The baseball-loving world tuned in to Game One of the World Series last night expecting to see a connoisseur’s delight, a taut pitching duel between two crafty hurlers.
The gods had other plans.
Baseball rewards study and confounds expectation. It is the most examined sport, every aspect of it charted, plotted, measured, recorded, broken down and filed away.
And then the games begin.
The surefire nail-biter matching the wits and skills of Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee turned into a sloppy 11-7 romp for the San Francisco Giants, who are now three wins from torturing their fans with the city’s first World Championship.
Both starters were gone by the middle of the sixth.
Lee, possessor of the fourth-best postseason ERA among pitchers with fifty or more innings, couldn’t get out of the fifth, equaling his shortest start of the year. He was missing pitches up in the zone, both fastballs and curves that had dropped in for strikes in the past. He gave up eight hits and seven runs, six earned. He issued his second walk of the playoffs, and hit one batter; both of them subsequently scored. But it was the solid drives in the six-run fifth – doubles by Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez, RBI singles by Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff – that chased him from the mound and punctured his air of invincibility.
Lincecum gave up single runs in the first two innings, then settled down before faltering. After a long delay while the Giants batted around in the fifth – Lincecum hit two grounders to short in the inning, one handled cleanly by Elvis Andrus, the other booted – he struck out the first two hitters in the sixth, but gave up three hits and a walk for two runs, then turned the game over to the bullpen with an 8-4 lead.
The latest in San Francisco’s run of unlikely heroes was second baseman Sanchez, who went 4-for-5 with doubles in his first three at-bats, scoring two runs and driving in three. He was joined in the spotlight by Juan Uribe, whose three-run homer off reliever Darren O’Day stretched the Giants’ lead from 5-2 to 8-2 and provided what proved to be the margin of victory.
Whether it was the success of the San Francisco pitchers or the failure of the Texas hitters, the middle of the Rangers’ order was silent for the night. Josh Hamilton, Vlad Guerrero, and Nelson Cruz went 1-for-12 in the first eight innings, the one hit being Guerrero’s infield single in the first.
Four Texas errors – two by the rusty if not rusted Guerrero in right – contributed to the surprisingly ugly display.
The Giants used seven pitchers on the night, eventually needing closer Brian Wilson to finish things off in a ninth inning they started with a seven-run lead.
San Francisco fans have embraced the notion of baseball as torture, in recognition of their team’s long string of tense, low-scoring games. Seven of the Giants’ eleven postseason games have been decided by one run; the Giants have won six of them.
Most neutral observers have found much to like about these two teams over the course of the playoffs. The Rangers have shown power and speed and seemed to be a team coming into its own. The Giants are a scruffy, scrambling group – a bunch of idiots like the 2004 Red Sox, somehow finding ways to win.
The wish expressed most often as the Series approached was that it last seven games. One more like this one and we’ll all have to reconsider.