Last evening’s game couldn’t have been a more perfect microcosm of the season.
Matt Cain pitched his heart out yet again – knowing a single mistake, just one, would most likely cost him the game. For six plus innings, he was perfection until a Ryan Roberts sinking liner bounced off left fielder Justin Christen’s glove. They say baseball is a game of inches and it couldn’t ring more true. If Ian Kinsler’s deep fly ball to center last October has two more inches, who knows what happens in the World Series. And if Justin Christen was playing in even six more inches, he most likely makes the catch look semi-routine. But neither happened that way, and Roberts motored into second, Jersey Shore fist pumping to the crown, ignoring the ice cold glares of Matt Cain. A miss in location to the next batter Chris Young, and the 1-0 Giants lead was no more as he drove home Roberts.
The Giants surely had their chances – none more true than two consecutive singles by Brandon Belt and Orlando Cabrera in the seventh while the Giants nursed their one run lead. With Eli Whiteside at the dish and Belt and Cabrera bouncing off first and second, one would assume some type of move would have been made. Is it putting in Hector Sanchez for Whiteside? Is it calling for a sacrifice bunt from Whiteside? A pinch hitter? Sure, Matt Cain was on deck – but you were hedging all your bets on a .204 hitter with a ground ball pitcher? True to form, Bochy refused to give up an out and Whiteside grounded into a double play- the rally dying as quickly as it began.
With the game in its balance, runners on the corners and two outs, the D’Backs rookie first baseman came to the plate and Sergio Romo and his video game like numbers came out of the pen. Paul Goldschmidt has been everything Brandon Belt should have been – not so much from a statistical standpoint, but Goldschmidt (who, while talented, has far less tools than Belt) had the trust of his manager Kirk Gibson, something Belt could never achieve from Bruce Bochy. After passing on a Romo first pitch and a swinging wildly on a second, Goldschmidt drove a 1-2 slider down the right field line that snuck past a hobbled Carlos Beltran, scoring both runs. I shouldn’t need to remind you that Goldschmidt started off his campaign with a .212 average through his first 40 at-bat’s. But the Diamondback’s never waivered – they trusted him, much like the Giants should have trusted their young players, but made the choice to ride with veterans like Aubrey Huff, Aaron Rowand and Orlando Cabrera/Miguel Tejada over their youth. And now we see the final results of those decisions…
Speaking of Aubrey Huff, it was in fine fashion that he was the man at the plate as the Giants failed to continue their quest for back to back NL West titles. I was proud of Huff for not rolling over to second base for an 932nd time this season but rather, a flaky pop-up to shallow center, putting a fine cap on his .245/12/59 season. Of course, through all of the injuries this year, those lovely numbers came in a full season, 519 at-bat’s and counting as he was the only member of the starting squad to not spend time on the DL this season. Talk about ironic…
Lastly, the injuries. What can you say other than beyond devastating. In a way, you’re proud a team so decimated could fight this long, stay in first place for 81 days. Really speaks to the talent of this pitching staff and contributions from Pablo Sandoval offensively. The Giants essentially lost everybody in their starting nine, outside of Huff, for at least a month at some point along with their three best hitters, Posey, Sanchez and Sandoval for longer. This was a team who at the All-Star break was sitting near the top half in hitting on the road (because nobody hits at AT&T…) and had a plush 20 games over .500 record. They finished scoring a league low in runs.
So while mathematically they wait for another Braves victory or their own loss to finally eliminate any 2011 playoff dreams, I give an applause to the squad for their fight, for not giving up when so many injuries practically gave them every reason to. While I’m disappointed in the seasons of Aubrey Huff, the unfledged support of guys like Tejada, Rowand and Caberera until it was far too late and the mishandling of guys like Belt and Crawford, I can’t help but be proud of the pitching staff – made to look silly with one and two runs of support nightly, but they never blinked. Guys like Chris Stewart who took their opportunity and ran with it, the best they could. Guys like Pablo Sandoval who made a new commitment to be the best they could.
The Giants couldn’t have ran into a rash of more bad luck than they did – combine that with a team like Arizona who refused to lose, sometimes, it’s just not your year. The Giants will be back though – 2012 should start off with just as many aspirations as 2011 did, probably even more.
A quick congratulations to the Diamondbacks who never took their foot off the pedal and completely deserved the NL West title. So much went right for them as was the case for the Giants last year. I certainly don’t want to say they were lucky – far from it, they just weren’t unlucky. And that’s what you need to win, of course, some good talent certainly doesn’t hurt. 2012 should be a fantastic race and I can’t wait to see what a healthy Giants team can do.
Pitchers and catchers report in five months….
So pop in those World Series DVD’s, watch Alex Smith throw a few INT’s and you’ll be seeing Buster Posey in the SQQQQQQQQUUUUUUUUUUUATTTTTTTTTTTT before you know it.