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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.

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Comments

18 Comments

  1. riversteve

    like most sportswriters, you suffer from the illusion that it’s all about you. trust me, it’s not. hey, nice prediction by the way.

    October 12th, 2012 2:42 pm

  2. overtime

    Steve…Thanks for reading. Let me guess…you didn’t read the entire column, right? You thought I was going to go on about me and stopped? Read the whole thing. I just prefaced comments by mentioning what I wrote earlier. And….I didn’t make a prediction. Of course, you wouldn’t know…you don’t read things in total. I promise…I don’t think it’s all about me. And…bud…I trust ya! Ted

    October 12th, 2012 2:45 pm

  3. riversteve

    “read the whole thing.” nice use of the imperative sense, but you don’t really get to tell your readers what to do. typical know it all arrogance of a sports writer. you and your opinions are irrelevant to the games about to be played.

    October 12th, 2012 2:59 pm

  4. overtime

    Steve…So, you didn’t read the whole thing? Or the entire thing? Or … from start to finish? OK. Cool. I take pretty seriously what readers tell me … which … you’d notice … if you’d gone back and read the thing from the start to the finish. I actually addressed your concern! The magic of a blog! I thought about what you wrote … and tweaked the initial graphs because if you say it was too much about me … maybe it was. So … while you seem like an intractable know-it-all intent on bashing anybody with even the smallest public forum to discuss sports … rest assured that not every media person ignores you … and, if you’d waited about an hour … you’d have had a post that is relevant to the upcoming games. Hey…wait…I can’t tell readers what to do but you can tell me I need to write about the upcoming series when I just wanted to write about the magic of a game lots of people don’t really understand? Ted

    October 12th, 2012 3:53 pm

  5. riversteve

    so you wanted to “write about the magic of a game lots of people don’t really understand”. that’s a good one. could you be any more condescending? it’s a rhetorical question. I know you can be.

    you were wrong about the reds being a better team. you’re also wrong about hunter pense. if the whole team says his speech was motivational, I guess it’s a good thing you are here to tell us it wasn’t, because you’re all about the magic? the understanding?

    the giants announcers, particularly krukow (one of those TV guys you disparage) pointed out romo’s tendency to hang the occasional fat pitch more than once during the series. of course, krukow was also a pitcher, not trained in the art of “blogging” or whatever it is you do, so what does he know?

    let’s say romo hung a pitch and and “missed his target”. does that imply that it wasn’t a good pitch? an ineffective pitch? are you going to invoke the “baseball gods” again, because you are on such good terms with them?

    people watch and love baseball for different reasons, but none of those reasons involve sports writers or “bloggers”.
    romo got the out, the giants move on. the reds do not. and you’ll keep on writing because someone is paying you to do it, but remember you’re not really part of it. hunter pense is part of it. sergio romo is part of it. you can diminish them all you want in your little “blog” but no one wants you on their team, not even as a “ball dude”.

    October 12th, 2012 4:57 pm

  6. overtime

    Steve…I understand the venom now. You’re a Giants fan who misunderstood what I wrote after they lost the first game. You could’ve spent your time and energy sharing your thoughts here. You chose to try to get under my skin. It was time wasted, my friend. I’m a lowly writer and you’re the guy who spent time Friday trying to upset me. Seems like a match made in heaven. Thanks for the page views and thanks for reading. Ted

    October 12th, 2012 9:14 pm

  7. Huh?

    All I got out of the article was that you think the Giants are a lesser team and got lucky. Baseball is about any team winning on any given day. At this level, coaching really matters. Bochy out coached Baker. Period. Baseball is magic too; superstition, statistics, a fat pitch hurting you one day and being brilliant the next. Buster’s hit sealed it; he stayed mentally in the series even when he was 0-9 ish. Grit, mental fortitude and luck mixed with better coaching…wins games all the time. And a good article would be how Dusty chokes (like in our WS in 2002) and how he’s choked in Cinci as well…GO GIANTS!

    October 12th, 2012 10:03 pm

  8. riversteve

    just to be clear, YES I am a giants fan, and NO I didn’t misunderstand you. you write a lot of crap, I just don’t usually respond to it. thanks for pointing out the page views. it won’t happen again.

    October 13th, 2012 12:25 am

  9. K.T. Hastings

    A page view and a comment to say there will be no more page views and comments. Hmmmmmm…

    October 13th, 2012 3:39 am

  10. Matt

    Whoa. No mercy from riversteve.

    Ted, it sounds like you were referencing a bit, the column from Lowell. He wrote we all should be getting ready to hang the black on the Giants’ season. He had to take back a lot of what he said. I suspect if he had given the G’s a modicum of a chance, there wouldn’t have been a need. Anyway, I don’t think it’s fair to bag on sportswriters because they dared to make a prediction; sports is viewed through an emotional prism as a fan, with a sportswriter, not so much. Having done some journalism work at the PD in the past, I got the sense that there came with it a balance between objectivity and enjoyment of the game. In short, as a SW, it was okay to be a fan, but objectivity always comes first.

    A rule I was particularly fascinated with; never slam the high school and collegiate athletes. They are amateurs coming up through the ranks and don’t need nor deserve such harsh scrutiny. The pros are fair game. Why? Because they make millions of dollars and are, at the whim of the leagues they play for, bound by contractual obligations to provide media with their story of the game. They are, however, not at the whim of sportwriters who are charged with writing a story about their performance on a deadline. After losses they may not like talking about it, but they have to. Generally most are genial and polite with the media, but some are not. Some can be downright hostile (Ryan Leaf, anyone?) As such, there will always be a delicate minefield to be tiptoed through, as we dig and pry and plead for quotes to put in our story. And to be clear; that scene in “Bull Durham” where Crash coaches Nuke on how to talk to the media? That’s not fiction.

    Which brings me back to Lowell. Lowell likes to tell it like it is. He seems to have rather contentious relationship with some coaches due to his rather sharp dislike of meaningless mumbo-jumbo. He has a sharp writing style that sometimes sounds a little condescending, but is still compulsively readable. I think he’s one of the better columnists writing for the PD. However, he sometimes tends to leave ambiguity out of the piece which, and this merely my opinion, he kinda did in his column on the Giants after the first two games of the NLDS. He was wrong, and now he’s taking a beating for it, but hey, that’s the job, right?

    As for the Giants, they had a good road record this season, so it wasn’t inconcievable that they couldn’t win at Cincinnati. But coming back from an 0-2 deficit had never been done, so the liklihood it COULD be done was remote, from an objective viewpoint. And to look at the dejected Giants dugout after games 1-2, one had to wonder if there was any fight left in this team.

    Incidentally, that’s all I think Pence’s sermon brought back; whatever fight they had left. And it sustained long enough to eke out a win in game 3. There, the momentum started to shift. You could feel it. But there were no guarantees of such momentum, objectively, and unless you’re in black and orange and out there on the field, you wouldn’t have known it until the last out of that third game.

    But capture momentum they did, and though it’s easy to bag on the sportswriter for being wrong AFTER the fact, I don’t think all the people spitting venom -and if you think this is bad, just head over to Lowell’s column and read some of the comments- weren’t much different in their thinking until the moment I referenced above.

    I say, take that energy and send it to the men in uniform, folks, because these next four to seven games will be no cakewalk. The records at home and on the road stand pretty even (48-35 to 46-33 respectively). WIth the Nat’s losing to St. Louis in grand fashion, the G’s will have to reverse the trend of dropping the first two at home, because momentum is a funny thing; you catch it, you win, you go onto the next series, and then you have to catch it again. GO GIANTS!

    October 13th, 2012 7:51 am

  11. overtime

    Matt…Thanks for reading. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I really enjoyed Lowell’s column after Game 2. He’s a magnificent writer…uses the language brilliantly in an era when that is a lost art. I referenced his column, but only because his was the most inventive, creative way of explaining what everybody was thinking about the Giants’ hopes when they were down 0-2. Ted

    October 13th, 2012 12:24 pm

  12. overtime

    Steve…Thanks for reading. I hope to hear from you again soon. Ted

    October 13th, 2012 12:24 pm

  13. overtime

    Thanks for reading. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. You misunderstood what I wrote. If I thought the Giants were lucky … I’d have written that I thought they were lucky. I wrote that baseball’s appeal comes in moments where Romo’s slider doesn’t break and the batter swings through it and a celebration ensues. If the same thing happened again, the Reds might be celebrating. Who knows? That’s what’s special about the game. The piece wasn’t about the Giants or the Reds so much as baseball. Ted

    October 13th, 2012 12:26 pm

  14. overtime

    K.T. … Excellent point. “This time…honest…no more comments! I’m done! I will not post another comment here….” Ted

    October 13th, 2012 12:30 pm

  15. swiller

    Well, you are right. it seemed a bad hanging slider by Romo, and he was gassed. You fail to mention the pitch before. A perfect diving slider that Rolen barely fought off swinging under to compensate. He did the same thing, only it did not break. Actually if was kind of brilliant. Rolen was fooled.

    October 13th, 2012 7:21 pm

  16. overtime

    Swiller…I appreciate you reading. I mentioned in the story that the fact that the last slider didn’t slide….so that Rolen might’ve been fooled. I tend to doubt he took the swing thinking it was another slider low and away. Big league hitters recognize pitches and location amazingly quickly and that pitch was spinning about belt high, or higher, from the start. I thought Romo was outstanding given that he doesn’t have that blazing fastball and has to rely on perfect placement of that slider. The last two batters Romo faced provided baseball theater of the highest order. TED

    October 13th, 2012 10:30 pm

  17. swiller

    So you are suggesting Rolen recognized the pitch but could not execute? I thought pro ball players, especially all stars, clubber pitches they recognize. I guess only Rolen knows for sure.

    October 15th, 2012 12:37 pm

  18. Ted Sillanpaa

    Swiller…Yeah…I think Rolen might’ve recognized the pitched and just missed hitting it. They’re human beings, like you and me. We can’t know what he saw…but the slider comes out of the pitcher’s hand spinning like a slider. The location is something the batter typically determines in a nano-second. The batter doesn’t know how much, or little the pitch will break. I think we forget that they’re human…that it’s really hard to hit a baseball…and that recognizing the pitch and maybe even where it’s headed is only part of the really complicated battle. … Take for example, how the Giants didn’t have a single hit off of Lance Lynn’s 94-95 mph fastball halfway through Sunday’s game…then…same pitcher…same pitches…they chased him after they hit him hard. It’s not as easy as “good hitters get hits off pitches they recognize,” I don’t think. TED

    October 15th, 2012 1:14 pm

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