I know I’m not the first to say it. But I can vouch for the accuracy of term torture when applied to the San Francisco Giants.
I attended all three Giants games this weekend, intend on being there when and if the Giants claimed the mantle as National League Division Champions, or to “clinch” their place in the playoffs. I did see this happen once before. But if you’re a baseball fan that follows just about anybody but the Yankees, this is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Let me explain the torture of waiting to see a clinch happen. First, your team has to clinch. So that means they have to be the best team in their division. For the Giant’s, this means they have to beat four other teams. So, on average, this means that this only happens one in five years.
Next, they have to clinch at home. Yes, if you’re a fanatic like me, you could follow them on the road to see them clinch. But there is nothing like the excitement of the home crowd when your team wins the division. So even if your team clinches, there’s a 50-50 chance that the game will be played on the road somewhere, and the best you can do is watch it on TV in a local sports bar.
To make matters worse, you don’t always clinch by winning. Sometimes the clinch happens when the second place team loses. So you could have tickets to what could be the game-of-a-lifetime. But on the drive to the game the second place Dodgers lose to the Mets in New York, making the Giants the champions. So now you’ve got tickets to an exhibition game that doesn’t mean anything to anybody. Don’t turn around. The pre-game festivities are going to be a ball. (High and outside.)
So let me set the stage for this weekend’s torture. On Thursday, the Giants finished a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks (winning all three games in the three game series), and ended up three games ahead of the Padres with three games left in the season. In any other season, this would mean that unless the Padres won every game left, and the Giants lost every game left, the Giants would win the division. To make things even more interesting, the last three games would be against the Padres at home in San Francisco. So if the Padres did win every game left, the Giants would have to lose every game left.
Friday night Matt Cain was on the mound, pitching on his birthday. Cain is one of our most reliable pitchers, and one of my favorite players. I was already to watch a victory and go home to relax the rest of the weekend. In the second inning, Cain gave up a home run to Ryan Ludwick, and the Giants were immediately down 1-0. In the third inning, Cain gave up three hits. The last was another homer by Adrian Gonzalez. The score was now 3-0. The Giants never came back from this. They lost the game 6-4.
Saturday’s pitcher was Barry Zito. I’ve never really liked Zito, so I wasn’t nearly as optimistic. But the pundits on the radio were talking about his experience as a veteran who has been there before, even claiming he was the best man to pitch today. So I arrived at the ballpark with high hopes.
After facing four batters, Zito had the bases loaded with one out. The only out was intentional by the Padres, coming on a sacrifice by Miguel Tejada. This was scary, but we relaxed a little when he got the second out. But with two outs, he walked the next two batters. With the bases loaded, this means the Padres were able to score two runs without swinging a bat. (Scott Hairston did swing once, but he missed.) The Giants were already down 2-0, and two runs were all the Padres needed. San Diego wins, 4-2.
Side-note: Barry Zito was paid about $18,000,000 this year, about $90,000 an inning. So he got more than $3000 a pitch for Saturday’s game. Why are my tickets so expensive?
So we’re down to Sunday, the last game of the regular season. Now things get really interesting. The Giants still only need to win one game to clinch. Even if they lose, all is not lost. They can still tie. To make things even more interesting, Atlanta is tied with the Padres for the wildcard spot in the playoffs. If the Giants lose, and Atlanta wins, the season ends with a three-way tie. If the Giants lose, they would have to fly to San Diego to play one last game with the Padres for the division championship. Even if they lose that game, they have one more chance at the playoffs. Then they’d have to fly to Atlanta to play a game versus the Braves to see who the wildcard team would be.
If Atlanta loses to the Phillies and the Padres win, the Giants still get to go to the playoffs. But the Padres would be the division champions. No championship, and no clinch.
Within the first couple of innings, we knew the Atlanta result. The Braves won. The Giants still needed to earn their own way into the playoffs. If they lose today, I’m driving to San Diego tonight.
But today was a different game. Jonathan Sanchez was on the mound. He doesn’t have any experience in playoff atmospheres like this, but he’s one of my favorite players, and in the past it seems like he does better under pressure.
But the first inning seemed like déjà vu all over again. The first batter, Chris Denorfin, got a hit. He advanced to second on a sacrifice. I was thinking, here we go again. But Sanchez settled down, and things went smoothly from there. He got out of the inning without a run scoring.
With the Giants at bat and no score in the third inning, a ball was hit to triples alley. It took such a lucky bounce, that I thought I might even see my first inside-the-park home run. I was astonished when the runner went into third standing up. Why didn’t he at least round the bag toward home. And then I understood. The triple had been hit by the pitcher, Jonathon Sanchez, maybe the worst hitter on the team. Of course they weren’t going to risk hurting the pitcher in a collision at home plate. It was the first triple in Sanchez’ career.
Sanchez scored on a hit by Freddy Sanchez, and suddenly it didn’t feel like déjà vu no more. The Giants were leading for the first time in the series. That run proved to be all the Giants needed. Brian Wilson, he of the beard, came on to pitch the ninth inning. He retired the side in order. He struck out pinch-hitter Luis Durango on three pitches. Durango never swung the bat. Giants win, 3-0.
Things got really fun from there. The crowd was a sea of orange, waving their rally rags. The Giants piled on each other on the infield, then ran a victory lap around the outfield, high fiving the fans in the front rows. No one was running for their cars to get ahead of the stairway crush, to beat the rush out of the parking garages. Nobody moved.
There’s nothing like a clinch at home. And now I don’t have to drive to San Diego. The torture is over.