Wild pitch helps Giants punch NLCS ticket
SAN FRANCISCO -- The crescendo built slowly, with one out in the seventh. A hit from Joe Panik. A hit from Buster Posey. A pitching change.
The Nationals and Giants were tied in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, but the home team was threatening. Heavy-metal music blared from AT&T Park's loudspeakers. Tens of thousands of Bay Area fans, who have been through this sort of thing before, screamed in anything but unison. And the new Nats pitcher, rookie Aaron Barrett, admitted to "trying to do a little too much" in what would become a 3-2 Giants win.
Barrett walked Hunter Pence, missing low to load the bases. Then he spiked a fastball in the dirt, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Panik raced home easily from third base, sprinting through the hole that Barrett and the Nationals opened for him.
"That's our way sometimes," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We scratch and claw for runs. And we got a break."
The Giants, who made their own breaks throughout so much of their four-game NLDS victory, were more than happy on this occasion to accept one from the Nationals. It was only moments earlier that Bryce Harper had turned a one-run lead into a tie ballgame with a mammoth blast into McCovey Cove, thrusting San Francisco's entire future in doubt. On paper, the Nats were the more talented team, owners of the NL's best record. Though the Giants had jumped out to an early series lead, they breathed life into Washington with their own mistakes in Game 3. Doing so again in Game 4 could have been crippling.
But by the time Barrett entered, the night's momentum was already swinging back in San Francisco's direction. The crescendo by the bay was building and Barrett -- manager Matt Williams' choice over Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen or any other unused reliever in his bullpen -- fed the crowd by falling behind Pence, 3-0.
"Obviously, it was a little bit more magnified than the other games," Barrett said. "But since my debut, I came in that same type of situation -- tie ballgame -- and I think those outings that I've been put in those spots definitely prepared me for tonight. I just didn't make my pitches."
If Panik was not on high alert already, his adrenaline began rushing when he reached third base. He saw Barrett struggle to hit his spots against Pence and prepared for what happened: a ball in the dirt.
"In that type of situation, you're ready to pounce on anything," Panik said. "He walked Hunter in front of Pablo Sandoval, so he was a little erratic. In that situation, you're ready for anything, because if he squibs it, or a swinging bunt -- anything -- you have to be ready to come home. I got a good jump on it and made it home safely."
And then Panik rejoiced.
"The adrenaline kind of took over," Panik said. "Once you cross home plate and you realize this is the go-ahead run in a game like this, you're pretty excited. You're pretty pumped up."
For a Giants team that found inventive ways to win throughout this series -- dinking and dunking Strasburg for a couple of runs in Game 1, relying on Yusmeiro Petit for six shutout innings of relief in Game 2's 18-inning thriller -- perhaps Bochy was right. Perhaps winning the clincher on a wild pitch was only appropriate. It was, Pence's words, a classic example of "finding a way to score."
For Barrett, it was a 50-something-foot fastball that he will never forget.
"It just didn't go my way," Barrett said. "No one's going to feel sorry for me, and I don't expect that. Because I didn't get the job done."