The San Francisco Giants rely on small ball for success, so that leads to the question, what does small ball look like, and how does it weave itself into the tapestry of a four-hour baseball game? The Giants once again relied on the fundamentals of baseball, such as being patient at the plate, leading off innings with base runners, and taking advantage of miscues by the opposition, to snatch back Game Four of the National League Championship Series from the St. Louis Cardinals, after the Redbirds had jumped out to a 4-1 lead, in the top of the third inning.
In a series between two clubs which have gone about the business of baseball, better than any other two National League teams in the past two decades, the little things were bound to matter. When both teams have excellent pitching, clutch hitting, and fine defense, most of the time it is not about the killer extra-base hit, so much as the basics.
The Giants led off the bottom of the first inning with a Gregor Blanco double, and then followed up with nine singles, before Brandon Crawford hit a second double down the right-field line, in the sixth. They drew six walks to go with their eleven hits and got the leadoff batter on base in six of the first seven innings.
The Giants did not hit a home run in Wednesday’s game; they have yet to hit a home run in the National League Championship Series, having smacked only two so far in the postseason, Brandon Crawford’s slam against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Brandon Belt’s epic shot to end the eighteen-inning marathon against the Washington Nationals.
If the Giants are not going to hammer out home runs, they better be able to score runs using small ball.
The Cardinals, conversely, have hit seven round-trippers, all of them solo shots.
San Francisco has struck out 51 times so far in the postseason, compared to 76 K’s by the opposition, and they have drawn 33 walks, to opponents’ 22. These are small elements of the Giants’ offense, but they loom huge when it comes to explaining why the Giants can continue to win ballgames without the fireworks.
The Giants would score half of their six runs via means other than a base hit, the first one on a sacrifice fly in the first inning, to answer back to the one run that the Cardinals had scored when Matt Carpenter doubled and Matt Adams drove him home with a single. Later, in the sixth inning, San Francisco would score two more runs without a hit, on questionable decisions by the Cardinals’ defense, which allowed the Giants to capitalize.
The Giants fell behind 4-1 in the third inning; if San Francisco relied on the long ball or the big extra base hit, they would be waiting still, and so would their fans. Instead, in the bottom of the third, they answered right back when Joaquin Arias got things started with a single to center field, and advanced to second on a grounder to Matt Adams at first, by Gregor Blanco.
Now, with two outs after Joe Panik lined out to left, Buster Posey knocked in his second run of the game with a single and Pablo Sandoval (!) coaxed a walk. Hunter Pence singled in Arias and the Giants settled for two runs, to reduce the lead to 4-3.
Biding their time, the Orange and Black drew two walks in the fourth, without scoring, two more walks in the fifth, again without pushing a run across, before having Juan Perez lead off the sixth inning, drawing yet another base-on-balls-their sixth of the game-to begin the winning rally.
September 9, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco (7, center) is congratulated by first baseman Buster Posey (28) for scoring on a RBI-single by second baseman Joe Panik (12, not pictured) against Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero (26, right) during the sixth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports.
Brandon Crawford followed with a single to right field, bringing pinch-hitter Matt Duffy to the plate. Having worked with Tim Flannery, preparing for just such a situation, Duffy laid down a perfect bunt, advancing Perez to third base, and Crawford to second. This is when small ball has the greatest impact.
With every fan in the stadium creating as much bedlam as possible, the pressure on the Cards was palpable. So when Blanco hit a grounder to Matt Adams at first, all it took was a double-clutch before he released the ball to home plate, to give the fleet Perez time to slide beneath the tag from A.J. Pierzynski, who took the throw on one bounce.
When the next batter, Joe Panik, hit another sharp bouncer to Adams, he fielded it and stepped on the first base bag, but instead of looking Crawford back to third before throwing on to second base, to try and get Blanco, he just heaved it, wide to the home plate side of second base, so that even though Jhonny Peralta was able to catch the errant throw, there was no way he could tag Blanco. Crawford scored the tying run and Blanco was safe at second.
The bullpen did its share Wednesday, after Ryan Vogelsong gave up four runs in the first three innings, pitching six innings of shutout ball, to slam the door on any thoughts St. Louis had about mounting a late-innings come-back. That is a huge part of small ball, because if the Giants are only going to score runs, one at a time, the bullpen cannot be giving them up, at any rate.
Being patient at the plate, advancing runners, drawing six walks, taking advantage of two throwing miscues, scoring three runs on balls hit that were not base hits, having six different Giants knock in a run apiece, are all elements of a successful small ball game. Scoring ten runs over the past five games in the 2014 postseason, without the luxury of a base hit, is employing small ball.
Being 12-2 in one-run games since the 2010 postseason, means the Giants have played this brand of ball for quite some time now. If a team is not going to hit home runs, then it better find a different way to get it done, if it is to be successful. Two world championships, and being only one game away from a third appearance in the World Series in five years, clearly indicates that the Giants have been successful.
Small ball is a big reason for that success.