Mike Matheny came into tonight having lost only 2 elimination games as a manager. Tonight would prove to be the third.
Madison Bumgarner Vs Adam Wainwright. 2 aces. 1 game. The San Francisco Giants trying to clinch; the Cardinals trying to stay alive in San Fran and take the National League Championship Series home. A pitcher’s duel, in the truest sense of the term.
The Giants needed to get up early, a tough task against the Cards’ stud. The bottom of the first inning saw the Giants get a runner on second with 2 outs and the dangerous Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval at the plate. Went to a full count. Sandoval looking for the right pitch. Grounded out meekly to the right side, after all that.
The 2nd Inning saw both pitchers get through without a hitch. The 3rd Inning would be different, the second time through the order for Bumgarner. Wainwright sacrifice bunted a runner over, helping his own cause and catalyzing a small-ball flurry that saw the Cards go up 1-0. Leaving two on base, though, it could have been so much more.
The Giants came up in the 3rd needing an equalizer. They got that and then some. Joe Panik hit a bomb out of the yard with a runner on, and the crowd was jubilant. The first Giants homer in 243 plate appearances came at exactly the right time.
The Cardinals needed to respond in the 4th. They did immediately, with a tying leadoff homer by Adams. Then a go-ahead bomb by Tony Cruz. Bumgarner was over 60 pitches in by the end of the fourth, and down again for the second time in the contest.
The Giants responded with a double down the left field line, then a walk by the wild Wainwright. 2 on, nobody out. As the sun set behind the outfield wall, the Giants lined into a double play. Would have been rally killing… but the Giants were patient, and Wainwright walked himself into 2 men on with 2 out, having trouble with the bottom of the order… until he got out of the jam with a swinging strikeout on a nasty breaking pitch.
3-2, as a brilliant scarlet sun sank into the Pacific. The 5th Inning and Top of the 6th came and went with no offense, yet with Wainwright appearing to be settling into a groove, with great heat and baffling curves. Had the Giants lost their opportunity to close their nemeses out?
The Bottom of the 6th Inning: Wainwright, looking more dangerous with each out, striking out the side. A primal yell after the third and final out. It was as if he knew. Or, perhaps, he thought he knew.
The 7th Inning and the Cardinals’ bullpen heated up, with two men throwing, suggesting some situational pitching in the game’s back third. The Cards went down in order, with Wainwright swinging through strike 3. Wainwright returned the favor.
The 8th Inning felt like October baseball. A close game between two veteran squads, both of whom had been here before, neither of whom wanted the moment to end. The Cardinals, unlike the Giants, had to live for the present. Without success, there would be no tomorrow until the end of the interminable Missouri winter.
Action in the Cardinals pen in the top of the 8th, as the Cardinals went down in order and the dugout congratulated Wainwright. Meanwhile, Bumgarner was still serving it up. A little less zip on the ball, a little less control, a little deeper into counts, a little more shaking off signs.
How little did it matter. As Madison Bumgarner closed out the 8th, he’d retired 13 straight. The Giants, meanwhile, prepared for some fresh heat from Pat Neshek in the Cardinals’ pen.
Michael Morse went yard and tied it up with a pinch hit home run to left; the crowd went from catatonic to ecstatic. The game knotted at three going into the 9th.
The Cardinals got to the reliever, Santiago Casilla, with two on and one out. Trouble by the Bay, with a runner 180 feet away. More action in the Giants’ pen, while Casilla attempted to struggle out of the jam, with a fielder’s choice drawn.
Runners at the corners. 2 outs. Tony Cruz, with a homer already, at the bat. The game, the series, the season. A steal; two runners in scoring position. A single would be enough. Or so it seemed.
Cruz worked the count deep. Casilla kept it deliberate. The tension, thick as fog. A ball high and tight took the count full. Another one filled the bases for Oscar Tavares, drawing Bochy
from the dugout, forcing a pitching change.
Jeremy Affeldt, a southpaw from Phoenix, with the toughest draw of his career. Forced a grounder, fielded it, and stepped on first himself.orangetee
The bottom of the 9th. 3-3. The Giants had their shot to send the Cardinals home. Sandoval leading off with a base hit, a Tony Gwynn spray job to right, and a pinch runner to replace him.
The Cardinals pen, going again. A fly out, a four pitch walk, and Travis Ishikawa to the plate. The Cardinals couldn’t buy a strike. Homerun. Ishikawa.
The World Series Matchup: The San Francisco Giants. The Kansas City Royals. If it is anything like the ALCS and NLCS, it will be a classic.