BY TED SILLANPAA
Yeah, I wrote here Saturday night that the baseball gods had spit on the Giants and shown the Reds to be the best team in the National League. I ended by writing that the Giants could still win the National League Division Series, but that they just had to beat a better team to do it.
The Giants beat the Reds … winning three gut-wrenching games in a row in Cincinnati … to advance to the NL Championship series. Hey, at least I didn’t write that the Giants were officially dead Sunday and start planning their funeral. I wrote that the Giants could win … and they won.
The lesson is that baseball’s a complicated and maddening game where the home field doesn’t mean a thing and where momentum is just something announcers talk about to kill time between pitches. Remember how everybody, well … almost everybody … reported breathlessly that the Reds had momentum going back to Cincy? They were all saying the Giants had the momentum heading into Game 5.
Who had momentum, I wondered, when Jay Bruce was fouling off Sergio Romo pitches in the bottom of the nine with the tying run on first base? Momentum wound up being Romo’s final swing-through slider to Scott Rolen.
That last pitch to Rolen is an example of what makes baseball such a wonderful and unique game. Buster Posey gave Romo a target outside to the right-hand hitting Rolen, off the plate and low. Low. Low. The count was 1-2 and there was no way on earth Posey or anyone in a Giants’ uniform wanted the pitch anywhere other than in a spot that might entice Rolen to go fishing out of the strike zone.
Romo’s game-clinching slider spun toward the plate, hung, and Posey caught it on the inside corner. Rolen, a gifted power hitter, simply swung through a pitch that Romo has frequently watch hitters crush. If Rolen had crushed that hanging slide on the inner half, the Reds would’ve tied and maybe won. Instead, the Giants began a well-earned celebration.
Right then is when the media actually fails fans. No attention was paid to the fact that Romo threw a hanging slider, a bad pitch, by the folks who write and talk forever about a pitcher lacking command or missing his spots. Romo missed his spot and Rolen missed the ball. That’s wildly interesting … if you understand the game within the game within the game. The celebration is all that mattered the second that Rolen whiffed.
Did Romo sneak that spinning slider past Rolen because the Giants had momentum? Did Romo surprise Rolen because the slider hung and wound up inside when the hitter and everyone else expected the pitch to be low, low, low and away?
The Giants won the game, ultimately, on a pitch in the last spot on earth Romo really wanted to throw it.
A lot is being made of Hunter Pence rallying the Giants for a high-octane pep talk right before the first pitch. I know people who think that pep talk helped the Giants play better in Cincinnati.
Baseball isn’t about rousing pep talks. Honest.
Before Game 5, the TBS cameras showed Pence rallying the Giants … who broke the team huddle jumping around like geeked up high school football players. When lead-off hitter Angel Pagan struck out seconds later, the Giants were silent. So much for inspirational pep talks.
It comes down to the game and the nuances of the game.
Brandon Crawford didn’t make the diving, backhand catch of that line drive into the hole at shortstop because he was fired up. He was in the right position and reacted quickly.
Posey didn’t pull off the rally-killing strikeout-throw out on Rolen at third base because of some trend that media types noticed in Game 5. The hitter didn’t swing the bat on a hit and run play. Rolen didn’t have nearly a big enough lead off second base and was standing flat-footed, rather than moving ever so slightly toward third, with the pitch. The Reds didn’t execute a really common baseball play. Posey executed the defensive response to the play perfectly.
This isn’t the place to come looking for confirmation that the Giants are amazing and that they went east and hammered an inferior foe. If you want to give some extra thought to how the Giants win, or lose, then this is the spot. And, most definitely, if you’re looking for players to use sound bites to explain what happened without offering any insight, stick with the TV guys.