Travis Ishikawa hit a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the first inning, but it was Gregor Blanco’s bunt in the bottom of the tenth inning, which propelled the San Francisco Giants to a two-games-to-one lead, over the St. Louis Cardinals, in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series. In fielding Blanco’s bunt, Cardinals pitcher Randy Choate threw the ball wildly, and Brandon Crawford, running on the play, jogged home with the final run of the 5-4 victory.
The ending to Game Three was every bit as climactic as Game Two in St. Louis, when the Cards hit three solo home runs, the third one in the bottom of the ninth inning, to win by an identical 5-4 score. In Tuesday’s game, leading off the bottom of the tenth, Brandon Crawford drew a full-count walk, and Juan Perez singled sharply into left field, to put runners on first and second with no one out.
After a meeting on the mound to discuss strategy, the Cards pitched to Gregor Blanco, who fouled off his first bunt attempt, before putting one down to the right side of Choate, who came off the bag, and had an easy put-out at first. Just as Madison Bumgarner did in Game Three of the National League Division Series, against the Washington Nationals, Choate fired a wild throw to the inside of the first base bag, that Matt Adams never had a prayer catching. Crawford’s run was not as loud as a home run, but it won an NLCS game for the Giants.
The Giants scored four times in the bottom of the first, with two outs, when Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval singled and Hunter Pence doubled, scoring Posey and leaving Sandoval at third, with Pence at second. Mike Matheny then had John Lackey walk Brandon Belt Intentionally, allowing Ishikawa to further emphasize what a huge role he is providing for San Francisco. On the first pitch, just as he had done in knocking in the first run of Sunday’s game, he doubled on a ball off the right field wall.
Oct 11, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants outfielder Travis Ishikawa catches a fly ball hit by St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (not pictured) in the fourth inning in game one of the 2014 NLCS playoff baseball game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
The play was Randall Grichuk’s to make, but the swirling winds took the towering drive, and shifted it to the point where Grichuk was terribly out of position. The ball ricocheted off the base of the wall and was fielded by Jon Jay, who kept Ishikawa to a double. Brandon Crawford lined out to left to end the inning.
Between the first inning, when the Giants had four runs on four hits, and the tenth inning, when Perez singled with Crawford on first, the Giants had been limited to only one single to right field, by Tim Hudson. They ended up with a total of six hits, with two walks, both of which scored.
The only other base runner, other than Hudson’s single, was Pablo Sandoval, who was hit on the inside his left knee, in the third inning, on a ball that bounced in the dirt and caught him pretty solidly. He died on first when two fly balls ended the inning.
Tim Hudson made his career-long-awaited appearance in a championship series game, and pitched credibly into the seventh. He gave up four earned runs on seven hits, with five strikeouts. Once again in the postseason, as he did against the Nationals, Hudson did not surrender a walk. Giants pitching did not give up a walk in Tuesday’s game.
Jeremy Affeldt came in immediately after Hudson surrendered the game-tying home run to Randal Grichuk, to close out the seventh, and pitch the eighth. He allowed a single to Matt Carpenter, but retired the five other batters he faced on three infield grounders, and two line drives to left field. Santiago Casilla pitched a one-two-three ninth, on nine pitches, all of them strikes.
Aug 19, 2014; Chicago, IL, San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Santiago Casilla (46) reacts with catcher Buster Posey (28) as they beat the Chicago Cubs 5-3 at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
In the tenth Javier Lopez got the first two outs on plays in the infield, before Jon Jay singled. Bochy brought in Sergio Romo to get the final out, which he did when Pablo Sandoval speared a hot grounder, with a tricky hop, right down the line. The ball was hit so hard, that Sandoval had time to scramble to his feet, and send a low throw to Belt that he made a nice catch on, leaning his six-feet-six-inch frame over to the right to snag it.
After being the pitcher who gave up the winning home run the night before, it was a sign of Bruce Bochy’s confidence in Romo, that he threw him right back into the pit. Romo justified Bochy’s confidence in him and got the win, making his postseason record 1-1.
John Lackey started for the Cards and went six full innings, giving up four runs, on five hits, with three K’s and one intentional walk. He also hit a batter with a pitch. Marco Gonzalez pitched the seventh, Pat Neshek the eighth, and Seth Maness the ninth, each one a perfect stint, before Choate gave up the final run in the bottom of the tenth.
The Cards totaled nine hits, three singles by Jay, and a double and triple for Kolten Wong, who had two RBI’s for the game. Randall Grichuk provided the thunderous home run in the seventh, eventually sending the game into extra innings.
The game was as tense as it was predicted to be, with the Cards once again responding to a seventh-inning bell, that only they can hear. Grichuk’s home run was shocking and timely, and fans settled in for another extra-inning affair.
Tim Hudson provided good starting pitching, the bullpen was magnificent, the Giants fianlly got the big hit, but in the end, it was Blanco’s bunt that made something happen.
Blanco’s bunt gave the Giants a two-games-to-one lead in a series that has still got a lot of baseball to go. Fortunately, the next two games are at At&T Park, and big things are going on.
Ryan Vogelsong, who has been so rock-solid in the postseason over the 2012 and 2014 seasons, goes for San Francisco on Wednesday, with the chance to put the Giants up three games to one.
He won’t mind if the Giants play small ball either.