October 21, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO —
Here we are again.
For the second series in a row, the Giants have refused to fade to black. They have extended the National League Championship Series to six games, forcing the Cardinals to make a round-trip flight they would have liked to avoid.
The Cardinals' mood on the trip back to St. Louis is yet to be determined. They either will be preparing hurriedly to face the Tigers in the World Series or lamenting how four unearned runs and an inability to hit Barry Zito kept them from slamming the door on their home turf, when the Giants supposedly were at their breaking point.
But that's not the way it goes this year, certainly not with the Giants. They needed three straight victories to reach the NLCS after losing their first two games at AT&T Park in the NL Division Series, and Scott Rolen's misplay in Game 3 started them on their way back against the Reds.
Could Lance Lynn's throwing error Friday night provide a similar turning point for this series?
"Well, hopefully,'' said Bruce Bochy, the Giants' unflappable manager. "We got a break on that throw. You take that. … In this game it's always good to get a break, but what's important is you need to take advantage of it, and (Friday night) we did.''
Anyone following the 2012 playoffs could not have been too surprised when Zito pitched the best game of his six years with the Giants just when they needed it. This has been the anti-anticlimax October, with teams wringing drama out of almost every situation.
When teams have been pushed into early elimination games — the ones before Game 5 in the division series or Game 7 of the league championship series — they have gone 7-1. Only the Yankees bowed out meekly, and you still would give them style points for spectacularly going up in flames, like Big Tex at the Texas state fair.
The Nationals kept playing because of Jayson Werth's ninth-inning homer. The A's scored three quick runs in the ninth to beat Jose Valverde. The Orioles won by putting the Yankees' bats to sleep for 13 tedious innings. But nobody has done more to create this trend than the Giants, who could have been eliminated on Oct. 9 if they hadn't pulled off a 10-inning victory in Game 3 at Great American Ball Park.
There are no super teams in baseball this season, nor even any that looked like heavy favorites in the postseason. Among those that have moved on and those that have not, the only big surprise was the Orioles beating the Rangers in Texas in their wild-card playoff, and the Rangers even foreshadowed that with their stumbling down the stretch to lose the AL West title.
The winningest teams in the majors were the Nationals, Reds and Yankees, and they exited the playoffs after going a combined 7-12. This will mark the seventh time in the last eight years that baseball's winningest team doesn't reach the World Series, and the team that arguably would have been the toughest in the playoffs — the pitching-deep Rays — failed to qualify.
The balance makes for exciting playoff series, but is it good for the game?
"Ideally, you like to see the teams that have the best record end up (in the World Series),'' Bochy said. "But as we have mentioned many times, once you get to the playoffs it does become a little bit of a crapshoot, who's playing the best at that time. You understand that. … I think it has been good for baseball how we've done it this year. Created a lot of interest with the second wild card.
"But if you're asking me, even if it's not us, I always hope that the team that has had the best year, they end up battling to win the World Series.''
The Cardinals were the last team to qualify for the playoffs the last two years and is one victory away from joining the Rangers, Phillies, Yankees, Braves, Blue Jays and A's as the only teams to go to back-to-back World Series in the last 30 years.
"It's a great game how we have it set up,'' Bochy said. "The fact the team that gets in the way the way Cardinals have the last two years, it's incredible what they have done. They were the best team last year; they showed it.''
Chris Carpenter, the October force who was sidelined almost all season, faces the Giants' Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6. It's a rematch from Game 2, which Vogelsong won 7-1. The Cardinals insist there is still plenty in their tank to win, even if it's the Giants who must do that Sunday.
"We have the desire to win, as draining as this game is and as long as you play it over the course of a six , seven month season,'' Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. "You show up and you want to win. That's the beginning of it, and that's what it takes.''
Nothing comes easily in October, especially not this October.
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