Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
A hitters’ duel with enough back and forth to give it the sheen of a classic.
I’m probably the last person who should be writing about this game, but it’s one of the few games from this championship era that sticks with me and for a very specific reason. First, though, let’s look at what it was:
The Giants led the NLCS 2-1 in part because Cody Ross was unstoppable. Okay, mostly because Cody Ross was unstoppable. But the Phillies were just a couple of years removed from a world title and in this same postseason, on the same night that Tim Lincecum pitched one of the greatest games in the history of postseason baseball, Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter.
Arguably, Lincecum’s game was just a little bit better. Arguably, Game 4 of this NLCS was more important than Game 1, even though the Giants (again, led by Cody Ross) got the jump on the Phillies and took a 1-0 series lead by beating Roy Halladay.
They were going to face him in Game 5. It was a near-certainty that he was going to beat them. You didn’t beat Peak Roy Halladay twice in a series. That’s just not something that was going to happen, even if the Giants were playing at home. But if they were to pull off that miracle, it’d be because they’d won Game 4 and taken a 3-1 lead. A loss followed by a loss to Halladay meant a 3-2 deficit heading back to Philadelphia.
The Giants had to win this game.
I went to a couple’s counseling session that night. When I came out of it, the Giants were trailing 4-3 heading into the top of the 6th. Madison Bumgarner hadn’t made it through five innings. The Giants had not managed to light up Joe Blanton. I knew my relationship was on the rocks, but the Giants felt more imperiled.
Part of the reason we were in counseling — okay, the main reason — was a combination of my inability to express my true feelings, fully listen to and absorb my partner’s concerns, and our staggering incompatibility as a couple. We came from similar backgrounds. She reminded me of home. I was kind to her. We were physically attracted to each other. But there was a massive divide in every other area of our relationship: personality, humor, curiosities, etc.
So, after the sesh, we crossed the street to catch the rest of the game at a bar. Not because she liked baseball too, but because it was something we could kind of do together and still talk about what just happened in between all of baseball’s downtime.
Then the bottom of the 6th inning happened.
Folks, that was some baseball. Pat Burrell led off the inning with a walk, Cody Ross continued to torment the Phillies with a broken bat flair down the left field line for a double, and then Pablo Sandoval lined a ball down the right field line only for the ump to call it foul.
It was not foul.
There was even a little “mist” of chalk (not pictured) to follow the ball hitting the grass. No replay. No chance to overturn. Only the chance for the Giants to come up short.
It felt very familiar as a Giants fan. To be so close only to have it taken away at the last minute. That feeling intensified after Pablo Sandoval swung at a down and in slider on the next pitch to fall to 0-2 in the count. A second and third, nobody out situation creaked towards a very Giantsy “fail to score in the inning”.
And then it didn’t. Three pitches later, Sandoval lined a fastball up and away into the left center field gap, getting the pesky, irrefutably obnoxious Shane Victorino to turn his back on the infield to chase after it. They had a 5-4 lead but it wouldn’t be enough!
If you’ve never read Jeff Sullivan’s recap of it, please do so, because it’s an all-timer. It stands on its own as a piece of genuine comedy. What makes it so compelling to read even now is how well it captures the absurdity of the entire situation.
Before we knew what Even Year Bullshit was, the Giants were still confounding the experts — and even all of us. The Phillies won 97 games and had an All-Star rotation and lineup. They were supposed to wipe the Giants off the planet. Instead, last-minute waiver claim Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff were getting to the rotation while a bunch of young arms and an unproven bullpen put the clamps on a vaunted lineup.
Both rosters featured big reputations, bigger personas, and plenty of players with something to prove. Both Bruce Bochy and Charlie Manuel made desperate moves that worked (Javier Lopez pitching a full 7th inning, starting Joe Blanton) and others that did not (pushing Javier Lopez to start the 8th, bringing Roy Oswalt in to relieve). The ones that didn’t work cost either team a run.
Buster Posey busted out of a slump to get four hits. Aubrey Huff went 3-for-5, and Juan Uribe had the walk-off sacrifice fly. The Giants relied on every part of the roster to pull it out. Sort of like a blockbuster movie where every star gets at least one big moment. Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Juan Uribe roared to life to push the Giants to their fullest potential against their toughest opponent of this postseason. But the team wasn’t perfect. They extended the torture theme of the season with a back and forth score; and, by virtue of being the home team, they didn’t have to make the last mistake of the game. The Phillies did. They put themselves on the ropes just as much as the Giants put them there.
It has some similarities to the clinching NLDS Game 4. Both teams put themselves in various holes but each team gave the other a chance to climb out. The Braves wound up making the last mistake in that one, too. But if once is a coincidence, then twice is a pattern, and NLCS Game 4 became the confirmatory data point. The Giants didn’t luck their way through the postseason, but this game established the pattern of big playoff games having a lot of baseball action in them that ultimately swung in the Giants’ favor.
The relationship should have ended before that night, but it endured for nearly two more years. I thought our problems as a couple stemmed from my various shortcomings as a human being and while working on certain aspects of me gave a little more strength to us over that time, it wound up being the case that familiarity and kindness were not enough to make up for the incompatibilities everywhere else.
There’s no larger thematic implication, though. No cogent metaphor. I was an average at best boyfriend in a bad relationship on the night the Giants took a 3-1 lead in their first NLCS since 2002. It’s not on the Best of the Decade list because it reminds me of an old relationship; but, I’m always going to remember one because of the other, and I’m always going to remember the night Juan Uribe hit a walk-off sac fly when I think of the 2010 team.