Thursday, October 21, 2010
One Giant opportunity missed
By Wayne Drehs ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- They came with their bright orange flags and pom-poms. They wore Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum T-shirts over their fleece jackets. They yelled when the scoreboard told them to yell, they danced when the music asked them to dance and they fist-pumped when it was time to fist-pump.
On this night, everything seemed perfect for Giants fans. Their two-time Cy Young winner on the mound. The on-again, off-again drizzle in the air. And facing Roy Halladay on a night when he was the complete opposite of unhittable.
And yet three hours after Halladay walked the leadoff man for the first time this season, San Francisco fans headed for the exits barely saying a word. On this night, there would be no magic. No Ross is Boss. No Posey Power. No Burrell blast. None of it. All the MC Hammer and Steve Perry towel-waving in the world couldn't prevent this series from heading back to Philadelphia with the Giants now up three games to two after a 4-2 San Francisco loss in Game 5 at AT&T Park.
Minutes after the game, as a shaggy-haired Bruce Bochy headed for the postgame interview room amongst a throng of San Francisco fans, only one person even acknowledged the Giants manager, quietly muttering "Go get 'em, Boch."
Pablo Sandoval couldn't find third base, just one of the miscues that cost the Giants in Game 5.
It wasn't surprising that the Phillies won. Most believed that the two-time defending National League champions had a bit of fight left in them. And even Bochy himself would probably admit that -- on paper -- Philadelphia is the better team in this series. But what was shocking about Thursday night was that this was a game the Giants could have won. Some might say should have won. But they didn't.
In doing so, San Francisco let a World Series berth get away while handing the two-time defending National League champion Phillies a shot of confidence they so desperately needed. Instead of celebrating late into the night, the Giants head home for a short night's sleep, hop on a six-hour cross-country flight and have two nights to try to win one game in a park where the Phillies have lost just five times since August.
"We've made this torturous for ourselves all season long," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "It would have been awesome to not have to get on a six-hour flight and go back to Philadelphia. But that's not what happened. So you sleep it off, hop on that plane and prepare to head out there and get one."
Huff shouldered much of the blame for the loss. In the third inning, with runners at second and third with one out, Shane Victorino hit a hard ground ball to Huff at first that he misplayed, and the ball richocheted all the way to short center field, scoring Raul Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz. Placido Polanco followed with a single, scoring Victorino to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead they wouldn't lose.
Afterward, Giants ace Tim Lincecum blamed himself for not making better pitches after the Huff error. But the veteran Huff wouldn't have any of it.
"Look, that's him taking it for his first baseman," Huff said. "He's a good kid and a great pitcher. But I know this one is squarely on me."
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Huff's error was preceded by a bizarre play in which Halladay tried to sacrifice bunt Ibanez and Ruiz to second and third but barely pushed the ball a couple inches. The catcher Posey picked up the ball and fired to third, but Pablo Sandoval missed the base when reaching with his foot. If Sandoval would have touched the base, he could have thrown to first for a double play. Instead, Halladay was out at first, but the sacrifice was successful.
"It's going to happen," Bochy said of the miscues. "These guys have been doing a great job on defense. And we're playing a great club that you can't give extra outs to. We had a hiccup in that inning and gave them some outs and it came back to get us."
Said Huff: "We're not machines, man. We make mistakes. I wish I could rewind it, but I can't."
Equally frustrating was what the Giants did -- or failed to do -- on offense. The team that somehow had come up with big hit after big hit throughout this series failed to capitalize on prime scoring opportunities in the fifth and sixth innings Thursday night. In the fifth, the Giants had first and third with two outs and didn't score. And in the sixth, with first and second and two outs, again San Francisco failed to come up with the big hit.
"We had [Halladay] on the ropes a couple times and we were just missing that one hit," Bochy said.
The Giants were also the victim of some bad luck. With first and second and nobody out in the first, Huff laced a line drive down the first-base line that Ryan Howard extended to snare out of the air. Though San Francisco would still score in the inning, Howard's play prevented the Giants from getting out to a big early lead.
"To me that's one of the biggest plays of the game," Huff said. "I hit it as hard as I could, but he reached out, threw out his glove and made a heck of a play."
And now the Giants' fans are left to wonder -- Is this the beginning of the end? Or just a temporary pause in the celebration? Even cult hero Cody Ross had his struggles Thursday, going 1-for-4 with three strikeouts. Though he doubled in the fourth to drive home a run, he was later thrown out at third trying to tag on a fly ball to right.
The players themselves insist they're filled with nothing but confidence. They already won at Citizens Bank Park in Game 1. And while the Phillies need to win two games to move on, the Giants need just one.
"We see ourselves in the driver's seat more than they are," Lincecum said.
Even the rabid San Francisco fans, after having been given a few minutes to dissect what had happened, changed their postgame tune. After Bochy finished his postgame media chat and walked back to the Giants' clubhouse, those wearing the black and orange filled the AT&T Park hallway with plenty of encouragement.
Good game, Coach. Go get 'em in Philly! This is still ours, Boch!
And then there was the female fan who shouted, "See you next week." By then the Giants manager was nearly in the clubhouse. He didn't turn back to see where the voice came from. But he raised his hand to acknowledge he heard it. He can only hope she's right.
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.