Three Strikes: Giants' formula making for fun World Series
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants first baseman Brandon Belt shook his head and tried to come up with a reason why San Francisco's hitters are wearing out postseason pitching – at least as far as refusing to give in to strike three, the pitch that has taken over baseball like kudzu.
“We changed a lot since the regular season,” Belt said. “We put the ball in play more. We put men on base, just trying to get on for the guy behind you. It’s been working. We seem to thrive doing it. I don’t have an explanation for it.”
And that was before the Giants' offense pestered the Royals into submission in World Series Game 4 Saturday night, scoring 10 unanswered runs while turning a 4-1 deficit into an 11-4 victory. From the third through seventh innings, San Francisco went 15-for-28 – all while keeping the ball in the ballpark with one flat swing after another. The way the Giants plague pitchers, Kansas City manager Ned Yost didn’t know whether to call on another reliever or an exterminator.
San Francisco set a World Series record for National League teams by getting hits from 11 different players. The Giants smacked 16 hits in all – 13 of them singles – and they forced five Royals pitchers to throw 173 pitches in eight innings. The Giants swung and missed at only 20 of them, finishing with just as many walks as strikeouts (six).
San Francisco became the first NL team to score 11 runs or more in a World Series game with no homers and just three extra base hits (two doubles by Joe Panik and one double by Hunter Pence). Only two AL teams have killed ‘em so softly in a World Series game: the 1978 Yankees and the 1971 Orioles.
To quote the great Crash Davis of Bull Durham fame, “Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist.” The major league game is becoming increasingly boring and fascist. Strikeouts have risen in baseball for nine straight years. But San Francisco, at least this October version, has returned the game to being a contact sport. It was a middle-of-the-road strikeout team in the regular season, but check out how much peskier the Giants have become in the postseason:
|Walks Per Game||2.6||3.7|
|Strikeouts Per Game||7.7||5.9|
|Home Runs Per Game||0.81||0.5|
These World Series games have been fun to watch, if only to see the ball in play so much. San Francisco has struck out seven or fewer times in 11 of its 14 postseason games. The Royals, the hardest team to strike out in the regular season, have had seven such games. And all these balls in play have provided exciting defensive plays from both sides.
The Giants set another record last night: They became the first team to win six games in one postseason without a home run. They had been tied at five homerless postseason wins with six other teams, including the 1919 Reds.
I don’t know if we’re looking at the future of baseball. Power still is a valuable asset and as Oakland general manager Billy Beane likes to point out, no stat is a better predictor of winning a baseball game than out-homering your opponent. But if more hitters do take a Giant approach – level, line-drive swings to scatter balls to all parts of a field, not just half of it – the game would become more interesting, if not less fascist.
2. 10 for 9 = W
You can’t expect to win a World Series game when your starting pitcher doesn’t even last three innings. Until Game 4, it had happened 135 times in World Series history, and the team with its pitcher in an early shower lost 105 of those times. And yet somehow the Giants, down 4-1 and into their bullpen even before they batted around once, wound up winning a blowout.
Give credit to Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who used 10 players in the ninth spot in his batting order, including five pitchers in relief of ineffective starter Ryan Vogelsong. It wasn’t exactly a World Series record. Reds manager Sparky Anderson used 12 players in the ninth spot in one of the greatest games of all time, Game 6 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park – though that contest lasted 12 innings.
But you have to remember that the 1975 classic, like the crazy one Saturday night, was made great only because of National League rules. Games 6 and 7 of the 1975 World Series were the last games ever played at Fenway Park without the designated hitter. The DH was not used in the World Series in the first three years of the rule’s adoption, 1973-75. Beginning in 1976 and through 1985, it was used only in even numbered years at the series. Starting in 1986 it has been used in AL parks.
Most of the greatest games in World Series history have been played without the DH, because the more sophisticated strategy forces more decisions and possibilities. The list of the greatest World Series games since 1973 includes Game 6 in 1975 (won by Carlton Fisk's home run), Game 6 in 1986 (Bill Buckner's error), Game 1 in 1988 (Kirk Gibson's walk-off homer), Game 4 in 1996 (Jim Leyritz's game-tying homer), Game 7 in 1997 (Edgar Renteria's Series-winning single), Game 7 in 2001 (Luis Gonzalez's Series-winning single) and Game 6 in 2011 (David Freese's walk-off home run). All were played under DL rules.
Nobody is selling Game 4 Saturday night as any kind of a classic, but it was much more fascinating to watch knowing that each manager’s pitching decisions were complicated by the pitcher having a turn in the batting order.
Watching Bochy put this game back together was like watching a man painstakingly reassemble the pieces of a porcelain vase after it had fallen to a marble floor. The biggest piece was putting Yasmeiro Petit into the game.
“Our secret weapon,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said afterward. “Who knows what he’ll do next year; maybe win 20 games.”
Petit restored law and order to a wild game with three shutout innings in which he required only 33 pitches – providing just the sort of calm that enabled the San Francisco offense to get to work. Petit was so valuable that Bochy let him bat with two outs and a runner on in the fourth inning with his team down, 4-2. (The Secret Weapon hit a bloop single, naturally.)
The steady stream of runners and balls in play while various strategic wheels were turning in both dugouts made for exciting, if not classic, baseball. The next time somebody tries to tell you that we need to add the DH to the NL – in search of either more offense or uniformity of rules – tell them, No thanks. This was the way the game was meant to be played, or, more specifically, meant to be considered.
3. News and notes
• History was made in Game 4: the first use of instant replay on a non-home run call in the World Series. Yost challenged a pickoff play at second base in the sixth inning – it was a long shot even at first blush – and the original safe call was upheld by replay umpire Jerry Meals in New York.
• San Francisco scored a run in the first inning not only without a hit, but also without the ball ever leaving the infield. The Giants have scored 17 of their 63 runs this postseason on plays without a hit, including another of their famous RTIs (Runs Thrown in), when Royals pitcher Tim Collins threw away a bunt.
• Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar is not going to be underrated any longer with the way he has played this postseason. Said Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who traded Escobar and Lorenzo Cain to Kansas City to get Zack Greinke for the 2011 season, “He’s the Andrelton Simmons of the American League the way he plays shortstop.” By the way, Escobar, the one who introduced catcher Salvador Perez to playing with women’s perfume, is choosing to play with a spritz of men’s cologne these days. It’s Spirit Millionaire, about $21 a bottle, with top notes of bergamot, cardamom, tangerine and green apple.
• Bochy is so wary about putting Mike Morse back in leftfield for the first time since Aug. 25 that he chose to sit him against a lefthanded starter, Jason Vargas, in favor of Juan Perez, who hit .163 off lefties and .056 with runners in scoring position (1-for-18). Naturally, it was Perez who tied the game in the fifth with a sacrifice fly.
• The deciding run has scored in the sixth inning in three straight games. That’s also six straight starting pitchers who could not make it through six innings. Is the postseason pitching duel extinct? After 58 postseason starts this year, we still have not seen a starting pitcher throw 115 pitches in a game. Starting pitchers have earned the win in only 11 of the 29 postseason games this year. And how about this breakdown of postseason wins by starting pitchers with at least seven innings: Madison Bumgarner: 3; the rest of major league baseball: 2.
Bumgarner gets the ball Sunday night for the Giants in Game 5. His starts have been the only ones this postseason that don’t look like bullpen games right from the beginning.