Alex Gordon at third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night in Game 7 of the World Series.
Let's also give credit to the San Francisco Giants, who secured their third World Series title in five years with a 3-2 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. In particular, we give props to San Francisco left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who fired five innings of two-hit shutout relief to earn his third victory of the Series. He is not only a worthy World Series MVP, he deserves credit for one of the best postseason performances of all-time. Who would have thought he could come back on just two days rest and pitch five dominant innings like that? Not me. That's a helluva job by him.
But, I want to focus on the play that created all the drama in the bottom of the ninth inning. Leading 3-2, Bumgarner easily retired the first two hitters, and Gordon was at the plate representing Kansas City's final hope. He ended up hitting a sinking liner toward left-center field.
Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco got caught in between. He seemed unsure whether to dive and attempt a game-ending catch, or pull up, play the ball on a bounce and concede a single. He did neither. He pulled up and tried to play it on a hop, but the ball skipped past him and rolled all the way to the wall. San Francisco left fielder Juan Perez was backing up the play, and he bobbled the ball, as well.
By the time Perez's throw back toward the infield reached Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, Gordon - carrying the tying run with him - was cruising toward third base.
Jirschele faced a split-second decision with everything hanging in the balance. Were Gordon's odds of scoring on that play better than the odds of the next hitter (catcher Salvador Perez) getting a game-tying base hit off Baumgarner? The Kansas City coach's answer to that question was "no," and I agree with him.
Crawford has a strong, accurate arm. He already had the ball as Gordon reached third base, and if he had to, he could have relayed it to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey in about two seconds. Gordon has decent speed, but not he's not a burner, and there's no way he would have been able to outrun the ball in that situation. A good relay throw, and he's a dead duck and Jirschele doesn't sleep for a month.
So, Gordon was held at third. Perez popped out to third baseman Pablo Sandoval to end the game, and now the second-guessing has begun.
Even though I agree with the decision to hold Gordon based on logic, there's a big part of me that wishes he would have been sent. On that play, the San Francisco fielders were handling the ball as if it had grease all over it. Could Crawford have executed a good relay throw under that type of pressure, with the outcome of the World Series on the line? We'll never know for sure.
Moreover, would Posey have caught the ball and tagged Gordon out without being called for blocking the plate?
It's an interesting thought: Gordon, Posey and the ball all converging on one spot in front of home plate, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the World Series in a one-run game, with that silly home plate collision rule that nobody understands in effect. Can you imagine the World Series coming down to a replay review of a play at the plate? That would have been outgoing commissioner Bud Selig's worst nightmare.
Man, what if Gordon had tried to score? It might have created a play that would have been talked about for decades.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
That fact bodes well for the San Francisco Giants, who cruised to a 7-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday in the opening game of the 2014 Fall Classic.
How did the Giants cool off the red-hot Royals, who had won nine consecutive games dating back to the regular season? They did it by scoring early and allowing their ace left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, to do his job.
Bumgarner fired seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball. He fanned five and walked just one. His only mistake was a two-out homer by Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez in the bottom of the seventh inning, and by that point it didn't matter because the Royals were hopelessly behind.
San Francisco jumped out to a 3-0 lead in top of the first inning. Hunter Pence's two-run homer off Kansas City ace James Shields highlighted the rally.
You wouldn't have expected Pence to be the guy to haunt Shields. Coming into Tuesday's play, Pence was 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Shields. However, his home run was the biggest hit of the game, and he also had a double to start a two-run rally in the fourth inning that increased San Francisco's lead to 5-0.
It's no secret San Francisco has the edge in postseason experience in this series. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and again in 2012. For many of these Kansas City players, this is their first time in the playoffs.
That difference in experience showed up in this game, particularly in the bottom of the third inning when the Royals had their best chance to get to Bumgarner. Down 3-0, Kansas City placed runners on second and third with nobody out after Omar Infante reached on a Brandon Crawford error and Mike Moustakas doubled.
It's the kind of situation the Royals have taken advantage of throughout the postseason, but it didn't happen this time. Bumgarner escaped the jam unscathed by getting overanxious Kansas City hitters to swing at bad pitches. Perhaps the combination of being on the big stage and facing an early deficit caused the Royals to press.
It sure looked that way as Alcides Escobar struck out swinging on a fastball up and well out of the zone for the first out. Nori Aoki also fanned after he could not check his swing on an 0-2 breaking ball that bounced in front of the plate. Bumgarner tried a similar strategy against the next hitter, but to Lorenzo Cain's credit, he laid off those pitches and worked a walk to load the bases for Eric Hosmer.
The Kansas City first baseman swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second base to end what would be the Royals' last and best chance to get back in the game.
I've heard some analysts criticize Hosmer for offering at that first pitch. I won't be among them. I believe in swinging at the first hittable strike in RBI situations. Sometimes, that's the best pitch you're going to get. Hosmer got an 86 mph cutter from Bumgarner that was middle to outer half. It was a hittable pitch. The only criticism I have of Hosmer is he may have tried to pull that pitch when he would have been better served to try to drive it to left field. But, I don't fault him for swinging.
The real disappointment for the Royals in this game was the poor performance of Shields, who was knocked out in the fourth inning and allowed five earned runs. The Giants went 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position against the Kansas City ace, who is now just 1-3 with an 8.26 ERA in his last six postseason starts.
MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac and others need to stop with the obnoxious "Big Game James" references when discussing Shields, because he's obviously been struggling lately.
For an actual "Big Game" pitcher, look no further than Bumgarner. The San Francisco ace has started three World Series games in his career. He's 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA in those outings. That's clutch.
The Royals will try to even the series Wednesday in Game 2 behind youngster Yordano Ventura. Veteran Jake Peavy will be on the mound for the Giants.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants made it look easy, as they dispatched the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-0. With the win, the Giants advance to take on the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. That series will start Friday.
Bumgarner entered his seventh career postseason start with a couple factors working in his favor. First off, he's been good on the road all season -- 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA. Secondly, he pitched well down the stretch, going 7-3 with 2.12 ERA over his last 10 starts.
When the Giants won the World Series in 2010 and again in 2012, Bumgarner was a member of the supporting cast. Now, he's the San Francisco ace, and he proved it Wednesday night with a dominant, efficient performance.
The left-hander needed just 109 pitches in his four-hit, complete-game shutout. He struck out 10 Pittsburgh batters and walked just one.
Believe it or not, Pirates starting pitcher Edinson Volquez also entered this game with reasons to feel good about himself. After a disastrous 2013 that saw him record the highest ERA among qualifying pitchers in the National League, the right-hander enjoyed a comeback season this year.
He posted a 1.85 ERA over his last 17 starts, and he had allowed just four earned runs in his last 34.2 innings pitched at home. Unfortunately for Volquez, he allowed four runs on one pitch in the fourth inning Wednesday night.
Brandon Crawford became the first shortstop ever to hit a postseason grand slam when he picked on a 1-2 hanging breaking ball from Volquez and knocked it over the right-field wall to give the Giants a 4-0 lead.
That was your ballgame. There was no drama from that point on. San Francisco added four more runs, and Pittsburgh had no chance against the masterful Bumgarner.
Maybe we'll have something more interesting to talk about after tomorrow's action. Tonight's game was one-sided. It was all Giants.