October 2012

Searching for some Game 7 karma? How about ‘Giants Monday’?

AT&T Park will be the site of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Monday. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

After Sunday’s Game 6 win over the Cardinals, I went searching for some kind of karma, some signal that would tell us the Giants would prevail in Game 7.

I tried looking for Game 7 history. But the Giants haven’t played a Game 7 at home since 1962, and only played two other Game 7s since then … and lost both.

I tried looking for clinching games at home. But the Giants’ last four playoff series clinching wins have come on the road. They’ve only played three potential series clinching games at home since 1962, all Game 5s: 1989 vs. Cubs (won), 2002 vs. Cardinals (won), 2010 vs. Phillies (lost).

But then, it hit me … Monday.

Mondays have been very good to the San Francisco Giants in the postseason.

The San Francisco Giants have NEVER lost a postseason game played on a Monday — a streak of seven consecutive wins. Five of those wins clinched the series for the Giants.

On Monday, in the postseason, the Giants have (games with asterick were series clinching games) …

  • Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, Giants beat Cardinals 7-1 in Game 2 of the NLCS
  • Monday, Nov. 1, 2010, Giants beat Rangers 3-1 in Game 5 of the World Series*
  • Monday, Oct. 11, 2010, Giants beat Braves 3-2 in Game 4 of NLDS*
  • Monday, Oct. 14, 2002, Giants beat Cardinals 2-1 in Game 5 of NLCS*
  • Monday, Oct. 7, 2002, Giants beat Braves 3-1 in Game 5 of NLDS*
  • Monday, Oct. 9, 1989, Giants beat Cubs 3-2 in Game 5 of NLCS*
  • Monday, Oct. 8, 1962, Giants beat Yankees 7-3 in Game 4 of World Series

The last time the Giants lost a postseason game on a Monday was Game 4 of the 1951 World Series, when they were the New York Giants.

Now some might point to the 1998 one-game playoff for the wild card spot against the Cubs, which the Giants lost 5-3. But that wasn’t a postseason game. Officially, it was regular-season game No. 163.

The Mamas and the Papas once sang “whenever Monday comes, you can find me cryin’ all of the time.”

And “Rainy Days and Mondays” always brought The Carpenters down.

But the San Francisco Giants LOVE Mondays.

Wait a minute. Mondays always bring The Carpenters down? The Cardinals have two Carpenters on their roster.

Hmmmmm.

Ryan Vogelsong pitches San Francisco Giants to Game 7 of NLCS

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong throws during the first inning of Game 6 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

BOX SCORE

In 2010,  the Giants captured the World Championship without facing an elimination game.

On Sunday, the Giants’ faced their fifth of the 2012 postseason. Thanks to Ryan Vogelsong, they’ll face their sixth on Monday.

For the second time in this series, Vogelsong limited the Cardinals to a single run over seven outstanding innings of work. Following up the effort of Barry Zito in Game 5, Vogey even delivered an RBI to his cause as the Giants won 6-1 in Game 6 Sunday, forcing a deciding Game 7 on Monday.

Vogelsong set the tone early, striking out six of the first seven batters he faced. Then the offense did its part by giving him a 5-0 lead before Vogelsong would face the eighth Cardinal.

“I just tried to do really the same thing (Zito) did, come out and set the tone early for us,” Vogelsong said, referring to Zito’s performance in Game 5.

And he did, with the bat as well.

The Giants struck first with a run in the bottom of the first. After a walk to Marco Scutaro and a double by Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey’s infield grounder scored Scutaro with the first run.

In the second, with Brandon Belt on third and Brandon Crawford on first and one out, Vogelsong squared to bunt with Crawford taking off for second. Then Vogelsong pulled the bat back and hit a slow grounder to short.

Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, who had broken to cover second, changed direction to field the ball and dropped it, as Belt scored and the other two runners were safe.

“You try and put as much pressure on them as possible,” Belt said. “You put runners on base and push, and stuff like this happens. We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing all season: Find some way to get on base, some way to get into scoring position and then some way to get home.”

After Angel Pagan struck out, Scutaro delivered another clutch hit, doubling to left to score Crawford from second and Vogelsong from first.

When asked how he felt after that, Vogelsong said: “Well, I was looking for the oxygen first.”

After Sandoval added an RBI single to make it 5-0 in the second, it was the Cardinals who looked like they were out of gas. Vogelsong kept going on strong, not allowing a hit to the Cardinals until the fifth inning.

The final numbers for Vogelsong: 7 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER, 1 walk and 9 strikeouts.

For the postseason, Vogelsong has given up three runs on 11 hits in 19 innings, for a 1.42 ERA.

And now it’s down to one game, as the Giants comeback magic continues.

They were down 0-2 to the Reds, needing to win three on the road to survive, and they di.

They were down 3-1 to the Cardinals, needing three wins to surviving, and they have achieved two of them.

When asked to explain the team’s resiliency, Giants GM Brian Sabean said:  “I honestly don’t know. In some ways it’s just a human group dynamic. There’s an old saying in sports, it’s not how good you are, it’s how well you play. I don’t know if they love to win as much as they hate to lose.”

Well, the Giants aren’t alone in that description.

With Sunday’s win, the Giants became the eighth team to win five consecutive elimination games in postseason history. Three other teams have also won five: the Red Sox in 2007-08, the Dodgers in 1981, and the Athletics in 1972-73.

If you want good karma, all of those teams won World Series titles, except the 2008 Red Sox.

But to join those world champions, the Giants will have to win a sixth. And that would put them in a class with four other teams to win six in a row: the Tigers in a streak that extended from 1945 to 1972, the Twins in a streak that extended from 1987 to 2002, the 1985 Royals … and these Cardinals, who have six in a row dating back to last season.

Barry Zito rescues the San Francisco Giants ….. again?

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito throws during the first inning of Game 5 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Cardinals 3, Giants 1
Game 4: Cardinals 8, Giants 3
Game 5: Giants 5, Cardinals 0
Game 6: Cardinals (Carpenter) at Giants (Vogelsong), 4:45 p.m. Sunday
Game 7 (if necessary): Cardinals (Lohse) at Giants (Cain), 5:07 p.m. Monday

I didn’t blog after the Giants’ 8-3 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday — not entirely because I was depressed. I was actually busy with other things.

But if I had found the time to blog, this is what I was planning to write.

All hope was not lost, not even with the fact the Giants were behind 3-1 in the National League Championship series, needing once  again to win three consecutive games to advance.

And not because Barry Zito was pitching.

Jayson Stark of ESPN said Wednesday that Game 3 was the game the Giants NEEDED to win, because Matt Cain was on the mound. After Cain came the enigmatic Tim Lincecum (he was right about that one) and then the equally puzzling Barry Zito.

But as someone who has blogged about the Giants all season, I kept thinking back to similar feelings I had about upcoming Zito starts this season.

The situation was this: the Giants were coming off a loss — sometimes a couple of losses — and, oh great, now Zito is pitching.

Then Zito turns in a pearl.

Seven of Zito’s 15 wins this season — that’s almost half — have come on days that followed a Giants’ loss.

It started with  his first win of the season way back on April 9. You remember? Zito was gawd-awful in the spring, stayed in Arizona to “work on some things,” the Giants drop their first three games to the Diamondbacks, then they get Zito pitching in Colorado.

And what did he do? He pitched a shutout, being the Rockies 8-0.

He would do it six more times following a Giants’ loss, including two more when he didn’t allow the opponent to score:

  • June 25 vs. Dodgers, Giants win 8-0
  • July 6 at Pirates, Giants win 6-5
  • August 7 at Cardinals, Giants win 4-2
  • September 9 vs. Dodgers, Giants win 4-0
  • October 2 at Dodgers, Giants win 4-3

Well, Zito did it again on Friday, when the stakes were far higher than they had ever been previously.

He held the Cardinals to no runs on six hits and one walk (which was an intentional walk) while striking out six in 7 2/3 innings, sending the Giants back to San Francisco with the hopes of a pennant still alive.

“I couldn’t be happier for him,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I don’t know how many times we needed to win this year, he found a way to get it done for us.”

Afterwards, Zito knew what the victory meant to him and his team.

“This is definitely it for me,” Zito said. “Coming here, really doing it in a Giants uniform. A lot of people were saying stuff about my A’s days. And for me, the most important thing is doing everything for San Francisco right now.”

And as they have so often this season, the Giants did something for Zito. They got him some runs.

For the second time in this NLCS, the Giants went hitless against Cardinals’ starter Lance Lynn the first time through the lineup.

And for the second time in this NLCS, they jumped on him for a four-run fourth inning.

Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval opened the inning with singles before Buster Posey struck out. Hunter Pence hit a high chopper back to Lynn, who fielded the ball, spun and threw to second. But the ball was low, shortstop Pete Kozma was late in covering, and the ball bounced off the bag and into the outfield, allowing Scutaro to score the game’s first run.

After Brandon Belt popped out — failing to get a runner home from third with less than two out — Gregor Blanco walked. Then Brandon Crawford delivered in the clutch again, as he has before this postseason, smacking a single up the middle to score Sandoval and Pence.

Then Zito made the offensive play of the night for the Giants. After falling behind in the count, he saw David Freese playing deep at third and punched a bunt up the third base line, then hustling down to first for an infield single that scored Blanco with the fourth run.

The play stunned the Cardinals, and even some Giants, too.

“Shocked,” third-base coach Tim Flannery said. “We work on it. We talk about it. But he did that all on his own. It was beautiful – brilliant.”

Said Blanco: “I was thinking, maybe, ball in the dirt, I’ve got to be ready. But I wasn’t expecting that. It was awesome, unbelievable. That’s what I told him: ‘Awesome! Awesome! You’ve got to do it again!’ ”

It wasn’t all Zito after that. Pablo Sandoval added another home run, and the Giants’ defense behind Zito was superb.

But the bottom line is that for the 13th consecutive game that Zito has started, the Giants came away winners.

Incredible. Amazing. Unbelievable.

Now the Giants return home where they will throw Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6, and hopefully Matt Cain in Game 7.

And here’s another amazing thought. If the Giants can pull off another comeback and advance to the World Series, who do you think might get the call at AT&T Park next Wednesday against the Tigers?

Could it be Barry Zito?

Oh, and the last time Zito faced the Tigers, he delivered his only scoreless start of the 2011 season, pitching six scoreless in Detroit on July 2, 2011.

And the Giants scored runs for him, winning 15-3.

NLCS Game 3: St. Louis Cardinals 3, San Francisco Giants 1

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Cardinals 3, Giants 1
Game 4: Giants (Lincecum) at Cardinals (Wainwright), 5:07 p.m. Thursday
Game 5: Giants (Zito) at Cardinals (Lynn), 5:07 p.m. Friday
x-Game 6: Cardinals at Giants, 1:07 p.m. Sunday
x-Game 7: Cardinals at Giants, 5:07 p.m. Monday
x-if necessary

OK, it isn’t time to panic.

But it is time to become worried … at least about Hunter Pence.

At least Hunter Pence’s defense has been good in the postseason (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

Pence repeatedly missed opportunities to deliver in the clutch as his woeful postseason at the plate continued.

After going 4 for 20 (.200) with no RBI in the NLDS, he is now 1 for 11 with no RBI in the NLCS. That’s a whopping .161 for the postseason.

The Giants’ biggest scoring threat came in the top of the third when Angel Pagan singled and Marco Scutaro slapped a double down the right-field line, putting runners on second and third and nobody out.

Pablo Sandoval followed with a sacrifice fly scoring Pagan and sending Scutaro to third.

The Cardinals then intentionally walked Buster Posey. Then Pence came up and grounded into an inning-ending double play.

In the fifth with two outs, the Cardinals walked Posey again. Pence grounded out to short.

In the seventh, Pablo Sandoval hits a one-out liner off the wall in left, but only managed a single. That angered many Giants, but it didn’t really matter. Because if Sandoval had doubled, the Cardinals would have simply walked Posey again.

At least with Sandoval staying at first, Posey at least got a chance to swing the bat. He delivered a single to left, putting runners at first and second and one out.

This time, Pence struck out.

“I’m the goat tonight. I just didn’t get the job done,” Pence said.

Well, there were plenty of oats to go around the Giants’ lineup.

With runner at second and third and two out in the fourth, Angel Pagan flied out to center to end the inning. In the sixth, with two on and two out, Pagan grounded out to end the inning.

In the seventh, after Pence struck out, Brandon Belt struck out looking.

In the end, it was one run on nine hits and FIVE walks.

The hole in the lineup that is Pence is making it easy for teams to pitch around Posey, who is being followed in the lineup by a guy who strikes out swinging too much and then a who strikes out looking too much.

The guy who strikes out looking might find himself looking from the bench in Game 5.

Bruce Bochy said he would consider lineup changes for Game 5. Bay Area media members said that would likely include Hector Sanchez catching and Buster Posey at first base.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News suggested a lineup that would look like this:

CF Angel Pagan
LF Gregor Blanco
2B Marco Scutaro
1B Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Hector Sanchez
RF Hunter Pence
SS Brandon Crawford

I doubt we’ll see a lineup with Pence hitting seventh. It’s not Bochy’s style. But some kind of shakeup is needed right now.

Matt Holliday-Marco Scutaro fallout: At what point will MLB place player safety above machismo?

San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro grimaces as his leg is caught under a sliding St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday on a double play attempt during the first inning of Game 2 of baseball’s National League championship series Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it an illegal play.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called the play “hard, but within the rules.”

So who’s right? Well, opinions varied Tuesday, a day after the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday injured Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro in an effort to break up a double play in Monday’s Game 2 of the National League championship series.

Scutaro was diagnosed with a strained hip, but expects to play Wednesday in Game 3. So that’s the good news.

Wording of some MLB rules are often vague and open to interpretation. And that’s why opinions on plays like the one Monday are so varied.

In Rule 6.05 (m), pertaining to a batter is out when …

“A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.”

Seems pretty clear there. And applied to this play, Holliday and batter Allen Craig should have been ruled out, which would have been little consolation for an injured Scutaro. However, if this rule had been enforced in the past, and fines and suspensions were attached to blatant violators, then that would deter runners from doing what Holliday did.

However, it’s the comment on this rule that opens it up to interpretation.

“The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.”

Some interpret “by .. leaving the baseline” to mean that as long as the runner is in the baseline that anything he does there is fair game.

But others would look at “obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man … rather than trying to reach the base” and see that clearly Holliday’s intent was to contact Scutaro and not the base, as he didn’t contact Scutaro until after he passed the base.

This is the issue Billy Ripken took with the play on MLB Network. Ripken said he had no problems with contact on plays that occur in the baseline between first and second base. But Ripken pointed out that Scutaro positioned himself on the far end of the bag for protection, knowing that Holliday would have to slide over the bag to get to him. Holliday solved this problem by not starting his slide (i.e. hitting the ground) until after he passed the bag, and Scutaro got no relief from the umpires.

But another veteran infielder on MLB Network, Larry Bowa, didn’t understand the hub-bub over the play, saying it was just a baseball play. He added that’s the way the game has been played for years. Bowa said “we could put skirts on these guys” showing how old he is and how out-of-date his thinking is.

Baseball is by nature a non-contact sport, and it should be played that way. Any contact should be incidental.

Fans don’t go to the game to see players crash into each other. They go to football games for that.

They go to see players play, and MLB needs to make sure it can do all it can to make sure that happens.

The simple solution is to follow high school rules on sliding into a bag.

High school rules defines that a legal slide “can be either feet first or head first. If a runner slides feet first, at least one leg and buttock shall be on the ground. If a runner slides, he must slide within reach of the base with either a hand or a foot.”

And an illegal slide occurs “when a runner uses a rolling, cross-body or pop-up slide into the fielder; the runner’s raised leg is higher than the fielder’s knee when the fielder is in a standing position; the runner goes beyond the base and makes contact with or alters the play of the fielder; the runner slashes or kicks the fielder with either leg; or the runner tries to injure the infielder.”

Now that’s clear and not open to discussion. An illegal slide equals interference. If the rule is blatantly broken, ejections, fines and suspensions will ensue.

Problem solved, and it allows the best players decide which teams should advance in the postseason.

Baseball superstition and the potential of a NLCS Game 3 rain delay

Prior to Game 5 of the NLDS in Cincinnati, Giants broadcasters Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow were talking about superstitions. Krukow talked about going through the same routines, even taking notice that fans walking to the park appeared to be wearing the same clothes as the previous day.

Now, I’ll admit to sticking to certain rituals when watching the Giants.

In 2010, during Game 4 of the World Series, I put on my Giants garb as part of my Halloween costume … as it was Halloween.

After the Giants won Game 4, I put on the same clothes for Game 5. In fact, I also sat in the same chair. And as I was folding clothes to burn nervous energy during Game 4, for Game 5 I held the same pillow case that I held through the later stretches of Game 4.

For Game 1 of the 2012 NLCS, I watched the game from work … because I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to watch a baseball game while working.

I listened on the MLB audio feed from KNBR on my computer while I watched the action on the TV … despite the fact that the TV feed was about eight seconds delayed from the audio play-by-play. Why? Because that’s what I did in 2010.

In 2012, it didn’t work as well, as the Giants lost to the Reds.

So, for Game 2, I moved my workspace so I can just watch the TBS on TV. That didn’t work either.

Then I asked for the Giants to win Game 3, because I was going to off from work for Games 3 and 4, and I wanted to be able to watch two more games from home.

The Giants won Game 3, and Game 4. Game 5 was played in the morning on the West Coast, meaning I could watch it from home before going to work. And the Giants won again.

So I started thinking that there might be a correlation: Lose when I watch from work, win when I watch at home.

With Sunday another work day, I actually thought about going into work early, getting some things done, then going home to watch the game. (My job allows me that flexibility, too).

But I thought “Naaah. That’s silly.” So I went to work, and watched the game from there. And the Giants lost.

On Monday, I was off from work. So I watched the game from home, albeit on a two-hour delay on the DVR because of another evening commitment. And the Giants won.

So, that fact made me look at my work schedule and the remainder of the NLCS. On Wednesday, Game 3 is slated for a 1:07 p.m. PDT start (3:07 p.m. CDT). Perfect. I work Wednesday, but wouldn’t need to go into work until after the game.

But there’s one problem. Rain is in the forecast Wednesday in St. Louis.

The forecast for game time Wednesday calls for a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms. It climbs to 80 percent by 4 p.m. CDT and 5 p.m. CDT. Then it drops to 70 percent at 6 p.m. and 50 percent by 7 p.m.

The forecast for 9 p.m. CDT (7 p.m. PDT) is 20 percent chance of rain and partly cloudy.

So the chances of the game being completely scrubbed on Wednesday seems unlikely, unless the rainfall is so heavy or lengthy that it leads to wet grounds.

But if the game doesn’t start until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. PDT, well then I’m stuck at work.

Maybe I won’t watch.

NLCS Game 2: San Francisco Giants 7, St. Louis Cardinals 1

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong throws during the second inning of Game 2 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Giants (Cain) at Cardinals (Lohse), 1:07 p.m. Wednesday
Game 4: Giants (Lincecum or Zito) at Cardinals (Wainwright), 5:07 p.m. Thursday
Game 5: Giants (Lincecum or Zito) at Cardinals (Lynn), 5:07 p.m. Friday
x-Game 6: Cardinals at Giants, 1:07 p.m. Sunday
x-Game 7: Cardinals at Giants, 5:07 p.m. Monday

Ryan Vogelsong stopped the streak. Several streaks in fact.

And in doing so he kept another streak going.

The first streak that ended was the Giants’ three-game losing streak at home in the postseason, and that evened the NLCS at one game each.

He helped end Chris Carpenter’s streak of winning his last five postseason decisions.

And by pitching seven solid innings, he became the first Giants starter to post a quality start in the postseason.

Of course, Vogelsong could have ended that last streak in his last start had the Giants managed any early hitting in Game 3 of the NLDS. Vogelsong gave up one run in five innings against the Reds, when he was lifted for a pinch-hitter when the Giants were being no-hit by Homer Bailey.

And that was the positive streak he extended Monday. Monday’s start was the fifth consecutive start that Vogelsong has allowed one run or fewer. Take a look:

  • Sept. 21 vs. Padres: 6 IP, 1 ER, 5 hits
  • Sept. 28 at Padres: 6 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 5 hits
  • Oct. 3 at Dodgers: 5 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 hits
  • Oct. 9 at Reds: 5 IP, 1 ER, 3 hits
  • Oct. 15 vs. Cardinals: 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 hits

And this after a seven-start stretch in August and September in which he posted on ERA over 10.00.

Angel Pagan gave the Giants the early lead with his second lead-off home run of the postseason.

After the Cardinals tied the game 1-1, the Giants took control with their second four-run fourth inning in two days.

Brandon Belt, who struggled in the NLDS, came up with a big double in the fourth, and moved to third on Gregor Blanco’s single. When Chris Carpenter made an error on Brandon Crawford’s chopper, Belt scored to make it 2-1.

After a walk to Pagan, Marco Scutaro, who was hurt by a late slide by Matt Holliday in the first, delivered a two-run single and a third run scored when Holliday booted the ball in the outfield.

The Giants added to more runs in the eighth when Ryan Theriot, who replaced the injured Scutaro in the sixth, delivered a bases-loaded single.

Scutaro had X-rays after the game, which came back clean. Then he went to the hospital for an MRI.

But the Giants got the win they needed. They need to win at least one in St. Louis to bring the series back to San Francisco. And who would pitch in that potential Game 6 in SF?

Ryan Vogelsong.

NLCS Game 1: St. Louis Cardinals 6, San Francisco Giants 4

San Francisco Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti (33) visits starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) on the mound along with catcher Buster Posey (28) during Game 1 of the National League baseball championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Jose Luis Villegas) MAGS OUT; LOCAL TV OUT (KCRA3, KXTV10, KOVR13, KUVS19, KMAZ31, KTXL40); MANDATORY CREDIT

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Cardinals (Carpenter) at Giants (Vogelsong), 5:07 p.m. Monday
Game 3: Giants (Cain) at Cardinals (Lohse), 1:07 p.m. Wednesday
Game 4: Giants (TBA) at Cardinals (TBA), 5:07 p.m. Thursday
x-Game 5: Giants (TBA) at Cardinals (TBA), 5:07 p.m. Friday
x-Game 6: Cardinals at Giants, 1:07 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21
x-Game 7: Cardinals at Giants, 5:07 p.m., Monday, Oct. 22

Normally, it’s the visiting team that comes into the best-of-seven series looking to at least split the first two games.

But if you had asked any Giants fan heading into the 2012 NLCS, they would have gladly taken a split.

Now, the Giants almost need that split.

Things started badly for the Giants Sunday, got a little better, but ended with a 6-4 loss to the Cardinals in the Giants’ third consecutive home postseason loss at AT&T Park.

And the overriding question after the loss was: What is wrong with Madison Bumgarner.

A pitcher who was so key during the Giants’ 2010 World Series run has been in a major funk this postseason.

It continued Sunday, as MadBum was tagged for six runs on eight hits, one walk in 3 2/3 innings.

Things started off well for Bumgarner as he set the Cardinals down in order in the first on two groundouts and a line out to left.

“He came out with good stuff, but it dropped a little bit,” manager Bruce Bochy said.

But in the second, Bumgarner got stung again by the long ball, something the Giants’ had hoped to avoid by having Bumgarner start at home.

David Freese’s two-run shot to left gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

In the fourth it got worse. Daniel Descalso raked a double down the line in right. Pete Kozma followed with a double down the left field line and it was 3-0 Cardinals. After striking out pitcher Lance Lynn, Jon Jay singled home Kozma. Then Carlos Beltran’s two-run homer to left ended Bumgarner’s night.

“I think (he’s) just struggling with command,” catcher Buster Posey said. “Breaking balls not getting buried in. It doesn’t have quite the same finish on it. I’d say that’s the main thing.”

More troubling was the radar gun on Bumgarner, which Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News reported at being around 88-89 mph in the fourth inning, lower than the 91-93 mph we are used to seeing from Bumgarner.

“That’s the way it’s been the past two starts,” Bumgarner said. “Not a whole lot of life on the ball. At the same time, you’ve still got to find a way to make pitches.”

Well, it’s been more than the last two starts in the postseason. It actually dates back to August.

Bumgarner had a string of eight consecutive quality starts from July 13-Aug. 20, culminating with eight shutout innings (four hits, 10 Ks) at Los Angeles.

Since then, he has only had one quality start — Sept. 17 at home against the Rockies, when he gave up one run on four hits in six innings. However, in that game, he walked a season-high five batters. In his other regular-season starts, he’s given up 3 to 5 runs in between 4.0-6.1 innings per start.

And you’ll recall the Giants didn’t exactly finish the season against powerhouse lineups: Cubs, Rockies twice, Padres twice.

In the postseason, he gave four runs on seven hits in four innings vs. the Reds. And then Sunday’s start.

In his last four starts, he’s given up six home runs — in pitcher friendly ballparks (3 starts at AT&T, one in Petco).

So what does this mean for Game 5?

“We’ll talk about it tonight, tomorrow, and as we get to Game 5 what we will do,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “But, he’s one of our guys. He’s had a great year, and we’ve seen what this kid has done for us during the season and in the postseason. But, it’s something that we’ll discuss.”

Depending on what happens Monday with Vogelsong, it looks as if Barry Zito might get the call.

For what it’s worth, Zito gave up two runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings in his only start in St. Louis this season on Aug. 7.

Reliving the Giants-Reds NLDS through MoreSplashHits’ best tweets

A couple of years ago I launched to Twitter account linked to my MoreSplashHits blog.

Then I started using Twitter as I watched Giants games live, and it was great. It’s kind of like hanging out in the bleachers at AT&T Park or a sports bar filled with Giants fans.

So I thought I’d share with you my impressions of the Giants’ series victory over the Reds through my tweets during the five games.

Follow MoreSplashHits on Twitter at @MoreSplashHits

GAME 1

After Brandon Belt made a great catch on a foul pop as he fell into a camera well:

“Belt is safe after that tumble into box seats, thanks to the infielder fall rule”

Johnny Cueto injures himself in the bottom of the first inning, draw some cheers from AT&T crowd.

“Cheering when a dude gets hurt is not cool … unless it’s Mat Latos”

GAME 2

Bronson Arroyo was shutting out the Giants through six innings as Reds led 4-0.

“Prediction: Giants put 2 runners on it 7th. Dusty lifts Arroyo, gives him game ball. Reliever gives up 3-run HR. Giants rally to win 6-5.”

When TBS made the obligatory replay of the Scott Cousins/Buster Posey play in 2011 while the Reds were pounding the Giants.

“OK, great, the Cousins play. Thanks TNT. Like I don’t need that right now”

Which was quickly followed by..

“Next inning TBS will air video of Melky trying to falsify a web site.”

The Reds add onto their lead in the eighth against Guillermo Mota.

“Quick. Someone get Mota some cough medicine. Just coughed up another run.”

After the Reds extended lead to 9-0.

“This must be what it feels like to be a Rangers fan watching a postseason game at AT&T Park.”

Yet, I never lost hope … completely.

“I’m researching a tweet about the last time a team rallied for 10 runs in ninth to win postseason game ….”

After the loss, trying to keep things in perspective.

“Threw my lucky shirt for game 1 in wash. Should throw out my new lucky shirt for Game 2 … Oh wait, it’s a 2010 World Champions T-shirt”

A simple request

“OK #SFGiants, let’s win Tuesday, if only because I’m not working Tuesday or Wednesday.”

GAME 3

The game starts

Giants score first run since Game 1 on HBP, walk, sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly.

“OK, we got a run. Now it’s time on working on getting a hit.”

Giants’ inability to get runs (or even hits) heightens stress when Reds come to plate.

“Why does every time Reds come up it feels like the bottom of the ninth?”

… and it begins to deteriorate confidence.

“Did he bring his bat? RT @hankschulman Having the pleasure of sitting next to former Giant Stan Javier”

and

“#SFGiants head to bottom of the fifth down three runs, despite being tied 1-1 #feelslikeit”

Brandon Phillips battled a cramp in his leg while batting.

“Brandon Phillips cramping up due to inactivity in the field when #SFGiants are hitting”

After the camera showed Johnny Cueto in dugout.

“And he has a fast car RT @TheDodgerhater Johnny Cueto looks like Tracy Chapman.”

After Bruce Bochy all but empties his bench in eighth inning.

“Hitters left on bench … Hector Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, …. Shawon Dunston.”

But hope still prevails …

“Did anyone else here that voice? RT @SonsofJohnnieLe If you #BELIEVE they will score”

Still 1-1, bottom of the ninth, Reds hitting.

“OK, I’m watching the bottom of the ninth … with my finger on the OFF button.”

Top of the 10th, Giants put runners on second and third with two outs after passed ball with Joaquin Arias at bat.

“Now do they walk Arias?”

They pitch to him. He hits chopper to Scott Rolen, who can’t handle it as Arias beats out throw. Buster Posey scores for 2-1 lead.

“Unbelievable”

Romo saves. Giants win 2-1.

“YES!!! THERE IS A TOMORROW!!!!! #SFGiants #BELIEVE”

GAME 4

I get a late start.

“OK, I’m on twitter. Had to run errand, so was watching on DVR. Caught up now, which means I can’t fast-forward when Zito is on mound.”

Tim Lincecum comes in relief of Zito, fans Ryan Ludwick to end inning.

“Good thing Timmy fanned Ludwick there cuz I needed to pee. Already soiled myself when Zito was pitching.”

Giants surge ahead. Geico commercial comes on TV.

“People switching to Geico sure are happy. How happy? Happy as #SFGiants fans watching their team rally from 0-2 series deficit”

After State Farm ad comes on featuring ex-Cubs Kerry Wood and Andre Dawson.

“Somebody should tell Andre Dawson it’s October 1989 … then he won’t have to do anything for the Cubs.”

Another clutch hit from Marco Scutaro.

“I thought the Reds were going to pitch around Scutaro, try to turn 2 on Panda. Dusty must have borrowed Mattingly’s scouting report”

Giants score eight runs, even series at 2-2.

“It think it was @MLBJesus who said ‘Blessed are the meek-hitting team, for they shall inherit the earth.’ “

Camera shows Brian Wilson and his beard in dugout.

“OK, Brian Wilson’s beard has become plain ridiculous. Where can I buy a “Shear the Beard” T-shirt?”

A favorite post-game tweet back

GAME 5

Not superstitious … sort of

“Don’t have lucky T-shirt, cuz i don’t believe in lucky T-shirts. But if I had lucky T-shirt, I’d sure as hell have it on today. #SFGiants”

A message to Mat Latos

Buster Posey belts a grand slam to make it Giants 6-0.

Reds cut the lead to 6-3 and keep threatening.

“Giants still have 3-run lead. Giants still have 3-run lead, Giants still have 3-run lead …..”

As the stress grew in late innings, the Tweets became fewer and fewer and far less clever. But the Giants held on the victory and advance. So I offered praise to Hunter Pence and his pre-game pep talks in Games 3, 4 and 5.

“Hi, I’m @hunterpence and I’m a motivational speaker …. AND I LIVE IN A VAN DOWN BY THE OHIO RIVER!!!!!”

NLDS Game 5: San Francisco Giants 6, Cincinnati Reds 4

The San Francisco Giants celebrate after they defeated the Cincinnati Reds 6-4 in Game 5 of the National League division baseball series, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Cincinnati. The Giants won the final three games, all in Cincinnati, and advanced to the NL championship series. (AP Photo/Michael Keating)

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Reds 5, Giants 2
Game 2: Reds 9, Giants 0
Game 3: Giants 2, Reds 1, 10 inn.
Game 4: Giants 8, Reds 3
Game 5: Giants 6, Reds 4

The San Francisco Giants made history Thursday, and I have only one thing to say about that.

PHHHEEEEEEWWWWWW!

Only the Giants can make a 6-0 a heart-thumping affair.

That’s where the Giants were since stinging Mat Latos for six runs in the fifth, the killer blow being Buster Posey’s grand slam that made it 6-0.

Well, we thought it was a killer blow. It was just a wounding blow. The Reds did not go down with a fight.

BOTTOM OF FIFTH: But the Giants didn’t get a shutout inning from Matt Cain. Ryan Hanigan was hit by a pitch and Drew Stubbs singles. One out later, Brandon Phillips doubles both home. But Cain ended it there. GIANTS 6, REDS 2.

BOTTOM OF SIXTH: Ryan Ludwick leads off with a home run to right. Jay Bruce walks and Scott Rolen singles. Nobody out, and it looked like Bruce Bochy was going to get Cain. But pitching coach Dave Righetti stops him. Hanigan strikes out on a 3-2 pitch with the runners moving, and Posey throws out Bruce at third. Cain is relieved, and George Kontos gets Stubbs to ground out to end inning. GIANTS 6, REDS 3

BOTTOM OF THE SEVENTH: Jeremy Affeldt comes into pitch. With one out, Phillips singles. Another out later, Votto singles. Then Affeldt gets Ludwick to hit a comebacker. GIANTS 6, REDS 3

BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH: Javier Lopez comes in to get Bruce to groundout. Santiago Casilla comes in and gives up a bloop single to Scott Rolen. Hanigan hits a laser that is snagged by Brandon Crawford at short. Todd Frazier serves the ball into center for a single. Casilla comes out, Sergio Romo comes in. Dioner Navarro hits a looper to center that Angel Pagan makes a nice rolling catch. GIANTS 6, REDS 3

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: Romo gets Phillips to pop out. Then Zach Cozart walks and Votto singles to right. Ludwick singles to left, scoring Cozart. Runners at first and second at one out. Bruce comes up and hits so many foul balls you had to runner if they would run out of balls. Finally, Romo gets Bruce to fly to left. Romo gets ahead of Scott Rolen 1-2 before a slider — that actually missed on its location — gets Rolen to strike out. GAME OVER. GIANTS 6, REDS 4.

It was a great game. A great comeback effort by the Reds. Great pitches, great plays by the Giants to preserve the lead.

Bring on the Cardinals or Nationals!!!

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