Hectic energy fuels Giants, flusters Rangers in World Series opener
SAN FRANCISCO -- The walk to AT&T Park this afternoon was a surprisingly olfactory experience. "I smell a Texan!" shouted one Giants fan, as he approached a wayward white GUERRERO jersey amid all the orange and black. Salt air blew in off the bay. Near the McDonalds on Third Street, passersby were overwhelmed by a sickly sweet odor emanating from somewhere hidden, an odor with which the Giants' ace is not entirely unaccustomed, as the various T-shirts ("Let Timmy Smoke!") sold by street vendors remind you. "Lincecum must be nearby," said one blonde fan, her nostrils flaring.
Tim Lincecum, in fact, was already inside the ballpark, and early on in Game 1, it seemed as if he and his teammates might have been experiencing sensory overload -- perceived by more than just their olfactory epitheliums (although that sickly sweet odor became familiar as the evening wore on, wafting through the stands). There was the massive United States flag that was unfurled in the outfield before the playing of the national anthem, more massive than the other massive flags displayed in any other ballparks this postseason. There were the rowdy, screaming masses, wearing long, ropy fake beards in honor of closer Brian Wilson, and panda hats in honor of Pablo "Kung-Fu Panda" Sandoval, and all manners of T-shirts highlighting their favorite features of their favorite players. There was Tony Bennett, who was brought out - curiously, onto the field during the break between the first and second innings -- to sing a rather extended version of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." The 84-year-old was still crooning just feet away from home plate even as Lincecum was throwing his warm-ups.
The Giants seemed distracted by it all, at first. Lincecum was particularly shaky: in the first, after he'd already allowed three of the first four Rangers hitters to reach base -- the last of which came off a single by Vladimir Guerrero that caromed off Lincecum's left calf -- he fielded a Nelson Cruz bouncer and, even though he had Michael Young hung up between third and home, he decided to run Young back to the bag without throwing it, apparently believing there to be two Rangers on third base. In the bottom of the first, Freddy Sanchez made the third out of the inning when he was doubled off second on what was a slightly-more-than-routine pop-up to a tracking-back Ian Kinsler. In the top of the second, Lincecum allowed a second run on a sacrifice fly to Elvis Andrus, which had been set up by a double from opposing starter Cliff Lee, a career .132 hitter. "It wasn't a very auspicious start there for Timmy," Giants manager Bruce Bochy would say.
It was 2-0 Rangers in the bottom of the third, and Texas seemed on its way to winning behind another dominant performance from Lee, when the team's roles suddenly reversed. Suddenly, the Giants seemed to put their early jitters behind them, and to start to feed off of the barely-controlled chaos in their ballpark. Suddenly, it all seemed too much for the Rangers, Lee included. Michael Young booted a leadoff grounder from Edgar Renteria, and then, after Lincecum popped out on a bunt attempt, Lee -- normally the game's greatest control artist, who throws not only strike after strike but strike after strike on the edges of the plate, and who walked just 18 batters all year -- beaned Andres Torres, and then threw an 89 mile-per-hour cutter to Sanchez that was higher than he'd wanted it (Sanchez doubled, driving in Renteria). Then Lee threw an 86-mile-an-hour changeup to Buster Posey that Posey laced to center for a single, driving in Sanchez. "They had some really good at bats, and I wasn't locating as well tonight," Lee said. "Missin' my fastball, missin' my cutter, missin' my change. Curveball was decent."
Lee missed worse in the fifth, when he allowed the Giants' third run consecutive one-out doubles to Torres and Sanchez, and then, after striking out Posey, walked Pat Burrell and yielded consecutive RBI singles to Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff. It was 5-2 Giants when Lee sprinted off the mound -- shockingly early, for him -- and 8-2 after the next batter, Juan Uribe, homered on reliever Darren O'Day's third pitch.
It was at this point that the Rangers' sloppiness became a team-wide epidemic, repeatedly euthanizing any chance of a comeback. The normally surehanded Elvis Andrus made an error on a routine grounder by Lincecum. With the score 8-4 and no outs in the top of the eighth, Kinsler killed a potential rally when, after legging out an infield single, he rounded first base, thinking Sanchez's throw had skipped past Huff. Kinsler quickly discovered that the ball had not skipped past Huff. He was unceremoniously tagged out.
More bungling by the Rangers -- specifically, by Vladimir Guerrero, who proved perhaps once and for all that the chance that Ron Washington took by putting his aging body in right field is a chance that he should not again take -- allowed the Giants to extend the score to an insurmountable 11-4 lead in the bottom of the inning. Guerrero played a harmless Renteria single into a triple when he allowed the ball to skip under his glove, for a two-base error. Two batters later, Sanchez hit another routine single to Guerrero, but this time the right fielder simply couldn't pick the ball up, despite attempting to do so twice, allowing Sanchez to advance to second. He later scored from there.
Although Washington refused to allow that the situation of, or atmosphere of, the game might have contributed to the Rangers' difficulties -- "Jitters didn't have anything to do with it," he insisted --
In a way, it made sense: The Giants are a club that feed off of chaos, off of emotion, off of crescendoing chains of unlikely hits, and that nature kicked into gear after the second inning. The Rangers, as a group, are far from robotic, but there is something controlled about the way they have succeeded: Even their celebrations are prescribed (claw hand signal for a great offensive play, antlers hand signal for accomplishing something speed-related), and Lee, their ace and leader, has once and again this month said that his performances stem directly from a strict routine. "It's probably just confidence and going out there and expecting to be successful, and what allows me to do that is my routine," he said before the game. "I've proven to myself over and over that it works, and eventually it becomes what you rely on to make you successful."
Game 1 was anything but routine, and it seemed as if its hectic energy threw off Lee and his teammates, even as the Giants harnessed it. "Make four errors, can't expect to win many games," said team president and owner Nolan Ryan, who stolidly stood near the front doors of the visitors clubhouse afterwards, his hands thrust into the pockets of his gray suit. "Just Game 1. That's the way we have to look at it."
Indeed, that the Rangers only lost the game by the score of 11-7, despite all of their blundering, despite the Giants' unusually productive bats (it was the first time this postseason they'd scored more than six runs), despite the fact that Cliff Lee simply wasn't Cliff Lee, was some reason for optimism -- that they'll be just fine, once they get back to doing what they normally do, once they're no longer shocked by the energy they encountered in AT&T Park in Game 1.
Outside of the stadium, one delirious fan, sporting a Brian Wilson beard, stood alone amid the happy throng. "The Giants just won Game 1 of the World Series," he said again and again, to no one in particular, and his dilated pupils suggested that he might not have been speaking only figuratively when he added, "What a trip!" It was a trip with an itinerary that the Rangers must seek to avoid repeating, starting in Thursday's Game 2.