SAN FRANCISCO -- What looks headed for the glove can veer toward the grass, just as what looks like the end can be but the beginning. Hunter Pence's screwball double to clear the loaded bases will stand as the moment when Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night definitively went to the San Francisco Giants. Yes, they ousted the Cardinals and pounced on the pennant with this 9-0 win for a wide variety of reasons, but no one moment was more back-breaking for the defending world champs than the sight of that ball thrice connecting with Pence's broken bat, then taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque, out of Pete Kozma's reach.
"Interesting," said Pence, when asked to describe the indescribable that was the highlight of that five-run third inning. "I was just happy that it got through."
|2012||San Francisco Giants||St. Louis Cardinals|
|2007||Boston Red Sox *||Cleveland Indians|
|2004||Boston Red Sox *||New York Yankees|
|2003||Florida Marlins *||Chicago Cubs|
|1996||Atlanta Braves||St. Louis Cardinals|
|1986||Boston Red Sox||California Angels|
|1985||Kansas City Royals *||Toronto Blue Jays|
Indeed, they've been shining on them all month -- awoken, perhaps, by Pence's heartfelt plea to his mates before Game 3 of the Division Series got under way in Cincinnati, stirred again when Barry Zito took the mound in Game 5 of the NLCS in St. Louis and alive and well to guide the darndest double you'll ever see. Oh, and then there was the biblical rain that fell like a final blessing in the ninth. But really, that was a little redundant, ye gods. We get it. Point is, the Giants don't go away easily or understandably. In this series, they looked cooked the night their Wild Card -- Tim Lincecum -- could not turn up as an ace. Game 4 went to a Cardinals club that just seemed to have more pleasant surprises up its sleeve than did the Giants, who had what seemed to be an unsettling amount riding on the zen of Zito. But then Zito got Lance Lynn to tap into an easy double play to quell a Cards threat in the second inning of Game 5. Then Lynn threw away a would-be forceout at second to open the door to a four-run fourth. And from those moments on, this series was never the same. Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain danced around what little trouble came their way, and this supposedly potent Cardinals lineup fell silent. "Capitalizing on that error by Lance Lynn, that was everything," Zito said. "Momentum is everything, especially in a slow-paced game like baseball. Momentum usually dictates what happens afterward. When we took that game in St. Louis, I think there was a little bit of an unsettled feeling in that [St. Louis] clubhouse." The Giants never let them feel settled again. Their defense was dazzling this series and especially these last three games, suffocating rallies before they could arise. And their offense was opportunistic, providing positive proof that there is -- the occasional double-play ball off the bat of your pitcher aside -- value in simply putting the ball in play. Which brings us back to that Pence puzzler. At that point, the Giants were up, 2-0, but Cain did not appear to be at his sharpest, having needed 56 pitches to get through three innings, and the Cards this month had shown the same can't-be-killed quality that the Giants possess. Some separation was in order, and Pence came up with the bases loaded, looking to provide it. Mike Matheny summoned Joe Kelly to replace Kyle Lohse, and for this he would be panned in some circles, having not gone to more of a strikeout threat in Trevor Rosenthal. Kelly threw only one pitch to Pence -- a 95-mph sinker -- and it changed the scope of the game significantly. As Pence's bat connected, it shattered, and the path of his swing plane followed that of the ball, striking it once, twice and then a third time as it rolled Kozma's way. Kozma broke right, misreading a play that, quite honestly, could not have been read. Because the ball headed toward him and, then, swiftly, broke to his left, into the outfield, into our memory banks. "It looked like it was a Wiffle ball out there," Kelly said. Said a smiling Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens: "We worked on that today." No, they didn't, but Pence had been known this postseason more for his stirring speeches than his game-changing hits. He broke through in an odd but effective way, and he put the game out of hand. "That is a turning point in the game," Matheny said. "You're looking at a potential double play. We may be able to get out of that inning where it's a 3-0 game." Instead, it was 5-0, and it was effectively over. The Cards mounted an incredible comeback when down 6-0 against the Nationals in their last winner-take-all game, but that was a young and unproven Nats team unaccustomed to this stage. These Giants clearly have a killer instinct, even when they themselves seem to be on the verge of getting killed. "This," Pence said, "is as wild as it gets." Don't rule out the distinct possibility that the wildest stuff is yet to come.