October 23, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO — Sometimes you really do have to see it to believe it.
When Hunter Pence shot a line drive at Pete Kozma on Monday night, the ball started to Kozma's right and took a hard turn to the right about halfway to the infield dirt. It did not put on its turn signal.
Feeling undressed, the Cardinals' rookie shortstop watched helplessly as the ball flew behind him and sped into center field. It was going to be a two-run single until a flummoxed Jon Jay booted it, which allowed a third run to score.
As John Rooney might say, thanks for coming to the game, drive home safely.
This is exaggerating the impact of that play, of course. It didn't decide who is going to the World Series. The way Matt Cain was pitching, the Giants probably were going to win Game 7 even if Kozma made the catch and started a triple play. But this was quite the exclamation point in a 9-0 victory that ended with Sergio Romo retiring Matt Holliday in a downpour. It was one of the most jaw-dropping hits in baseball history.
Why not one bit of real magic?
"The way Pete reacted, I knew something weird happened, and it turned out it did,'' Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "That was weird, but that's baseball. Stuff happens. We didn't score a run, so it didn't really matter.''
This has been a truly enchanted October for Bay Area baseball fans, especially those who root for Willie Mays' team. The Athletics took their turn on the stage, then retreated into the shadow of the team that won't let them move to San Jose.
This was the first Game 7 in San Francisco since the Giants of Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda were shut out by Ralph Terry in the 1962 World Series, but it may have seemed like business as usual for Pence, Buster Posey & Co. They got here by surviving the division series after trailing the Reds 2-0 and then digging out a 3-1 hole in the NL Championship Series.
Now they'll line up against Justin Verlander on Wednesday night in the World Series.
I don't like the Giants' chances to beat the Tigers, who swept the Yankees on the strength of a starting rotation that has a 1.02 earned-run average through nine playoff games. But beginning with the horrific infield-fly call that helped the Cardinals knock off the Braves in the wild-card game, this has been a month that reminds us why you might as well play roulette as bet on baseball.
Who didn't believe the Cardinals were going to finish this series Friday in St. Louis? They had averaged 5.6 runs in 10 playoff games and won 19 of their last 26 games overall, and were facing Barry Zito's 86-mph fastball. The deck was stacked.
Yet Zito found a way to hit the off switch on the Cardinals' run machine, Marco Scutaro morphed into Pete Rose (3-for-4 Monday, 14-for-28 in the series) and suddenly the Giants were rolling toward the World Series for the second time in three years — quite the tour de force for general manager Brian Sabean, manager Bruce Bochy and team President Larry Baer, all of whom endured (or enabled, depending on your perspective) Barry Bonds' joyless march past Hank Aaron.
That was only five years ago, but it seems like eons.
Who can figure out baseball? I know there's a brainiac somewhere who can explain the jai alai-like spin on Pence's line drive after reliever Joe Kelly shattered his bat with 95-mph heat. In fact, on the Internet several did before the mid-innings, pointing out the impact of a double — and maybe even triple — hit off the broken bat. But linear equations get you only so far in the major leagues' first 10-team tournament.
Imagine if Chipper Jones had gotten his way?
Back at the start of this four-tier affair, the future Hall of Fame third baseman suggested that MLB just throw open the door and invite every team to play in October, with the 162-game season merely a tool to seed teams. He was joking, I think.
But with apologies to the Tigers and the Giants, what would have happened if everyone was invited? I'm not going to suggest a White Sox-Cubs World Series — that would have caused the earth to spin off its axis — but maybe something like Mariners-Brewers?
The Giants were the fourth-winningest team in the majors this season; the Tigers, the 11th winningest.
One of them is going to be the 2012 champion.
More than likely, that will be whichever team is clever enough to dig itself a deep hole before the really serious baseball begins.