Saturday, October 23, 2010
Giants just good enough, which is plenty
Ultimately, Game 6 of the National League Championship Series -- and the championship itself -- came down to relief pitching.
The Giants got two erratic innings out of their starting pitcher, and seven scoreless innings out of their bullpen.
The Phillies got six solid innings out of their starting pitcher, and three good (but not good enough) innings out of their bullpen.
The key might have been that Charlie Manuel didn't have the same confidence in his relievers that Bruce Bochy did.
Five San Francisco relievers combined to throw seven shutout innings, capped by Brian Wilson, whose save sends the Giants to the World Series.
Well, not Bochy's relievers so much as his bullpen. Which in most cases are the same thing, but not this time; Bochy used his Game 4 starter (Madison Bumgarner) for two innings in relief, and his Game 5 starter (Tim Lincecum) for a third of an inning (though not by design). Before Bumgarner, he used Jeremy Affeldt for two innings. After Bumgarner, he used left-hander Javier Lopez for one inning. And after Lincecum, he (naturally) went to Brian Wilson.
Bochy used five relievers, and probably felt good about all five of them. Manuel used two relievers, and probably wouldn't have felt good about using more than three.
Affeldt and Bumgarner both threw 16 pitches. Lopez needed only 12 to dispatch the second, third, and fourth hitters in the Phillies' lineup (more on that in a moment).
Affeldt threw two innings five times during the regular season, but each of those outings came before July; Affledt hadn't thrown 25 pitches in a game since that last two-inning stint. He pitched more than he's used to, and it worked.
Which I bring up to excuse Charlie Manuel's use -- some might argue overuse -- of Ryan Madson.
Madson was the first man out of the Phillies' bullpen, and struck out the side (just as he had in Game 5). Madson hadn't pitched more than one full inning all season, or thrown more than 28 pitches in a game.
In the seventh inning, Madson threw 22 pitches ... but four of those were softly tossed while intentionally walking Aubrey Huff. Leaving those pitches aside, Madson had thrown 23 pitches when Juan Uribe came up with two outs in the top of the eighth.
Uribe sliced Madson's next pitch, his 24th real pitch, just over the fence in right field. I'm sure that someone in Philadelphia, even before that pitch, was screaming for another reliever. Screaming that Manuel was asking his No. 2 reliever to do something -- get six outs in one game -- that he hadn't done all season.
This is probably the right time to unveil a fairly shocking statistic: Juan Uribe, a right-handed hitter, hit 22 home runs against right-handed pitchers this season. That's right: 22 against right-handers, two against left-handers.
Madson, meanwhile, was rough on right-handed hitters, holding them to a .208/.263/.292 batting line. Jose Contreras was pretty good against right-handed hitters, too ... but nearly as good as Madson.
Madson hadn't pitched two innings in a game this season. But everything else Charlie Manuel wanted Madson to do, he'd done.
Manuel probably doesn't have the same confidence in his reliever that Bochy has, but (1) he shouldn't, and (2) that was irrelevant in Game 6. Manuel shouldn't have had the same confidence as Bochy, because Manuel's relievers aren't as good as Bochy's. It was irrelevant in Game 6, because Manuel needed only three innings from his relievers, and his relievers are plenty good enough to give him three innings.
Giving up one run in three innings is, most nights, a perfectly acceptable performance. Tonight it wasn't good enough.
It wasn't good enough because the Giants' bullpen pitched seven scoreless innings.
It wasn't good enough because Carlos Ruiz's line drive in the eighth inning flew straight to Aubrey Huff at first base, which resulted in a double play when it might just as easily have been the beginnings of a game-winning rally.
It wasn't good enough because ... well, because of those three reasons and a dozen others that you could find, if you watched Game 6 again and really tried to find them.
The Giants played Game 6 just well enough to win. Which goes double for the entire NLCS. They scored 19 runs in six games; the Phillies scored 20. The Giants didn't outplay the Phillies, exactly. They did play the Phillies to a standstill.
When you're the underdogs, that's a moral victory.
When you're the underdogs, and you catch a few breaks and your manager makes a few more, that's a real victory.