Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giants Crush Koufax's Equal - Lee - Take Game 1

The Paul Bunyan tales of Cliff Lee can now cease for at least the next few days as the lefty is bulletproof  in October no more (previously 7 and 0). The Yankees managed to take down the Phillies last year despite being beaten by Cliff Lee twice in the World Series, and now that the Giants vanquished the illustrious darling of the East Coast media, they won’t have to go that route. I posited in my 3 keys to the series that the Giants would put themselves in excellent position if they were able to defeat Lee even once. Check. They also passed the other two key tests of the series on this night with flying colors by keeping Hamilton at bay and the Rangers’ running game too.

*Speaking of those they’ve defeated, the Giants have now beaten Derek Lowe (2 x), Tim Hudson, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson and Cliff Lee in these playoffs. They also beat Halladay, Oswalt (3 x), and Hamels in the regular season, as well as Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Latos (2 x), R.A. Dickey and Adam Wainwright during the regular season. I’m just saying.

One thing that helped the Giants was the fact that the usually superb Lee was unusually wild. He wasn’t Jonathan Sanchez wild. But he walked a batter and so I guess he was wild for Cliff Lee. For one, he could not locate his curveball. Of the 104 pitches he threw, 11 were curves. That’s actually a couple more than he averages per start. That problem was, only 3 of 11 went for strikes. One was an excellent hammer that dispatched Burrell swinging in the second inning, but otherwise he was unable to locate the pitch. He also used the changeup sparingly– he only 5 threw of which 3 went for strikes – so perhaps he didn’t have a feel for it tonight. He threw his cutter more often than usual (30% of the time). That’s because it was about the only pitch he was able to consistently locate but the Giants hitters appeared ready for it, especially when it wasn’t located with the surgeon precision the world has become accustomed to after hearing McCarver and Buck drool over him for 4+ innings.

He threw 80% strikes in the fourth but labored while throwing 32 pitches and giving up two runs (1 earned as Michael Young did the Giants a huge favor by committing an error to start the inning). And that probably did a lot to undo him as he threw 29 more in the fifth while getting two-out-hit to death before ultimately being yanked for Darren O’Day – who is typically excellent against right handed hitters – who promptly gave up a mammoth three-run dinger to Juan Oooo-Ribe. When the ball landed in the bleachers, the crowd had reached a fever pitch that only 55 years of disappointment and a season of torture could create, and the Giants had opened up a six run advantage they would never relent. Lee’s strike percentage by inning was uncharacteristically low (62, 67, 66, 80, and 62). He got behind hitters more often than he usually does, and when he needed to make pitches he didn’t. He missed up and in with his fastball a few times when he was trying to plant it on the insider corner. And when he needed to come into the zone as he fell behind, he center-punched the zone a few times too many and the Giants punished him for it. And he left his curve up and away versus right handed hitters more than a couple of times, because as I said, he didn’t have a feel for the pitch, a pitch he often uses to freeze hitters for strike three.

Freddy Sanchez had an excellent evening. In his first at bat he swung at a perfectly placed down and away fastball, shattered his bat, and hustled into second with a double as it dumped just inside the foul line down the right field line. I guess that was a good sign for how the rest of his night would go. In the third, he doubled in a run down the left field line on a cutter that was down in the zone but caught too much of the middle of the plate. And in the fifth after the Giants did a wonderful job of wearing down Lee in the previous inning, Sanchez doubled in another – his third double, making him the first player in history to double in his first three World Series AB’s – this time on a fastball that Lee was trying to get in on Sanchez but got way too much plate and was up in the zone. Sanchez smoked it into the left-center gap for a clean, warning track two bagger. Freddy lined out hard to right field in his next AB against Alexi Ogando but he’d hit it on the screws again. For good measure, he finally scorched a slider that caught too much plate in his final at bat for another run scoring hit, this time a single with an advance on the error by Vladimir Guerrero, which brings us to our next topic.

The Rangers – Ron Washington, more specifically – went with Bad Vlad in right field. It turned out to be a really bad idea as he committed two errors and looked much like a wounded animal in the spacious AT&T outfield throughout the night. He let a “single” drop off the bat of Edgar Renteria – I say "single" with hesitance because an adept right fielder might have been able to actually snag the liner on a fly; this is something I saw more than once down the stretch with Jose Guillen manning right field – and to make matters worse, he let it fly right by him as he couldn’t reach down to retrieve it and Rent ended up on three for the other of his two errors. To say he didn’t look comfortable would be to say that that Donald Trump’s hair is comb-overish or that Keith Law is sometimes condescending. Something tells me Vlad won’t be in the lineup come Thursday.

The Giants managed to start the series off wonderfully despite the rocky start in the first two innings. Lincecum gave up 1 in the first and 1 in the second, though he wasn’t hit especially hard. He benefited from a nice double play by Juan Uribe to end the threat in the first with the bases juiced – that after he’d done something extremely boneheaded. He retrieved a weak groundball and had the runner between home and third dead to rights, but instead ran him back to the bag as if another Ranger would be there waiting and one would be tagged out. It was a clear case of Tim forgetting the situation. In the second, he gave a double to Lee – yes, the pitcher – on a butcher boy play before giving up a sacrifice fly to Elvis Andrus. The person that scored was the ever-speedy Bengie Molina – he received a nice and classy ovation from Giants fans during introductions – but his cause was helped on what could have been a close play if not for the truly atrocious throw from Torres, though Torres rewarded his manager for letting him start despite the relative ineffectiveness from his weak right side with a big double.

Lincecum left the game with two outs in the sixth having given up 8 hits, 4 runs and 2 walks while only striking out a very uncharacteristic and few 3. He didn’t look great early on but pitched well enough to win on this night. He did appear to be heading into a groove but it seems likely, though as grateful as he was for the 8 runs of support, that the two long offensive innings for the Giants in both the fourth and fifth extinguished what momentum he had. Perhaps having only thrown 93 pitches will be in his favor when he takes the mound again, should he need to of course.

The Rangers would never again be within four runs of the Giants. Both pens didn’t pitch particularly well but the Giants added on three more in the bottom of the eighth so it didn’t much matter. Wilson came in to get the final two outs in the ninth when neither Ramirez – who I am hoping Bochy sees for what he is by now – nor Affledt could close the door. Bochy wasn’t taking any risks and frankly I can’t blame him.

Tomorrow is Game 2 and it starts at the same time, i.e. 4:57. Matt Cain will oppose C.J. Wilson who I wrote a scouting report for yesterday. The Giants shouldn’t expect to get too much help from the Rangers tomorrow as far as errors – or errahs if you’re Dick Stockton – and should look to make their own breaks. Hopefully some other bats will join the fun and Freddy will stay hot as well as Huff who is really starting to swing the bat better. Furthermore, the Giants made a few snazzy plays tonight but also made a couple of mistakes – they’ll need to continue to do the former while limiting the latter. The Giants are just three wins from endearing themselves to The City forever, but they better play one game at a time. It all starts with pitching. Matt Cain, you’re up.

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