Cody Ross takes Roy Halladay deep — twice! — as the Giants take Game 1

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As is so often the case in life, the anticipation was greater than the reward.

Not that Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum were bad or anything. Just mortal.  Lincecum was off his 14-strikeout form and was hit a bit hard early, but he avoided big trouble. Halladay was nowhere near as sharp as he was against the Reds in the Division Series, obviously, but the falloff seemed stark by comparison, as the Giants beat the Phillies 4-3.

Halladay allowed two home runs to Cody Ross, both on inside fastballs. Did he just have a lapse in concentration when he went back to the same spot he hit when Ross jacked the first one, or could he not throw it where he wanted to?  Whatever the case, in the end, all four Giant runs were charged to Halladay and all three Philly runs went on Lincecum’s ledger. Decent. Maybe even solid from both guys. But not what we had been hoping for all week.

The game remained tight throughout, with no inning ending with one team more than a run ahead of the other. And with a close game like this, you’d expect the little things to make the difference. Two little things that did were (a) the strike zone; and (b) Bruce Bochy’s decision to pinch run for Pat Burrell in the sixth inning.

Home plate umpire Derryl Cousins called a tight zone all night, and one pitch that was called a ball made a big difference. In the top of the sixth inning, Halladay had Pat Burrell 0-2 with two outs and a runner on first base. Halladay threw what he, the crowd and most of us watching at home thought was strike three. But Cousins — as he did a lot of pitchers low in the zone and shaded towards the righthanded batters box — called it a ball. Halladay was obviously miffed, and it may have carried over to the next pitch which Burrell drove to the gap in left scoring Buster Posey. At that point Bruce Bochy pinch ran Nate Schierholtz for Burrell. Many managers with otherwise weak offenses wouldn’t have taken one of their best hitters out of a tight game in the sixth like that, but when Juan Uribe singled in Schierholtz a couple of pitches later, it looked like genius.  It wasn’t genius — that move has hurt the Giants just as much as it has helped this year — but it was good fortune, and Schierholtz’s run ended up being the game winner.

But there would still be three innings before it was ultimately won, and in these three innings came the sort of torture Giants fans have gotten used to late this season. The Giants’ bullpen got six outs in this game, five via strikeout, but it felt much worse than that because Brian Wilson went into deep counts with just about everyone he faced. Bending but not breaking was enough to get the job done tonight, however. What about tomorrow? Good question, as Wilson threw 33 pitches in Game 1, meaning that Jonathan Sanchez probably needs to go deep and the rest of the Giants’ bullpen will need to step up in Game 2.

But it’s a good problem to have if you’re the Giants. Who, as they head to their hotel tonight, can tell themselves: “one ace down, two to go.”

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.