chase Utley doubled and Polanco scored the first run of the game. After a Ryan Howard single, Jayson Werth hit a sac fly to score Utley, and by the time Sanchez walked off the mound at the end of the first inning he was facing a 2-0 deficit.

Sanchez would make up for it to an extent by helping himself out in the third. Sanchez singled to lead off the inning. Andres Torres followed by drilling a ball to deep center. Shane Victorino broke back and attempted to make a backwards catch reminiscent of Willie Mays’ famous play against Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series. Fortunately for Torres, Victorino is no Say Hey Kid, and despite trapping the ball against the centerfield fence momentarily, it fell to the ground. However, Sanchez had been holding between first and second base, preparing for a potential catch, so he was able to advance only to second and speedy Andres Torres was left with the longest single he’ll ever hit. Torres was most of the way to second by the time he realized Sanchez was occupying second and was forced to retreat to first by Sanchez’s presence, nearly being thrown out in the process. Freddy Sanchez then bunted both runners over, giving the Giants runners in scoring position with Aubrey Huff coming to the plate. Huff singled to center, bringing home Sanchez, but Victorino’s throw beat Torres to the plate by a mile for the second out of the inning. Huff alertly took second on the throw. This was huge, as Buster Posey followed Huff with a bouncing ball down the 3rd base line. Posey hustled to put pressure on the play and Polanco’s throw went wide of Ryan Howard, allowing Huff to take home and tie the game. Pat Burrell flied out to left to end the inning. 

Sanchez then hit Utley in the next half-inning. Utley threw the ball back at Sanchez and benches cleared. Benches were warned but neither player was ejected. However, this would still be the end of Sanchez’s evening, as Jeremy Affeldt would enter the game and retire Howard, Werth, and Victorino in order to end the frame.

The game would remain deadlocked at 2 for several innings. Affeldt and game 4 starter Madison Bumgarner both pitched spectacularly for the Giants out of the bullpen, combining to allow 3 hits and 1 walk in the next 4 innings. Javier Lopez pitched a 1-2-3 7th, and the Giants’ bullpen made up for Sanchez’s short outing with a very impressive showing. Meanwhile, Oswalt kept chugging along, going 6 strong frames.

The top of the 8th would provide the decisive blow for San Francisco. With two down, Juan Uribe hit a fly ball to deep right. Jayson Werth went back… and back… and back… and looked up at the wall to watch the ball fall into the first row of seats. Though Uribe’s opposite field clout barely left the field of play, it sent all of San Francisco into a frenzy and quieted the normally boisterous Phillies fans packing Citizen’s Bank Park. 

Bruce Bochy would make an interesting tactical decision in the bottom of the inning, bringing in Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum to hold the 1-run lead. Lincecum struck out Jayson Werth to start the inning, but allowed back-to-back singles to Shane Victorino and Raul IbaƱez. Bochy summoned Giants’ closer Brian Wilson for the 5-out save, and Wilson would make quick work of the inning. In a 1-1 count, Carlos Ruiz hit a line drive straight at Aubrey Huff. Victorino had taken off from second on the crack of the bat, and Huff lobbed the ball to second to double off the Flyin’ Hawaiian easily. 

The Giants would have back-to-back singles of their own in the top of the 9th. With one out and runners on first and second, Aubrey Huff struck out to bring up Buster Posey. Because of an earlier double-switch, the pitcher’s spot was on deck. Bochy sent Pablo Sandoval to the on-deck circle, but as the Brad Lidge intentionally walked Posey, the Giants’ bearded closer emerged from the dugout. Bochy decided to keep the ball in the hand of his closer, who led the NL in saves this season, rather than using a pinch-hitter and possibly extending the Giants’ one-run advantage. Wilson grounded out, and the Phillies season would come down to their scoring one run in the bottom of the 9th against the best closer in the National League. 

Wilson induced a groundout from leadoff hitter Ross Gload. He then walked Jimmy Rollins. Placido Polanco hit a ground ball to third and the Giants got the second out at second. Wilson then walked Chase Utley, bringing up Ryan Howard. Howard swung at strike one. Wilson threw two straight balls to put Howard ahead in the count. Howard took strike two and the Phils were down to their last strike. Wilson threw ball 3 to give Howard the full count, because Giants baseball is, after all, torture. Howard fouled off the sixth pitch of the at-bat. Then, Wilson threw a cutter on the outside corner, which Howard took. Home plate umpire Tom Hallion waited an agonizingly long time, which I can tell you firsthand seemed like at least a minute, with Philly and San Francisco fans holding their collective breaths, before throwing an emphatic punchout call to send San Francisco to their first World Series since 2002. 

Giants vs. Phillies:
WPA Leader: Brian Wilson (.458)
Wilson worked out of Lincecum’s jam in the 8th to keep the score in San Francisco’s favor. He then shut down the Phillies (although, in signature fashion, he did make it quite interesting) in the 9th to end the game, the series, and the Phillies’ season.

Biggest Plays:
I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count. Juan Uribe’s home run proved to be the game-winner, and the .280 WPA of that play will tell you just how crucial the home run was.

The Goat:
Carlos Ruiz took a -.245 WPA for his lineout, but that’s not quite fair to him, as he can’t be blamed for Victorino’s mental mistake in getting doubled off. Jonathan Sanchez was next-worst, with his short and wild outing giving him a -.204 WPA. Edgar Renteria’s 0 for 4 at the plate translated to a -.181 WPA. I really have no idea why Renteria still gets playing time. At all. Great clubhouse guy, I’m sure. He can be a great clubhouse guy from the bench. Ryan Howard rounds out the bottom 3 with his -.170 WPA, after a 2 for 5 day that included 3 strikeouts (including the game-ender with a runner in scoring position). No sympathy for Howard. You gotta at least take a swing at that pitch. Don’t go down with the bat on your shoulder.

Look for World Series previews starting tomorrow, as we’ll take a look at what to watch for with the Phillies at the plate and the Giants in the field and on the mound.

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