Improbable no problem for intense Giants
Facing never-done-before scenario, San Francisco up to the task
CINCINNATI -- Before Game 3 of this National League Division Series, Bruce Bochy gathered the Giants together in the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park, and he told the Old Testament tale of Gideon leading a small army to defeat the mightier Midianites, to save Israel.The law of averages, the history, the odds were all conspired against the Giants in that moment. But Bochy's message was that just because they were down 0-2 in the best-of-five didn't mean they couldn't pull off the improbable.
"Ask Flan," Bochy said, pointing to third-base coach Tim Flannery. "He's been through it before, in '84 with the Padres."This was true. Flannery was on the Padres team that trailed the Cubs, two games to none, in the best-of-five NLCS, only to storm back with three straight wins. Except ... "We were at home," Flannery thought to himself. "And we weren't in this ballpark." What the Giants did in this ballpark, in the hours and days following that pregame pep talk, will be remembered for a long while. What they did was make history, becoming the first NL team in the Wild Card era to win a Division Series it had trailed 2-0 (21 others had come and gone) and the first team from any league and any era to win a best-of-five by taking the last three games on the road. "We want to make a difference," Angel Pagan said after the 6-4 win in Game 5 on Thursday afternoon. "We don't want to be like the rest of the people. We want to make a difference, and we wanted to get to the next round." They've made it to the next round by raising the intensity level within this round. "Act like you've been there" is one of the game's more oft-used adages. "Don't make the big games bigger" is another. But the Giants, appropriate to their appellation, seemed to appreciate the sheer bigness of this series, this stage, this moment in time. Sure, the Giants have been here before, and, in fact, they've been a lot further. You just wouldn't know it from the eagerness, the aggressiveness, the attitude they took to these three must-win games. "Everyone was playing for each other, playing for the team," Hunter Pence said. "That's what it's all about." Down 0-2 upon arrival to Great American Ball Park, the Giants didn't approach Game 3 or those that followed with that so-called quiet confidence we so often laud or look for in our champions. After all, who could feel especially confident when you're trying to go where no one else has gone? Rather, the Giants demonstrated fear of failure. Fear of going home, fear of watching a 94-win season go to waste in less than a week, fear of waking up without a tomorrow. For Pence, it boiled down to that simple solution of playing for the team and not the individual. That's the message he relayed when he took over the pregame huddle after Bochy's brief Bible verse. "Look into each other's eyes," Pence had told his teammates, and the point hit home. "Us old-school guys start weeping," said Flannery, "because that's how we thought you were always supposed to do it." The two-game hole in the NLDS had the odd effect of bringing out the best in these Giants, much like the loss of closer Brian Wilson, the suspension of Melky Cabrera and the Dodgers' spending spree forced them to focus all the more in the regular season. General manager Brian Sabean has called them "cockroaches" for the way they just don't go away. When they arrived here, the cockroaches came out of the woodwork once again. They wanted this, and they took it. Took it from a Reds team that had not only attained a seemingly insurmountable advantage in this best-of-five set but had won 50 home games and never lost three straight at home (a place where, as Flannery put it, "they play pepper with the Ohio River") all season. Took it from a Cincinnati crowd that was poised to party in the postseason for the first time in 17 years. There was no common thread to the way they took it, other than execution. In Game 3, it was the execution of extra effort to make do with three hits. Buster Posey gunning down Brandon Phillips when Phillips tried to take an extra bag on a passed ball, and Joaquin Arias hustling down the line to beat out Scott Rolen's throw and allow Posey to score the go-ahead run. "Game 3 is the tough game for them," the Reds' Scott Rolen said. "That's a big uphill climb for them, so you have to give them a ton of credit for Game 3, sticking in there and playing good baseball and staying on top of things." In Game 4, it was execution on offense, as the bats took it to not-so-noted local band Mike Leake and The Middle Relievers. And it was Bochy expertly executing his bullpen manipulation, giving the quick heave-ho to Barry Zito and getting 4 1/3 brilliant innings from Tim Lincecum. Finally, in Game 5, it was execution in a frenetic fifth inning, smelling blood when Mat Latos got miffed about the strike zone and quickly cutting him down, with Posey's grand slam bringing home the hammer in what ought to be an MVP year. It was also execution on the defensive end (especially when eighth-inning diving grabs by Brandon Crawford and Angel Pagan killed a would-be Reds rally) and execution by Sergio Romo in a remarkable Jay Bruce at-bat with two on in the ninth. "It was intense," Pagan said. "But that's what the playoffs are like. You have to stay in the game and stay positive and believe." The Giants had the talent to get to this point, certainly. We knew that going into October. But now we know something else about them. We know about their heart, we know about their spirit, we know how difficult it will be to deny them. In the celebratory aftermath in the visitors' clubhouse, Pence was talking about the sudden swing in this series. How the Giants rallied around each other after two home games gone awry. "The first two games happened really quick," he said. Just then, his teammates attacked, spraying him with champagne and briefly interrupting the interview. "It happened fast," a soaked Pence continued. Yes, it did.