'Relentless' Giants oust Nats to reach NLCS
Stout pitching, Pence's catch highlight Division Series-clinching win
SAN FRANCISCO -- Many Giants took a victory lap around the perimeter of AT&T Park's playing field Tuesday night as they began celebrating their National League Division Series triumph over the Washington Nationals. The players might as well have extended their brief jog into a marathon.
The Giants' act is a long-running one. Their 3-2 victory in Game 4, which clinched the best-of-five Division Series for them by a 3-1 margin, featured the elements that propelled them to World Series titles in 2010 and '12. Pitching. Defense. And a certain kind of stubbornness, pride, or both, that enables them to believe that while they may encounter better teams, they won't face better competitors.
With a jam-packed crowd at AT&T Park standing in nervous anticipation, Santiago Casilla sealed the triumph by weathering a two-out walk to Bryce Harper and coaxing Wilson Ramos' game-ending groundout to second base. The Giants then launched their celebration, cavorting in the middle of the field.
"The guys were relentless," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose club will confront St. Louis in the NL Championship Series for the second time in three years. "They're warriors."
All three of the Giants' Division Series wins were of the one-run variety. They scratched out a pair of runs early in this one, but the Nationals came back to tie the score at 2-2 when Harper launched a majestic blast into McCovey Cove in the seventh inning, which was followed by an emotional home run trot.
But even though momentum seemed to swing toward Washington, San Francisco managed to score the winning run in the bottom of the frame thanks to a little bit of good fortune. Joe Panik and Posey launched San Francisco's go-ahead rally with one-out singles off Nationals reliever Matt Thornton. In came rookie Aaron Barrett, who walked Pence to load the bases.
Barrett's 2-1 delivery to Pablo Sandoval skipped in the dirt for a wild pitch, scoring Panik for the go-ahead run. And that's when things took a turn for the bizarre. Ordered to walk Sandoval intentionally, Barrett sailed a pitch to the backstop, but catcher Ramos quickly recovered the ball. Ramos' throw to Barrett, who covered home plate, beat the sliding Posey, and a replay review confirmed there was no violation of the blocking rule.
It wasn't the prettiest of victories, but it typified the Giants' postseason resilience.
Consider: San Francisco edged into the postseason as the NL's second Wild Card team, yet it ousted Washington, the league's winningest team (98-64) during the regular season. Neither team generated much offense in the Division Series, scoring nine runs apiece. But San Francisco's pitching was just a little more effective, limiting the Nationals to a .164 batting average compared to .222 for the Giants.
"The true story is pitching and defense," said Giants right fielder Hunter Pence, who provided the latter half of that equation with a remarkable leaping catch of Jayson Werth's sixth-inning drive to the wall. "That's the foundation of this club."
Ryan Vogelsong provided the base in this one. A star-crossed figure during the regular season who frequently was victimized by poor run support or an inopportune pitch or two that spoiled an otherwise strong effort, Vogelsong allowed two hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings as his fastball consistently reached 94 mph, exceeding the 91- or 92-mph readings he recorded during the regular season.
Vogelsong hadn't pitched since Sept. 26. But the break enabled Vogelsong to rest as well as study video of himself to correct mistakes. He said he uncovered a few flaws that, once he corrected them, made him feel much like the 2012 version of himself, when he was the Giants' leading winner in the postseason (3-0).
The mechanical glitches, Vogelsong said, "were sapping my velocity and the break on my pitches. I spent the last five or six days trying to clean that up and I was able to translate that into the game tonight."
Vogelsong was excused after yielding one run and two hits in 5 2/3 innings. Werth, the last batter Vogelsong confronted, nearly drove Pence through one of the right-field archways. But Pence caught the ball, almost wedging himself in a cutout portion of padding covering the unforgiving brick wall.
Said Posey, "If a defensive play can switch the momentum back in a team's favor, I think that one did."
Pence himself said modestly, "I knew that he hit it hard, and I know that our park is big. So I was trying to run back as hard as I could."
San Francisco's offense also proved to be more resourceful than Washington's. The Giants scored all of their runs without benefit of a hit.
"We didn't get the runs we thought we should have, but we created the opportunities," Bochy said.
Speaking of opportunities, the Giants still have a chance at winning their third World Series crown in five seasons.