In 109 years of postseason play, there have been just 5 games where a dismal offense picks itself up for a win. Although there are many benchmarks for disappointment—blowing a sizable lead, scoring less than 2 runs, stranding more than 10 baserunners—let’s use the ones set by the Giants yesterday. Over 10 innings, they put up just 3 hits and struck out 16 times.
Three hits by a playoff team is the third fewest in the postseason, a feat matched by 9 other teams and exceeded (or, rather, not exceeded) by 6. At the bottom of the list, the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees 3-2 in Game 4 of the World Series on exactly one hit… and 10 walks. The 1974 Oakland Athletics won Game 4 of the ALCS on a single hit and 11 walks.
The Giants had no such luck last night. They reached base a total of 5 times, tied with the 1944 St. Louis Browns and 2001 Yankees for the third fewest baserunners in postseason history. Even more remarkably, the Giants recorded 16 strikeouts, which the club has managed just 7 times in regular season play and now, just once in postseason play.
Believe it or not, three of these games (now, four) have come against Cincinnati: twice in 1967, and once in 1987. With lineups boasting, at one time or another, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Will Clark, and Juan Marichal, the Giants squeaked by on one-run leads each time. On September 1, 1967, their crowning moment arrived in a 21-inning, 18-strikeout shutout in Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.
Four playoff teams have met or surpassed 16 strikeouts and gone on to win their games. Most recently, the 2004 Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS with an 11-hit, 5-walk, 16-strikeout effort. In 1999, the Atlanta Braves won Game 3 of the NLDS on 12 hits, 5 walks, and 18 strikeouts. 1997 saw the Cleveland Indians defeat the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS with 6 hits, 7 walks, and 21 strikeouts. Not to be outdone, the 1996 Orioles won the ALDS with 14 hits, 3 walks, and a staggering 23 strikeouts.
Today, the Giants have another shot at extending the NLDS. In 26 playoff appearances, they have played six Division Series, thanks to a constantly reformatted postseason. Excepting a three-game sweep by the 1997 Florida Marlins, the Giants have reached at least four games in each NLDS since then. In 2000, 2002, and 2003, they arrived to Game 4 trailing the series 1-2.
This track record appears to bode well for the 2012 team, with one or two drawbacks. They will not have homefield advantage, which worked in their favor in the 2002 NLDS, when they pulled off an 8-3 comeback against the Atlanta Braves. To date, those extra five runs mark the greatest lead the Giants have maintained in a Division Series win. In opponents’ ballparks, the Giants have kept a 1-2 record. Two games have brought the competition within a run of tying the Giants: first, a 6-7 loss against the 2003 Marlins, and most recently, a 3-2 win over the Braves in 2010.
While this afternoon’s match-up will be the first time the Reds have seen four games in an NLDS, they saw 9 four-game series in regular season play. Split by ballpark, the Reds completed four series at home and five on the road. At Great American Ballpark, they are undefeated in four-game series finales, and have gone 3-2 in visiting parks.
Finally, and shifting focus from teams to individual players, Mike Leake has all but been named the starter for Game 4, given Johnny Cueto‘s recent oblique strain. Leake notched five starts against the Giants over the past two seasons, with just one loss in a 16-5 beatdown in August 2010. Overall, he’s allowed Giants’ batters 38 hits, 14 runs, and 7 walks in 28 IP, recording 22 strikeouts, a complete game, and a shutout.
By contrast, Barry Zito also made five appearances against the Reds in the last two seasons, finishing with an inverted record of 1-4. He totaled 29 hits, 13 runs, 14 walks, and 15 strikeouts in 23.2 IP, his sorriest loss featuring 8 hits, 3 walks, and 5 earned runs in 5.2 IP.
Lest the Reds’ playoff success and the Giants’ waning NLDS chances get you too down in the dumps, here’s an apt and welcome encouragement from Reverend Hunter Pence, as relayed by Tim Flannery yesterday: “No matter what happens we must not give in, we owe it to each other, play for each other … play for each other, not yourself, win each moment, win each inning, it’s all we have left.”