SAN FRANCISCO — There were the Giants, exactly where they didn’t want to be. Oh, sure, they can talk about their infinite pool of belief, but some parts are shallower than others. They admitted afterward: They did not want to have to score three runs against the back end of the Royals’ bullpen. That’s like stealing three steaks from a lion.
The Giants trailed the World Series, 2-1, and Game 4, 4-1, in the bottom of the fifth inning. There is no clock in baseball, but the Giants heard one ticking anyway because this is what the Royals do. They shorten the game. They delete your last chapters. Kansas City relievers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland loom over everything in this series. You might as well just call them Those Guys, the way the Giants’ Gregor Blanco did: “We were able to accomplish it before Those Guys came around. At the same time, we knew even if Those Guys come, we can do something to get us going.”
Blanco said in the dugout, “We were saying, just keep pushing, just keep playing hard. We knew we just needed something to get us going.”
The Giants were very clear about two things:
1. If they had to try to score three runs against the back of the Royals’ bullpen, then hey, that’s what they had to do.
2. Who the heck would want to do THAT?
So there they were, bottom of the fifth, down 4-1, when the ironically named Joe Panik hit a double. That chased Royals starter Jason Vargas; it was like a wedge in the middle of the Royals’ pitching staff, prying an opening between the starter and shutdown relievers. Jason Frasor came in to pitch. Hunter Pence singled in Panik. Danny Duffy replaced Frasor. A hit, a walk and a sacrifice fly later, Pence scored.
The Giants now trailed 4-3, and that still wasn’t ideal, but it meant that they would at least have a shot if the score held into the eighth inning. As Giants starter Jake Peavy said of Davis and Holland: “They’ve got to give up runs at some point, right?”
The Giants never found out. They added three in the sixth and four in the seventh, and Davis and Holland might as well have gone down the street for some Vietnamese food. It was a reminder that dominant relievers can finish World Series wins, but only if they have something to finish. Ask Mariano Rivera, history’s best postseason reliever, who pitched only one playoff inning in 2002 and one in 2006, and got only one out in 2011 when his team had a lead. He never got the baton.
How did the Giants do it? We have two sources on this, and they tell different versions of the same story. One is the box score, which tells a tale of 16 hits and 11 runs, including a three-hit, three-RBI night for Pence. The other source is the Giants themselves, who sold another gallon of that mushy stuff about teamwork and undying belief and feeding off each other.
You don’t have to buy it. But the point is: They do.
It’s why Peavy says, “We believe in our bullpen the way the world believes in Kansas City’s bullpen.” It’s why nobody cares, or even seems to notice, that star Buster Posey does not have any extra-base hits in the postseason. It’s why Pablo Sandoval fights off a pregame illness and two early strikeouts to get two big singles.
It’s why Yusmeiro Petit has now thrown 12 shutout innings in the postseason and allowed only four hits, and why Petit has so willingly assumed so many different roles. Posey said what Petit is doing is even more impressive than when he retired 46 consecutive batters in the regular season, a major-league record, because of the stakes.
“He’s expected to go in and pitch three, four, five innings, sometimes less,” Posey says. “You never know when it’s gonna be. He’s gotta be ready every game.”
And it’s why first baseman Brandon Belt says: “I guess everybody at this level wants to win the World Series. But it just seems like when it matters most, we dig down deep. We have the ability to dig down deep and get the big hits when we need it, and scratch and claw our way to the top.”
You can look at this World Series so far and figure it’s all just a prelude to the inevitable: A dramatic finish in Game 6 or 7 for these evenly matched teams. And that may be true. But make no mistake: The Giants were in an extremely tenuous position in Game 4. Down two games … down three runs … two of the last three games in Kansas City. If the Giants win their third World Series in five years, they will point to this moment, with the game’s scariest bullpen and an enormous deficit looming, and be proud they didn’t blink.