Giants' biggest hero in Game 6 fits team's 'improbable' bill
PHILADELPHIA -- Every big home run has a distinct sound. There was the
And if I could give voice to the silence, it would be the voice of a Philadelphia cab driver who said this: "I can't believe they're going to lose to these (bleeping) guys."
These bleeping guys. These are your National League Champion San Francisco Giants. They beat the Phillies 3-2 Saturday in the most improbable victory since, well, probably since Wednesday when they beat the Phillies by a run. And that was probably the most improbable victory since they beat
These bleeping guys. The series MVP,
And you know who was probably Saturday's biggest hero for San Francisco?
"Hey," a reporter said to me as I stood next to a bearded guy who was getting drenched with Budweiser. "Who is this guy?'
The reporter left. "That guy had no idea who I was, right?" Jeremy said.
Jeremy Affeldt. We go way back. We go back to a day in Bradenton, Fla., this had to be 2002, a boring spring training game, nothing happening, when suddenly the Kansas City Royals put in this kid, this mediocre prospect named Jeremy Affeldt. Nobody knew anything about him. He'd put up only decent numbers in Double A. The scouts yawned. I yawned.
And then ... he started pitching. And jaws dropped. Ninety-five mph fastball. Electric
So, I was hooked. I became the biggest Jeremy Affeldt fan around. Affeldt is convinced that my columns in
He settled in, became a pretty reliable lefty, was on the 2007 pennant-winning Colorado Rockies, came to San Francisco last year and was good enough that he finished with a 1.73 ERA and even got one 10th-place MVP vote.
This year has been tougher. Injuries. Inconsistency. That sort of thing.
And then, suddenly, it was Saturday night, and it really looked like the Phillies were going to run away with this game, force a Game 7. The Giants were looking kind of dead out there. The Phillies scored two in the first, and the Giants were lucky to get out of that first only having given up two runs. The Giants scraped in the top of the third for two runs to tie the tame. Then, bottom of the third inning started with a walk to Philadelphia's
"I just didn't have it tonight," Sanchez would say.
Then, something odd happened: Utley and Sanchez started jawing at each other. The two have a bit of a history; apparently last year Sanchez threw a ball close to Utley's head, maybe by mistake, maybe not, there's a difference of opinion. Well, they started jawing, and then the benches cleared, and then the BULLPENS cleared. Affeldt was warming up at the time.
"You stay here," bullpen coach
So he did, and the Philadelphia fans were, it's fair to say, less than impressed with Affeldt's choice.
"They yelled a lot of things," Affeldt said. "Apparently, I'm a bit feminine."
But he warmed up and when the non-fight was over, he was called in to pitch. First and second. Nobody out. Tie score. And
"Keep this thing close," Affeldt would remember manager
And for a night, for Jeremy Affeldt, it was like Bradenton again. Maybe he wasn't quite as dominant -- but these are slightly better hitters he was facing. He dropped a strike-one curveball on Howard, busted him inside with a fastball, tried to get Howard to chase a couple of outside pitches and then finally blew him away with a 93-mph fastball up. One out.
"Huge," Affeldt said. "It was so important that I get Howard out without the base runners advancing. I just had to take the sacrifice fly out of play. I was thinking about only one thing. No runs. They could not score any runs. We had just tied up the game. We needed to hold them without a run."
He battled with
"I think that was when the game changed, you know?" said Philadelphia's
It's impossible to measure aura, of course, but damn if it didn't FEEL like the aura of the game had changed. Affeldt came out for another inning -- Affeldt had not pitched two innings since June. He got Ibanez to ground out, he struck out
And if there's one thing the San Francisco Giants know how to do, it's win a battle of attrition. There's no way you can look at this lineup -- with only two of the same player who were in the Opening Day lineup -- and predict a World Series. The Phillies have two former MVPs (Howard and
"There are times we hit well," Giants general manager
Saturday, with the score tied, the Giants kept making big pitches to get out of mini-jams. In the fifth the Phillies loaded the bases, but
Then came Uribe. His homer in the eighth inning came on the first pitch he saw from Phillies reliever
"I saw Werth's back," Manuel would say, "and I said, 'Oh no!'"
The home run did take the life out of the crowd. They tried to get excited in the bottom of the inning, when the Phillies put runners on first and second with one out. But the threat ended when Carlos Ruiz hit a line drive that was caught by first baseman
The crowd was so crushed that even when the Phillies rallied in the ninth, the fans could not seem to get their hearts into it. Rollins walked with one out. The crowd was still quiet. It was only two batters later, when Utley also walked that they started getting into it. Howard was back at the plate to face Giants closer
And they battled for seven pitches.
"I couldn't get my pitches down," Wilson would say, and it's true, he kept leaving his pitches up, dangerous pitches against Howard.
Finally, with the count 3-2, Wilson decided the season was on the line and he had to throw his best pitch, a slider on the outside corner. He knew if he left it up, Howard might crush it.
"Well," he would say, "I knew that if he did that, we would have another game tomorrow."
He threw the absolute perfect pitch, low this time, a slider at the knees, outside corner. It was more or less an unhittable pitch -- or at least impossible to hit with any authority. Howard took the pitch, leaving the decision in the hands of home plate umpire
The Giants now play the Texas Rangers in one of the oddest World Series match-ups in baseball history. Neither team in their current city has won a World Series, the Rangers have never even been there before. They both have rather remarkable No. 1 starters (
"It took 25 guys," Affeldt would say. "No, more, it took 35 guys. Forty guys. However many guys we had. It took all of us. And then some."