Friday, October 12, 2012

Back from the Brink

The San Francisco Giants—my favorite sports team—will be playing baseball this Sunday. At the end of last Sunday that seemed a highly dubious prospect.

While the Giants managed to win the National League Western Division this year, they stumbled out of the gate in the first round of the playoffs—a best of five contest with the Central Division winners, the Cincinnati Reds—losing the first two games at home. In order to survive to the next round, they faced the Herculean task of sweeping the Reds in Cincinnati. While the Giants have played well on the road, the Reds had not lost three in a row at home all year. Until yesterday.

I feel sorry for Dusty Baker, the current Reds manager, who was the beloved manager of my beloved Giants from 1993 to 2002. In his final season as the Giants' skipper he took a wild card team to the brink of a World Series title that they lost in seven games to the Anaheim Angels. After being up three games to two, the Giants had a 5-0 lead in the 6th inning of Game Six and couldn't hold it. It was a bitter pill to swallow. This year it was the Giants turn to break Dusty's heart.

Amazingly, it took 28 innings before the Giants held their first lead in their series with the Reds. They lost the first two contests without ever being in front, and were tied 1-1 in Game Three after nine innings, before they broke through in the 10th inning to stay alive.

After the Giants' charmed 2010 season, when they captured their first World Series title since Horace Stoneham moved his team from New York to the Bay Area in 1958, the Giants have almost completely overhauled their regular lineup. Astonishingly, only Buster Posey, their MVP catcher with the All Star name, is a holdover from those who started the playoffs two years ago. Fittingly, it was Buster who had the big blow Thursday, a grand slam homer in the fifth that gave the Giants a six run lead and sucked all the air out of the Great American Ballpark on the banks of the Ohio River. 

While the Reds fought back, scoring four unanswered runs after the Giants's six-run eruption, Sergio Romo struck out Scott Rolen with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth to end it. What a comeback by the Giants to prevail!

This year the Giants have survived the loss of their closer, Brian Wilson, for the entire season, and the loss of their best hitter, Melky Cabrera, to a drug suspension in early August. As a reward for pulling it out against the Reds, they'll get to go home and try their luck against the World Champion St Louis Cardinals, who eliminated the Washington Nationals this evening, 9-7, by scoring four runs with two out in the ninth inning. I reckon it isn't just the Giants who have some magic in their bats.

The Giants & Cardinals have met twice before in the National League Championship Series, with the Cardinals prevailing in seven games in 1987, and the Giants returning the favor in five games in 2002. Over the next week we'll get to find out who's rabbit foot has the stronger juju in it this time.

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