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Thursday, October 25, 2012

World Series: For the Giants, It's the Illusion of Magic

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 10:37 AM

Tim Lincecum struck out five batters in 2 1/3 innings of relief work. - ALBERT SAMAHA
  • Albert Samaha
  • Tim Lincecum struck out five batters in 2 1/3 innings of relief work.

Ah, the old "ball hits the base and bounces away from the defense" trick. It's been a dependable offensive weapon for the Giants this postseason. They pulled it out last night, just like they did in Barry Zito's previous start, in game five against the Cardinals.

With two outs, nobody on, and the Giants up 1-0, Angel Pagan's lightly hit grounder looked like it would roll into third baseman Miguel Cabrera's glove and end the third inning. But it hit third base instead and bounced into the outfield. Pagan ran to second base. Then Marco Scutaro knocked him home with a single. Then Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run home run, busting the game open to 4-0.

It's shit like that that makes people think the Giants are the luckiest damn team in baseball.

See also: World Series: Justin Verlander, Thou Art Mortal

Slow-rolling infield singles ... opponents botching routine defensive plays ... pitchers driving in runs ... balls hitting bases to extend innings. It's quite a shaky arsenal on which to rely. But while there's been some luck involved, it hasn't been dumb luck. The magic hasn't run out, because there's a logic behind it. In fact, it's not magic, but the illusion of magic. Pagan's double capped off an eight-pitch at-bat. Scutaro's RBI followed an equally lengthy battle against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. In the next inning, Verlander, a power pitcher known for his strikeout ability, got two quick strikes past Brandon Belt. But Belt, with his consistently patient and perceptive eye, fouled off the strikes and took four balls. With one out and Belt still on first, Verlander got two strikes against Brandon Crawford, a defensive specialist with bat skills that are improving, but not always reliable. Still, manager Bruce Bochy called a hit and run. Crawford made contact, for a harmless ground-out, and Belt easily reached second thanks to the head start. Barry Zito was the next hitter, and, with two-strikes on him, he drilled a run-scoring single into left field, the fourth straight game a Giants pitcher has batted in a run. (Though Belt likely was going to score anyway, left fielder Delmon Young's atrocious throw, which bounced into the ground before reaching the infield then rolled the rest of the way to the catcher, underscored the defensive disparity between the teams.) Anyone who's followed the Giants over the past few years is familiar with the baseball maxim that, as a rule, scoring runs is difficult. Games often swing on a few turning points -- a hanging curveball here, or bases-loaded double play there. The Giants' 8-3 beatdown of Detroit served as a somewhat exaggerated example of how the team wins games by maximizing their opportunities for a turning point, and snuffing out their opponent's attempt to counter. The Giants first five runs -- all against Verlander, who was last year's AL MVP and Cy Young winner -- came with two outs. Three of those runs were batted in by hitters facing two strikes. The Giants, especially Pagan and Scutaro at the top of the lineup, worked the count, spoiling Verlander's nastiest stuff into foul territory, before putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to execute or the ball to find its way through the holes. Why do the Giants' opponents seem to make so many defensive mistakes? One reason is that the Giants hit so many ground balls -- both liners and dribblers -- and put pressure on the defense with aggressive base running. So, just like St. Louis' John Jay before him, center fielder Austin Jackson fumbled the ball in his rush to try to catch Angel Pagan sprinting from second to home on Scutaro's third-inning single. The Tigers, on the other side, couldn't get a rally going. Three times they had a man on first with one of their big boppers at the plate. In the third inning, Gregor Blanco dove to snag Cabrera's line drive. In the sixth inning, Blanco made the exact same play on Prince Fielder's hard-hit ball. Between those, in the fourth inning, Delmon Young chopped a ball directly into home plate. Buster Posey corralled it, tagged Young, then threw to second base, where Scutaro tagged Fielder for the double play. Last night was simply Giants Baseball: Outstanding defense, smart base-running, and two-out singles with runners in scoring position. Panda's three home runs, though, that part was definitely magic.

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Albert Samaha


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