Friday, October 3, 2014

October Baseball, 2014 Style

Part of baseball's allure for me has always been the stories.  Always.  Did Babe Ruth really call his home run in the 1932 World Series?  People swear he did, people swear he didn't - either way, it makes for a great story.

Did Willie Mays really tell Juan Marichal on July 2nd, 1963 - as Mr. Marichal dueled Warren Spahn over 15 scoreless innings - that Mr. Marichal needn't worry, that he'd win the game for the Giants with a home run in the 16th?

Doesn't matter, it's a great story - especially since Mr. Mays hit that home run in the bottom of the 16th.

And now it's October baseball again, and the Giants are in the mix, again - and the stories have already begun.

Before their first postseason game, on Wednesday - a terrifically anticipated match-up between the Giants and the hottest team in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates - Madison Bumgarner entered the Giants clubhouse and had a few words for a group of relief pitchers who had gathered round.  What did the Giants' starter want to tell his relievers?  Nothing much - just that they didn't have to worry about getting loose during the game because he was planning on pitching the entire contest himself.

In a wonderful bit of understatement, and with tongue firmly in cheek, one of the Giants' relievers, Jeremy Affeldt, said, "He just wanted to let us know.  He was being courteous."

Were Mr. Bumgarner's words just bluster from a pitcher who'd only ever thrown 6 complete games in his career?  It's not bluster when the pitcher goes out and does it, which of course is what Mr. Bumgarner did on Wednesday, becoming only the third pitcher in postseason history to hurl a shutout and strike out at least ten in a winner-take-all opportunity.  The first person to do that?  Sandy Koufax.

I'm liking the makings of this story.

Mr. Bumgarner then celebrated his victory by chugging four beers - at once - during the post game celebration.

Getty Images

Now I'm really liking the makings of this story.

The only other story I know resembling that one - the shut-out, not the beer - stars Satchel Paige.  Mr. Paige was known for sometimes motioning his teammates to sit down on the field behind him - to sit down because their help wouldn't be needed.  And then Mr. Paige would go on and strike out the side.

Again, it's not bragging if you can do it, and Mr. Paige could do it.

What other great stories have already happened with October not even three days old?  Another Giants' pitcher, Tim Hudson, is the author of most of them.  What did he have to say about Mr. Bumgarner's performance?  "He don't come with a lot of flair," Mr. Hudson said, "but he goes out there and sticks it right up your butt."

Poetic?  No, not at all - but it's got the makings of another great story.  One that Mr. Hudson himself added to when he commented on the grand slam that Brandon Crawford hit in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game.  "After that ball went over the fence, game over,” Hudson said. “You’ve got Bum out there with a four-run lead. The way he was throwing the ball, I didn’t give a damn. We were going to spray some Champagne."

Spraying champagne, of course, is what ball clubs do after they win important games.  The Giants just bring a lot of beer to those parties, too.

Hudson is no stranger to bravura, so he just went ahead and said this about the team they would face next:  "Obviously, they have a talented group over there, there’s no question.  They have some great pitching.  But come playoff time, talent can take you a long ways, but what do you have between your legs?  That’s going to take you real far.  And I think we’ve got a group in here that really has some of that.”

Some of that?  The Giants have it between the legs, and what - the Washington Nationals (who the Giants are facing right now, as I type, the Washington Nationals, with the best record in the National League) the Nationals don't?

Where I grew up, we'd call that a shot across the bow - directed at the team in this season's Postseason who has the strongest lineup of pitchers of any of the eight teams left playing ball.

With a game like the one the Giants penned on Wednesday - they'd win 8-0 - confidence also takes a step forward - witness Mr. Hudson's statement.  Confidence wins games, and confident men are known to make jokes, and so the Giants' first baseman, Brandon Belt, would say that he was disappointed in Mr. Bumgarner's shut-out performance because his pitcher didn't do anything at the plate.  "I was looking for a home-run out of him," Mr. Belt said.  "Step it up.  Step it up."


At one point in Wednesday's game, both Brandon's (Belt and Crawford) were responsible for all the scoring that had happened, allowing someone to tweet:

Brandons:  7

Pirates:  0

October is just starting, but the Giants' have already given us some great stories.  That grand slam Mr. Crawford hit in the fourth inning?  The one that caused champagne corks to pop?  It was the first grand slam by a shortstop in the history of Major League baseball.  With the long and rich tradition that Baseball has, it's hard to do anything for the first time, so something like that?  Just adds to the story.

With some luck, the Giants will give us a lot more.  I'm going to go turn up my dad's Philco radio and listen to the game with my youngest who's home sick from schoool today.  Batter up.

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