Thursday, October 28, 2010
Updated: October 29, 11:09 AM ET
Everything going right for Giants
By Jayson Stark
SAN FRANCISCO -- In our hearts, we know it can't possibly be intangible stuff like fate that determines who wins the World Series. Right?
It can't be destiny. It can't be biorhythms. It can't be mystical forces in the heavens that suddenly converge to change the outcome of postseason baseball games. It can't be about cosmic spookiness in any shape or form. Right?
But there is something going on these days by the shores of McCovey Cove that can't possibly be explained by any Baseball Prospectus computers, or by Bill James, or even by Jon Miller.
After their 9-0 wipeout of the Rangers -- behind the latest, greatest October pitching masterpiece by starter Matt Cain on Thursday -- the Giants are leading this World Series two games to none. And if you think that can be explained just by spitting out their team ERA or OPS, then you haven't been watching closely enough.
We direct your attention to the events in the fifth inning of this game, when this was still a thrilling 0-0 pitchers' duel between Cain and the Rangers' C.J. Wilson. Just think this through and then try to convince us there wasn't something downright paranormal going on.
In the top of the fifth, Texas' Ian Kinsler mashed a ball into the San Francisco night that the laws of physics tell us couldn't possibly stay in the park -- but it did.
And in the bottom of the fifth inning, Edgar Renteria -- a man who hadn't had an extra-base hit since Sept. 16, a man whose only homer since July 27 had come nearly eight weeks ago -- crunched a tie-breaking, game-changing, breathtaking, ballpark-shaking home run off Wilson, a pitcher who gave up just 10 home runs during the entire regular season. And this game would never be the same again.
In and of themselves, those two developments don't prove that fate and destiny are real forces that have anything to do with the outcome of any baseball game. But they sure do make you wonder. They even make players who are directly involved in these games wonder.
"I'm starting to believe it," said Giants infielder Mark DeRosa, as he leaned on a chair by his locker and tried to digest what he'd just seen happen. "You know, I've been in the playoffs with some great clubs, where I thought, 'All right. Just throw our hats and gloves out there and we're going [to the World Series]' -- and swept and gone. But this team has just found a way to grind it out."
That isn't all this team has found. It's also found a way to perfect the art of making magic. And that magic act seems to get a little bigger, a little brighter, a little crazier every day.
So a team that went nearly four weeks without scoring five runs in a game somehow has become the first National League team in history to score nine runs or more in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. A team that went through an entire regular season and produced precisely five innings all year of six runs or more now has now spewed out two such innings in two days.
And where has that brought these Giants? It's brought them within two games of winning a World Series that just about nobody thought they would win. That's where. And they've gotten there by riding a powerful convergence of forces that opponents seem to know how to stop. Not the Braves. Not the Phillies. And now, for these past two days, not the Rangers.
Baseballs keep bouncing exactly the way the Giants need them to bounce. Hits keep falling exactly where they need them to fall. Pitchers keep going to the mound and making exactly the right pitches at exactly the right moment.
Every button their manager pushes seems to be exactly the right button. Every move the opposing manager makes seems to be exactly the wrong move. And the emotional forces exploding out of the seats of their ballpark seem to keep pushing them higher, higher and then even higher than that.
So there they were Thursday night, standing out there in the middle of this spectacular ballpark they play in, soaking it all in. And they knew what they were experiencing was something unlike anything they'd ever experienced before.
"You could feel it," said their center fielder, Andres Torres, almost breathless as he tried to capture the emotions of this night. "It was something different -- the energy. It was something that almost pushed you to the next level. Mentally, you're like, 'Wow, this is really happening.' You come here, you hear the fans, and you're like -- you know that feeling in your arms, goose bumps? -- you get goose bumps. It gets you going."
Two years ago, Torres said, he was playing Triple-A baseball in Iowa when floods descended on Des Moines and his team was forced to play games with no humans in the seats.
"Can you imagine playing baseball with no fans?" he said. "You go out there and you don't feel anything. But this here -- this is the opposite. You feel the energy. It's unbelievable."
But for Torres, it wasn't even the most unbelievable thing that had happened to him on this night. A couple of hours earlier, he was playing center field when a baseball rocketed off Ian Kinsler's bat and went soaring over his head.
So Torres raced back, turned to watch it fly over the fence and give the Rangers the lead, but then
the impossible happened.
Instead of leaving the premises, the ball plopped down on the padding that lines the top of the center-field wall. Because the top of that wall is flat, Torres assumed the ball would just hop off the padding and carom backward into Home Run Country. Instead, for reasons he still doesn't understand, it bounced back onto the field -- for a double.
"How that happened -- to be honest with you, I don't know how that happened," Torres said. "I was like, 'Wow.'
Sometimes, I believe in those kinds of things, that weird things happen and sometimes you get blessed. I mean, seriously, because you're like, 'How did that happen?'"
Yeah, well, good question. Torres and the Giants' other center fielder, Aaron Rowand, have played hundreds of games in this park. Both said they'd never once seen a ball hit the fence quite like that and bounce back into play the way that ball did.
|Ian Kinsler had a ball bounce off the top of the fence and back into play. Go ahead; tell him the Giants aren't getting the right bounces so far.|
But it's been one of those months for a Giants team that has apparently somehow convinced every celestial body in the heavens to shine down on this unlikely World Series Express. And when those breaks start lining up their way, they seem to know exactly what to do next.
If Cain, hadn't stranded Kinsler on second base right there, we wouldn't be talking about this Miracle in Center Field right now. But Cain is on one of those rolls right now in which he strands every runner who manages to worm his way on base.
When that baseball left the bat, he instantly assumed the worst, he admitted.
"I thought it was a home run," he said. "So I cashed it in as one run."
But once he realized it wasn't a home run, and that the score was still 0-0, he knew how to take it from there.
"From there," Cain said, "I just said, 'Hey, I've got to try to keep that guy there. And we'll just get the next guy, see if we can get the next guy out and see how it works out.'"
So how'd it work out? Eight pitchers later -- not counting an intentional walk to Mitch Moreland -- Cain was out of the inning. That's how.
And just as the applause from that little clutch-pitching exhibition was dying down, Renteria was stepping up there and pounding a chest-high fastball -- a pitch the scouting reports say he can't catch up to anymore -- deep into the night. And as it disappeared down the grounds-crew tunnel in left field, the bedlam in this ballpark erupted one more time.
A man who had hit three home runs all season had just hit a game-changing homer off a pitcher who had served up only three home runs after the All-Star break.
A man who had gone only 8-for-57 during the season on fastballs up in the zone had just hit one of those fastballs over the fence.
A man who hadn't hit a tiebreaking home run this late in any game since July 21, 2006, had just risen up to meet yet another memorable October moment. So no wonder there was bedlam. When the Giants score a run in a taut, scoreless baseball game, it's never safe to assume they'll score another.
|Matt Cain got a break when Ian Kinsler's drive didn't go over the fence. He took full advantage of that break.|
And especially on this night. Until those two baseballs left the bat in that inning -- one hit by Kinsler, the other hit by Renteria -- Cain and Wilson had combined to allow no runs and only three hits. And this game had about 14 scoreless innings written all over it.
"So when Ian's ball hit the top [of the wall], we all thought we caught a break," Rowand said. "And when Edgar's ball went out, we all thought that's how this game might end -- 1-0."
And if this was going to be a 1-0 game, that was a Giants kind of baseball game. Even more than that, it was a Matt Cain kind of baseball game.
Twelve times this year this team has scored one run or none for him while he was in the game. So he's been there, done this. And by the time all those been-there, done-that starts led him to his first October game, Cain had clearly learned what it takes to keep hanging zeroes on the scoreboard.
And so far, in his three starts in this postseason, that's pretty much all he's done. He still hasn't allowed an earned run in any of those starts -- in 21 1/3 innings.
Only five pitchers in history -- just three of them starting pitchers -- kicked off their postseason careers with a longer streak than that. And the last to rip off three straight starts like that to begin a career was Jon Matlack, way back in 1973.
And finally, when it comes time to recite the list of Giants who gave up no earned runs in three different starts in a single postseason, it'll be quite a list. One name on it will be Cain's. The other will be a legend named Christy Mathewson, in 1905. Good group.
It may be Tim Lincecum who collects the Cy Youngs and the headlines. But Cain -- "he's our horse," said Aubrey Huff. "We've got a team full of horses, but he's just our big old country boy out there, stepping it up."
As it turned out, he could have afforded to give up a run in this game, but who knew at the time? It took a Juan Uribe RBI single to stretch the Giants' lead to 2-0 in the seventh. It took a bizarre seven-run eighth -- featuring a Rangers bullpen meltdown that included the first four-walks-in-a-row streak in World Series history -- to transform a pitching classic into the most lopsided World Series shutout since Game 7 in 1985.
But somewhere in there, the score itself became irrelevant -- because with every ball, every walk, every baserunner, every moment that brought the Giants closer to winning another improbable game in this improbable World Series -- the electricity in AT&T Park just kept on spiking. Higher and higher and higher up Mount Euphoria. It was quite a sight. And quite a sound.
And then, as the top of the ninth approached, 43,000 people were standing, spinning their orange rally towels and shrieking the lyrics to Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" at the top of their lungs. And as you listened to them belt out "Hold on to what we've got," it was hard not to wonder if their favorite baseball team was taking notes.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
We've got a team full of horses, but he's just our big old country boy out there, stepping it up.
-- Aubrey Huff on Matt Cain