Commentary

A Strange But True October

The wildest, wackiest and most improbable feats of the 2012 postseason

Updated: December 27, 2012, 5:23 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Amazing the stuff that can happen in October, isn't it?

Andy Pettitte never won this October -- but Teddy Roosevelt never lost.

• The final game of Chipper Jones' career was upstaged by -- what else? -- the infield fly rule.

Delmon Young drove in the game-winning run in every game of the American League Championship Series.

Alex Rodriguez never drove in any kind of run -- in any postseason series.

[+] EnlargeMatt Holliday and Pete Kozma
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAndrelton Simmons' fly ball drops between Matt Holliday and Pete Kozma on the disputed infield-fly-rule play.

Gio Gonzalez and the bullpen of the winningest team in baseball couldn't hold a 6-0 lead.

• The closer for the AL representative in the World Series (Senor Jose Valverde) couldn't hold any kind of lead.

• And the team that won the World Series never even HELD a lead until the 28th inning it played in this postseason.

So who wrote THAT script? Just another production of those crazy folks at Baseball Gods Central who make it possible for us to present yet one more annual edition of the Strange But True Postseason Feats of the Year, naturally. And heeeere we go:

Strangest But Truest Champions of the Year

The team that won the World Series didn't have the kind of journey it plotted out on Mapquest. But that just made those San Francisco Giants the perfect Strange But True treasures that they were. Why? Here's why:

• They hit fewer home runs all season (103) than that team across the bay, Oakland, hit after the All-Star break (111).

• Their entire outfield hit as many home runs (35) as Josh Hamilton.

• Their ace, Tim Lincecum, had the worst ERA (5.18) of any qualifying starter in the entire National League -- and gave up more earned runs before the All-Star break (69) than Matt Cain allowed all year (68).

• Their aspiring batting titlist, Melky Cabrera, met up with the wrong PED test patrol at the wrong time -- and the big bat they essentially replaced him with, Hunter Pence, went 25 days and 66 at-bats in September and October without driving in a single teammate with a hit that wasn't a homer.

• And have I mentioned that the hit that finally ended Pence's funk was a Flubberball special that hit the same bat three times, faked left, then veered 15 feet right and turned into the Strangest But Truest Bases-Clearing Double in Postseason History?

While we're on the subject of the postseason, the Giants' Strangest But Truest Postseason Feat of the Year was this: They could just as easily have won NO games in October as won the World Series (let alone swept it). How did that happen, you ask?

• They lost Games 1 and 2 of the division series. At home. By a combined score of 14-2. Then they headed for Cincinnati, one loss from elimination, and picked THAT game to be no-hit into the sixth inning, to have one hit in the first nine innings and to strike out 16 times all together -- and they WON. In extra innings. On an unearned run. Hey, of course they did.

• So they had to win three consecutive elimination games to survive the division series. Then they had to do EXACTLY the same thing in the LCS. And how many teams had ever done that twice in the same postseason? One: Steve Balboni's 1985 Royals.

• Strange But True Steve Balboni Factoid of the Year: Have I mentioned that the same Steve Balboni is now one of the Giants' most trusted scouts?

[+] EnlargeBarry Zito
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsGiants fans gave Barry Zito his due, and he paid them back.

• But wait. This gets even stranger-but-truer. After falling behind the Cardinals three games to one, which of their vaunted starting pitchers did the Giants have to turn to? How about a pitcher (Barry Zito) whose 4.47 ERA since becoming a Giant was the second-worst in baseball in that span, and whose .457 winning percentage (58-69) was the third-worst.

• So what happened when Zito took the mound that night, against a team with the second-best record against left-handed starters (31-17) in baseball. Why, 7 2/3 shutout innings happened. What else?

• And the Twitter hashtag #RallyZito rose to No. 2 among all topics on the planet trending worldwide.

• And after that, the Strangest But Truest Thing of all: The Giants didn't lose again, going 56 consecutive innings without trailing at any point, winning seven straight postseason games.

• So how many times during the entire regular season did the Giants win seven games in a row? Not once. Naturally.

Strangest But Truest Home Run Hero of the Year

It was by far the Strangest But Truest Soap Opera Moment of October 2012: Game 3, ALDS. Ninth inning. Yankees trailing by a run. Alex Rodriguez due up. And then here came ... no, not A-Rod but 40-year-old cavalry rider Raul Ibanez. Holy crap. To pinch hit for A-Rod. Holy crap. The Strange But True research team will take it from there:

• Before that moment, Ibanez had hit one ninth-inning pinch home run in his entire 17-year career.

• Before that moment, no Yankee had hit a game-tying or go-ahead home run, postseason or regular season, while pinch hitting for any No. 3 hitter in 50 years -- since Moose Skowron launched a three-run game-winner while batting for Joe Pepitone on May 27, 1962.

• Before that moment, only one player in postseason history had ever pinch hit for any No. 3 hitter in any game and launched a game-tying or go-ahead home run: George Vukovich of the Phillies in Game 4 of the 1981 NLDS -- who was hitting for a pitcher who had been double-switched into that spot, not a man with 647 home runs and a $275 million contract.

• Before that moment, only five men in postseason history had ever come to bat as pinch hitters in any spot in the order with their teams trailing in the ninth inning or later and hit a game-tying or go-ahead home run. None of the previous five were Yankees.

[+] EnlargeIbanez
Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY SportsRaul Ibanez's entire career couldn't top his October homer exploits.

• But you know what happened next, right? Raul Ibanez smoked a game-tying pinch home run, that's what. Then three innings later, he lofted a game-winning homer in the 12th. And how many players, before that, had ever hit a game-tying home run and an extra-inning home run in the same postseason game? That would be zero, friends. Yes, zero.

• Of course in a related development, you know how many players before that had ever hit two home runs in any postseason game that they didn't start? That would also be zero. Yes, zero.

• And then precisely three days later, Ibanez headed for home plate in the ninth inning again, his team trailing by two runs -- this time against Detroit in Game 1 of the ALCS. And OF COURSE he hit yet another game-tying ninth-inning home run -- his second of this postseason, his third in eight days, his fourth in the ninth inning or later in 19 days.

• And have I mentioned that before those 19 days of late-inning magic, Ibanez had hit one game-tying homer in the ninth inning or later in the previous decade? Well, I have now.

Five Strange But True October Classics

• The Reds made it through the entire regular season without any of their five starting pitchers getting hurt. They made it through eight pitches of the postseason before Johnny Cueto exited with a strained oblique. It was all downhill from there.

• The Reds did not lose three consecutive home games during the entire regular season. You might recall they lost all three of their home games in October.

Chris Carpenter, who pitches for the Cardinals, had as many hits in this postseason (three) as Robinson Cano, who hits third for the Yankees.

• It took a few years -- 79 to be exact -- but the blissful metropolis of Washington, D.C., finally hosted its first postseason baseball game since 1933. In between those postseason games, New York hosted 472 of them!

• An unprecedented 17 elimination games were played in the 2012 postseason. Fifteen (all but Game 4 of the World Series and Game 4 of that Yankees-Tigers ALCS) were won by a team that would have gone home if it had lost.

Strange But True World Series Madness

• I know I saw Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in one World Series game at AT&T Park. But really? Did that really happen? There had been a grand total of ONE previous three-homer game in the 2,158 baseball games played in that park since it opened. And that was by Kevin Elster -- in the FIRST game ever played there, April 11, 2000. Right. Kevin Elster.

• As my friend Joel Sherman of the New York Post pointed out, in 71 games, 259 at-bats and four and a half months from May 2 to Sept. 18, Pablo Sandoval hit a total of three home runs. Then he hit three home runs in three at-bats in Game 1 of the World Series, which was started by Justin Verlander. Of course he did.

• No hitter had gotten an extra-base hit off the same pitcher in a World Series game and an All-Star Game in the same year since Frank Robinson did it against Dock Ellis in 1971. But not anymore: Sandoval tripled off Verlander in the All-Star Game, then hit two home runs off him in Game 1.

• The Tigers went 33 days in September and October without losing a home game and were shut out twice all season. So what happened in the World Series? They were shut out two games in a row and lost both games they played at home.

• In the first three games of this World Series, Giants starters allowed a TOTAL of one run. The last time any team's rotation did that over any three consecutive World Series games was 107 years ago -- when the 1905 Giants did it in Games 3, 4 and 5. Christy Mathewson pitched two of those games. Christy Mathewson.

• After the Giants fell behind the Cardinals in the NLCS three games to one, they won every game they played. They outscored the Cardinals and Tigers, 36-7. They sent 234 consecutive hitters to the plate without any of them having to hit with their team trailing. Their pitching staff compiled an ERA of 0.98. And their starters gave up a TOTAL of five runs in seven starts -- or as many as Verlander allowed in the first four innings of Game 1 of the World Series.

Still More Strange But True October Madness

• Giants pitchers drove in a run in four postseason games in a row. No Yankee drove in a run in three postseason games in a row.

• The Cardinals' Jon Jay had an at-bat in Game 3 of the NLCS that lasted three ½ hours. Of course, 3:28 of that was because of a rain delay.

• I'm still trying to decide which of the Cardinals' two memorable October delays was stranger-but-truer -- that 3 hour, 28 minute rain delay, or their 19-minute infield-fly-rule delay in the wild-card game.

• Which was a more fitting way for the Cardinals' postseason to end: With an infield fly? Or with an infield fly by Matt Holliday that landed in the glove of his favorite double-play turner, Marco Scutaro?

• Then again, the Cardinals were a déjè vu kind of team. Last year, in Game 6 of the World Series, they entered the ninth inning trailing 7-5, were one strike from being eliminated twice and won. This year, in the final game of the NLDS, they entered the ninth inning trailing 7-5, were one strike from being eliminated twice and won again. Crazy.

[+] EnlargeJayson Werth
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesJayson Werth's ninth-inning NLCS solo shot was his 14th career postseason homer.

• Remember Jayson Werth's 13-pitch ninth-inning at-bat that led to a season-saving walk-off homer for the Nationals in Game 4 of the NLDS? Loyal reader/pitch-count guru Aneel Trivedi reports that before that, no postseason walk-off home run in the last 25 years was longer than a nine-pitch at-bat.

• Have I mentioned that there was only one at-bat as long as Werth's that led to a walk-off homer during the entire regular season? (Ryan Braun, Aug. 1, 14 pitches.) I have now.

• Orioles closer Jim Johnson faced 269 hitters during the regular season and gave up only three home runs. He faced 19 Yankees hitters during the ALDS and allowed two home runs.

• Have I mentioned that the four Orioles pitchers who started in that series faced a total of 121 Yankees hitters -- and gave up zero home runs? I have now.

• As our friends from the awesome site youcantpredictbaseball.com reminded us, Robinson Cano finished the regular season by going 24 for his last 39, his hottest streak ever. He then had an 0-for-29 stretch in October, the longest postseason oh-fer ever -- by anybody!

• The Cardinals won no games Chris Carpenter started during the regular season. They won the first game he started in the postseason (Game 3, NLDS). Hey, of course they did.

• As only ESPN's storied Stats & Info kernel collector Doug Kern could have reported, on the same day (Oct. 14) that the Giants' Madison Bumgarner pitched from a height of 10 ½ inches, a fellow named Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a balloon at a height of 24 miles. Bumgarner reached a maximum velocity of 91.3 mph. Baumgartner made it to 834. Sign him.

• But maybe the strangest-but-truest sight of the entire postseason took place in an airport, not a ballpark. And that was the Giants, sitting on their airplane in Cincinnati, trying to watch Game 5 of the Cardinals-Nationals series on their phones and iPads because they didn't know where to fly. Had the Nationals hung on to their six-run lead that night, the Giants would have flown to Washington for Game 1 of the NLCS. Instead, they pointed the plane west to San Francisco -- and went on to win the World Series. Now really, does postseason life get any stranger-but-truer than that?

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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