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Giants face unwelcome trip back east

Castrovince: Unwelcome trip east for Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- The members of the Giants trudged in from the field after the last out of Game 5 was made and found an unwelcome item waiting for them on the chairs in front of their lockers.

A travel itinerary.

Each line, from the departure info to the hotel address to the Saturday game time, was a reminder that the Giants didn't earn themselves a World Series berth on this night. With Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Phillies at AT&T Park in the books, it was time to pack.

"Nobody in this clubhouse," first baseman Aubrey Huff said, "wants to be on that flight for six hours."


Hey, nobody said this clinching stuff was going to be easy, either.

In this moment, you could feel for the fans, such as the two 60-something women wearing orange face paint and wigs while waving pom-poms. It's probably safe to assume this pair doesn't dress like this frequently. But on this night, with the Giants one win away from baseball's Promised Land, decorum was dismissed. They were planning to party.

As for the Giants themselves? Well, hard to feel sorry for them. They had every opportunity to win this game, every opportunity to avoid the nagging concern that this series could quickly get out of hand back east.

Yet with the baseball world watching and this city by the Bay set to break out in bedlam, they slipped on a series of unfortunate events and unsightly plays.

For one more night, at least, it was the Giants' unique brand of torture inflicted on the fan base.

3-2 advantage in NLCS
With the Phillies' victory Thursday, an NLCS stands at 3-2 for the 17th time since the series became a best-of-seven in 1985. Eleven of the prior 16 series were won by the team that led after five games. Half of the series went the full seven games.
Year Team up 3-2 Opponent Final
2006 Cardinals Mets 4-3
2005 Astros Cardinals 4-2
2004 Astros Cardinals 4-3
2003 Cubs Marlins 4-3
1999 Braves Mets 4-2
1998 Padres Braves 4-2
1997 Marlins Braves 4-2
1996 Cardinals Braves 4-3
1993 Phillies Braves 4-2
1992 Braves Pirates 4-3
1991 Pirates Braves 4-3
1990 Reds Pirates 4-2
1988 Dodgers Mets 4-3
1987 Giants Cardinals 4-3
1986 Mets Astros 4-2
1985 Cardinals Dodgers 4-2
* Teams in bold went on to win the NLCS.

"As you know," manager Bruce Bochy said, "we don't do anything easy."

No, they don't. So perhaps it's appropriate that a cross-country flight was next. The only question is will the Giants return home winners or wasters?

If they play two more games like this, the answer is clear.

We knew coming into this series that the superior staffs of both clubs would eventually put the focus on the fundamentals. And in the biggest game of the season (until the next one, of course), the Giants fell flat.

Take the decisive third inning, when Pablo Sandoval's twinkle-toes routine at third base and Aubrey Huff's unexpected inability to field a routine grounder cost Tim Lincecum dearly. With two on and none out, the Giants were gifted a double-play opportunity when Roy Halladay didn't immediately run to first on a bunt incorrectly ruled fair. Buster Posey picked it up and fired to first, but Sandoval, inexplicably, didn't bother to keep his foot on the bag when stretching out to catch the throw. Halladay's hesitation allowed Sandoval to at least get the out at first, but this was a costly defensive gaffe.

The cost was paid when Huff couldn't keep his glove on a Shane Victorino grounder that should have provided the second out of the inning. Instead, both runners scored on the play, and the Phillies took a 2-1 lead, never to trail again.

That was merely the beginning for the Giants in this buzzkill of a ballgame.

Cody Ross has carried this club all of October and probably earned himself a spot on the AT&T Park "Wall of Fame" in just two weeks of work. But after doubling home Pat Burrell to make it 3-2 in the fourth, what in the world was he doing trying to advance from second to third on Sandoval's ensuing fly out to right?

Had Ross stayed put, a base hit still likely would have scored him from second. Instead, he committed the cardinal sin of making the last out of the inning on the basepaths, because Jayson Werth's throw made him meat.

Then again, would anybody have driven Ross in from second? That would be awful tough to assume given what we saw from the bats the rest of the way. Huff left runners on the corners when he grounded out on a swinging bunt to end the fifth, and Juan Uribe left runners at first and second when he struck out to end the sixth.

The Giants didn't win this game because they didn't deserve to.

"We didn't play Giants baseball," Huff said.

And the real problem for the Giants is that Phillies baseball awaits. All that pre-series talk about the Phillies being more playoff-tested could come into play now. But what will definitely come into play are the cozier confines of Citizens Bank Park, which are more suited to the Phillies' offensive strengths than AT&T Park was.

History is still on the Giants' side, but the numbers are slipping. Only six of the 30 teams who have taken a 3-1 LCS lead have blown the series, but nine of 29 have squandered a 3-2 advantage. Lose Game 6 and, well, you've treaded into dangerous territory.

To take Game 6 and avoid the upset stomachs that come with a winner-take-all, the onus is on Jonathan Sanchez to overcome the wildness he showed in Game 2, because the Phillies' patience prevailed on that night. They'll also have to hope Roy Oswalt's ineffective and ill-conceived relief outing in Game 4 is more indicative of what's coming Saturday than the utter dominance Oswalt displayed in Game 2.

But what of the psychological element at stake here? In the wake of this loss, the Giants kept reminding themselves and reporters that they just have to win one of two on the road. They did it on the first trip to Philly, they can do it again.

"We're still in the driver's seat," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "We've got to win one game, and they've got to win two. They were going to get on that flight, regardless. The only difference is that now we have to fly over there, too."

Certainly, that's not the only difference, because the Giants had just postponed their own party. Opportunities like the one they wasted here don't come around very often, and now the consequence was an unwelcome itinerary.

An itinerary that had better include a win.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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