The tension filled finale in the National League Division Series featured the completion of an improbable and historic series comeback for the San Francisco Giants. Buster Posey was the biggest hero of the day as he hit a grand slam off of Mat Latos to give the Giants what seemed at the time to be a comfortable 6-0 lead over the Cincinnati Reds. It was anything but comfortable until the final strike thrown by Sergio Romo to strike out Scott Rolen and win the game.
After losing the first two games in San Francisco to start the series, the Giants were left with the unenviable task of sweeping the Reds in 3 games in Cincinnati. That task hadn’t happened in 2012 until yesterday as the Giants advanced to the National League Championship Series with their victory, which was a National League first in history to have come back to win a division series after losing the first two. Since this is the only year the Division Series will feature 2-3 playoff format instead of a normal 2-2-1 (referring to games played in each team’s city) because of the new Wild Card format, it is safe to say this may be the only time this will ever occur in baseball’s history. Since no team in the future will have a chance to play the team with a home field advantage 3 times in a row for the last 3 games of a 5 game series.
Who would have thought that less than two days before, the Reds were leading the series 2-0 and had a no-hitter from Homer Bailey going in the 6th with two outs and that they would eventually lose this series?
After the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals finish the final game of their NLDS match up in Washington D.C. tonight, the Giants will have a better idea of what they are up against when the NLCS begins Sunday. Whether is is against the upstart Nationals who would have home field advantage or a match up with the Cardinals which would feature the last two World Series Champions starting in San Francisco, I am sure the Giants will be watching that game intently tonight.
Many heroes rose to the occasion for the Giants both on and off the field during the series. The aforementioned Posey not only hit a grand slam but he also threw out Jay Bruce at third base after Ryan Hanigan struck out looking in the 6th. This completed the strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play. This was especially important that inning because the Reds had two men on and no outs and this was one of several innings in which they had the tying or lead run at the plate or on base. This play made Hanigan and Reds’ manager Dusty Baker out to be the villains. Twitter exploded with people questioning why Dusty would even send the runners with no outs and more importantly, why Hanigan didn’t go into two strike protect mode and swing, especially with the runners moving.
Romo came up big needing four outs to close out the game and get the save. We mentioned his strikeout of Rolen to win the game but it was the at bat from Jay Bruce just before that made the game feel reminiscent of the torture of 2010. With the Giants leading 6-4 after Ryan Ludwick‘s single with one out scored Cozart and moved Joey Votto to second, Bruce represented the winning run for the Reds. It was only after a 12 pitch battle did Bruce finally succumb with a fly ball out to Nady in left. The fact that Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy even stuck with Romo out there against the left-handed Bruce with lefty reliever Jose Mijares up in the bullpen speaks volumes about the confidence he has in his closer. For Romo to get the big outs in the Giants’ most important game of 2012 thus far will only give more confidence to both him and Bochy for the remainder of their time in the postseason.
Game 5 of the NLDS also featured some great defensive plays. Gregor Blanco took a hit away from Zack Cozart on a diving play where he went all out to catch the ball in the 3rd. The biggest plays though came at critical moments in the bottom of the 8th. With one out and Rolen at first base, Hanigan hit a sharp line drive that Brandon Crawford dove flat out for to snag before it hit the ground just on the edge of the grass behind short. Crawford has made spectacular plays throughout the season but he also came through at the plate as he got his first postseason hit with a triple in the top of the 5th to bring home Blanco for the first run of the game. Those hits in the 5th started the six run rally for the Giants that inning.
The second defensive gem of the inning came with two outs and two on after Todd Frazier pinch hit for Drew Stubbs and singled to move Rolen to second. Dioner Navarro was brought on to pinch hit for Jonathan Broxton and Bochy countered with a double switch to bring Romo into pitch and Xavier Nady on for Blanco to play in left field and hit in the pitchers spot in the batting order. Navarro represented the tying run which was one of four times this occurred in which the Reds would have the tying run either at the plate or on base in each inning from the 6th and on. Navarro proceeded to smack a looping ball into shallow right-center which Angel Pagan charged hard in on. In one motion he made a sliding dive on his side to catch the ball while rolling back into standing position with a fist pump for the third out. MLB.com made it a Must C play of the day.
Of all the Giants’ heroes, Hunter Pence may end up being remembered the most. Although he only made a few contributions on the field, it was what he did just off of it that was most special. Sure Pence made a great sliding catch for an out near the wall in foul territory in right field for in game 3. Later on that same game he got a big hit in the 10th with a cramp in his calf to move Posey up with one out. Pence and Posey would each move up a bag on a passed ball with two outs and would eventually see Posey score the winning run from third when Joaquin Arias reached on an error by Reds’ shortstop Cozart.
However, it was prior to game 3 when the real magic happened. Pence made the speech of his life getting the team huddled together in the dugout like you might see before a football game. As he bounced around in the middle I am sure he inspired the guys with his intensity as much as his words. MLB.com’s national correspondent Alyson Footer wrote a great article here which includes insight into what was said. Whether it was the words, the action of jumping around wide-eyed or just pure coincidence, Pence would go on to do the same thing before both games 4 and 5. I would expect him to continue this pregame ritual as long as the Giants 2012 season is still going.
by Raul Rekow Jr.