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San Francisco Giants right where they want to be: underdogs

By Mark ONeill
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You say the San Francisco Giants have to play in a one-game playoff, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, winner take all? And that the Pirates are a red-hot team, one that has won 18 of its last 24 games (.750)? And they have to play at PNC Park, on the other side of the country, where the atmosphere is frenetic? Then I say grand, because that means the Giants are right where they want to be, the underdog amidst a pack of hungry wolves.

The Giants are most comfortable when the odds are the greatest against them. Remember San Francisco being down in the 2012 playoffs, two games to none, against the Cincinnati Reds, and doing what had not been done all season against the Reds? And what had never been done in the NLDS before? Win three games in a row, in Cincinnati, and come back to win the series, three games to two?

Remember the Orange and Black being down three games to one, in that same playoff hunt in 2012, against the St. Louis Cardinals, and coming back to win three straight to take the NLCS? Remember Barry Zito having the outing of his career in Game 5, throwing seven-and-two-thirds innings of shutout ball, and leading the Giants to the win that set them on track to come from behind and win the National League Pennant?

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

My guess is that the Giants would have preferred the home field advantage in the wild-card chase, or better still, the division title to avoid the whole sudden-death format altogether. But that is dead horse country. They are about to play the seventh game of a playoff series, one that has already gone 4-2, the Pirates’ way. 

I’m talking about the season series, three in Pittsburgh in early May, and three in San Francisco, in late July, in which the Pirates took two out of three both times. That means that the Pirates have already won two-thirds, and the Giants are too good of a team to lose five of seven.

Now the Giants must take all the weapons that they have, including that bubbling chemistry, and fire them up to the greatest degree, for a confrontation to match any that they have had so far this season. They must strike quickly offensively, play tenacious defense, and rely on stellar pitching from both starter, Madison Bumgarner, and the bullpen. And they must accomplish this in front of a rabid crowd, one that sensed victory a year ago, and had to postpone the celebration.

The road is pitted and filled with obstacles that would deter other teams, but that motivate the Giants instead. They thrive on the unexpected and they find a way to get it done.

Remember Pablo Sandoval clubbing three home runs off of “the best pitcher on the planet, Justin Verlander,” and how that propelled the Orange and Black to a sweep of the Mighty Tigers? How improbable was that?

No, don’t worry about San Francisco finding a way to get it done. They have before and if there is to be another step on the even-numbered ladder of success, it must start in Pittsburgh. Do not expect the expected. The Giants have never been very good at following the script, when they can write a new one to suit themselves.

Downplay the hoopla, get in and out of Pittsburgh quickly, and move on to the more serious business of working in Washington, where new scripts get written every day. 

Sep 6, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) in the dugout before the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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