Mental gymnastics. That’s what Juan Perez calls the mental approach that Tim Flannery preaches to his players, from the start of spring training onward. For the San Francisco Giants to have been able to win Game Four, of the 2014 World Series, not only did the starters have to be able to manufacture runs, but the players coming off the bench had to know what role they were being expected to fill, and they had to know how to fill it.
Because offense is a crowd-pleaser, most fans look to the sixteen hits the Giants banged out, as the reason they won the game, 11-4.
Banging out sixteen hits was grand, but the fifteen free bases along the way helped also.
Hey, sixteen hits is always nice, but when you break the game down, it was as much the components of small ball that delivered the victory, as it was the offensive onslaught.
Begin with that first inning and examine how the Giants were able to score without a ball going into the outfield. Then look at each ninety feet that came free, that is, without benefit of a base hit, throughout the game. Here are the freebies:
Gregor Blanco led off the game by drawing a six-pitch walk.
Blanco advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Buster Posey followed with an eight-pitch walk.
Blanco stole third base.
Hunter Pence grounded to the left side, and beats the return throw to first, on the back end of a double play attempt, Blanco scoring on the play.
After Matt Duffy came off the bench, to pinch-hit a single, Gregor Blanco moved him to second, with a grounder to the right side. He would score moments later when Posey singled him home.
Buster Posey advanced Joe Panik from second to third, with an infield grounder to shortstop Alcides Escobar.
Brandon Belt walked.
Juan Perez knocked in the tying run with a sacrifice fly.
Now, look at the number nine spot in the batting order. Begin with Matt Duffy’s pinch-hit single in the third, go to Yusmeiro Petit’s soft single in the fourth, to Joaquin Arias’ pinch-single in the sixth, and finally, to Michael Morse’s walk in the seventh: four base runners in four tries.
That’s where the mental gymnastics comes in. Perez described Tim Flannery drumming into their heads in spring training, that they should be prepared for situational baseball, and preparing for the biggest stage makes sense.
So when Perez was asked to put down a bunt, as he was in the opener of the National League Championship Series, he could do it, because he has been preparing for it all season.
Let’s continue with small ball from Game Four:
Joe Panik advanced both Arias and Blanco with a sacrifice bunt.
Buster Posey drew an intentional walk.
Michael Morse walked.
Buster Posey advanced Joe Panik to third base with an infield grounder.
Brandon Belt walked.
That’s a total of fifteen runners receiving a free ninety feet, and that all adds up to everyone on the team contributing in any way possible. Add those fifteen free bases to the sixteen hits, and that’s what caused the explosion.
After scoring only four runs in the previous two games, the Giants came into Game Four with an aggressive offensive approach, and it worked. Even after going down, 4-1, in the third, San Francisco Did not give up, and the result was a World Series-saving win, which now returns to the Giants, the opportunity to go back to Kansas City with a 3-2 advantage.
A lot will depend on the Giants’ bats, but those bats will be supported by small ball as well. They have to be if the Giants are not going to hit home runs.