((HT: BASTA/Ben Leonard))
Bruce Bochy is infatuated with his veteran players, and it almost spoiled an early four-spot from the Giants’ offense. Only an egregious throwing error from Randy Choate bailed out the Giants’ skipper and the offense, which sputtered after a hot start. The Giants won in their typical playoff fashion, relying on magic and what some would call luck in a tightly contested game to take the 2-1 series lead in a 5-4 win in ten innings over the Cardinals
The Giants’ offense backed Tim Hudson early, rallying after veteran righty John Lackey got two quick outs to start the game. Buster Posey laced a single to right, and Pablo Sandoval followed with a opposite field single of his own to put runners at first and second. Hunter Pence fell into an 0-2 hole and proceeded to slap a pitch at his shoulders down the line in right, good for a double that gave San Francisco a 1-0 lead. After falling behind 3-0 to Belt and clearly pitching around him, Lackey intentionally walked Belt, loading the bases for Travis Ishikawa. Lackey was able to execute, unlike Nationals’ reliever Aaron Barrett. On the first pitch, Lackey meated a 90 MPH fastball, and Ishikawa did not miss, launching it to deep right center, bouncing at the foot of the wall for a bases-clearing double. The right fielder Grichuck appeared to lose sight of the ball, and took a strange route that left him farther away from the ball than he should have been, preventing him from making a play on it.
After the explosion in the first inning, the Giants got absolutely nothing for the next eight innings. Their only two base runners were on a single from starter Tim Hudson, and Pablo Sandoval, who reached after being hit by a pitch. In an interview on FS1 after the game, Hunter Pence explained that Lackey “beared down” and started “work[ing] it in on us,” when the Giants expected him to “work away.” The Giants should have been able to make this adjustment, but clearly didn’t, as Lackey went on to throw six innings in total, not allowing any runs after the first.
As Lackey settled in, Hudson fatigued, starting out well but slowly fading. He allowed just one hit in the first three innings, but started to run out of steam in the fourth. After giving up back to back singles to lead off the frame, Hudson gave up hard contact but got Holliday to line out, and struck out Jhonny Peralta. With runners on first and second for Kolten Wong, Hudson hung a curve that Wong launched, just a few feet short of leaving the yard in right center, cutting the Giants’ lead to 4-2. The Cardinals continued to chip away in the sixth, when Peralta drove in a run with two outs on an RBI single to left, just beyond the reach of Sandoval at third.
That should have been it for the 39-year old Hudson, who has struggled with hip problems as of late and hasn’t been able to go deep into games. With 86 pitches under his belt going into the seventh, Bochy should have recognized that going to his bullpen was the right option. Instead, he left Hudson in, even after giving up a scorcher to A.J. Pierzynski that Ishikawa was able to glove. With one out, Hudson hung a changeup to Randal Grichuck, and he launched it off the foul pole in left for a homer, tying the game and chasing Hudson from the game. Luckily for the Giants, they escaped with a win, largely due to 3 and 2/3 innings of dominant pitching from their bullpen.
Randy Choate was dominant against lefties in the regular season, yielding a stingy .171 wOBA in the regular season, but that didn’t matter against Brandon Crawford, who battled to lead off the tenth with a walk. Juan Perez failed to get the bunt down twice, leaving the count at 0-2. Perez worked the count to 2-2, and drove a pitch to left center, over the head of Peralta for a single, putting runners at first and second.
Gregor Blanco also failed to put down his first bunt attempt, but got the second one down. As Blanco put it on an FS1 interview, “the first one was a little rushed, then I told myself to just put it down.” Blanco’s bunt was not perfect in execution, a little too far away from the line, but it was perfect in effect. Randy Choate picked it up and rushed the throw, letting the ball sail into the Cardinals’ bullpen and the game sail away from St. Louis. Brandon Crawford came around to score easily from second, and the Giants took Game Three.
Choate’s miscue may mask Bochy’s questionable managing, but it may still come back to haunt San Francisco later in the postseason. It cost the Giants a victory on Sunday, and could very well do so again. Veterans are not better at battling fatigue than younger players, despite what Bochy may think; it is actually the opposite. Experience may calm nerves, but it certainly isn’t a panacea.