Nobody wins seventh game on road — except Giants

By Art Spander

The story was in my head if not yet in my computer: Giants lose. Road teams don’t win the seventh game. Not after they’ve dropped the sixth game. Look at history. Look at the Giants in 2002.

What I failed to look at was the Giants of 2014.

Home teams had won the seventh game nine times in a row since 1979. Too bad, Giants. No, too good. Precedent be damned. Somebody had to break the streak. Did we dare imagine it would be the Giants?

The last time the Giants were in this position was 12 years ago in Anaheim. The Angels, as we know, won the last two and won the Series. And J.T. Snow, then the Giants' first baseman, sat staring at his locker and saying so quietly, “You play seven months, and it all comes down to one game.”

That game belonged to the Giants on Wednesday night, the Giants and remarkable Madison Bumgarner and brilliant Bruce Bochy and everyone else in the visiting clubhouse. That game made nervous wrecks of fans watching at San Francisco’s Civic Center and in taverns from Sausalito to San Leandro. That game, a 3-2 victory over Kansas City, also made the Giants champions a third time in five years.

Maybe not a dynasty, compared to the Yankees of the late 1940s and early '50s, but not unimpressive either, particularly since after moving to San Francisco in 1958, the Giants couldn’t win a single championship for 52 years.

"Nearly men" is the British phrase. People who come close but never reach the top. But that’s all done now. Three in five years. This one with Matt Cain out half the season. This one with a search for a second baseman until Joe Panik arrived in late summer. This one with Brandon Belt missing because of a concussion. This one after the Giants were stomped by the Dodgers during the regular season.

“Ya gotta believe.” The Mets fans originated that phrase when their expansion team rose from hopelessness (40-120 in 1962) to win the 1969 World Series. The team gained a nickname the New York tabloids still use, “Amazin’.” The Post only calls them “The Amazin’s.”

The Amazin’ Giants. Wild cards. Wild champions. Defier of odds who win in the evens: ’10, ’12 and now ’14. How did they do it?

Tim Lincecum slumps. Matt Cain needs surgery. Marco Scutaro never shows. Angel Pagan is out much of the year. “These guys are resilient,” Bochy has said so many times. Unquestionably.

And something I ignored: Winning breeds winning. The Giants, as are all great teams — and three titles in five years allows the use of the word “great” — understand who they are and how to succeed.

You’ve head the cliché so often. They do the little things, which turn out big. Kansas City was going to run the Giants to the Missouri state line. It didn’t work out that way. The Giants are the ones who took the extra base. The Giants were the ones who found heroes at virtually every position or in front of virtually every locker.

Panik turns a probable hit into a double play. Juan Perez, a 170 hitter, hangs one off the centerfield wall at AT&T Park. Travis Ishikawa comes out of the minors to hit the Giants' biggest home run in 63 years. Pablo Sandoval can’t hit in April and can’t miss in October. And Hunter Pence is irrepressible.

What this World Series reminded us is what the 1960 World Series, won by the Pirates over the Yankees, taught us: each game is a separate entity. A 10-0 loss is no different than a 1-0 loss. In fact it’s probably better. Except for the fans.

The Giants were pummeled Tuesday. That wasn’t as important as the simple fact that the Royals, who at the start of this postseason won their first eight games, had drawn even in the 2014 World Series. And had the seventh game at home. Which meant they would win.

Except they didn’t win. The Giants won. The Giants are the new Yankees. The Giants are the new Cardinals. The Giants are the team that doesn’t care what anyone predicts or says.

On Tuesday, after that one-sided defeat, Bochy was asked why he wouldn’t start Bumgarner in the seventh game. He smirked, but instead of berating the questioner, responding with something like, “What do you know about baseball?” Bochy said something like, “Everybody is a manager.”

On the Giants there is but one manager, Bruce Bochy. He brought in Bumgarner at just the perfect time. But of course.

These are the perfect times for the Giants, the times of their lives, the times of our lives. Who knows what the future holds? The present is fantastic. I don’t think I’ll write that “Giants lose’’ story. Ever.


Giants carry lead, and bad memories, to K.C.

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — This is a tale of accomplishment, of a man so skilled in his profession that he leaves others, his opponents, virtually helpless.

This also is a tale of wariness, of being alert that no matter how much Madison Bumgarner has done, winning World Series games and calling down echoes of Koufax, Gibson and Whitey Ford, the San Francisco Giants are far from done.

Mad Bum once more was magnificent Sunday night in Game 5 of the Series, a 5-0 Giants victory that gave them a three-to-two lead. “He was fantastic again,” affirmed Ned Yost,  the guy who manages the other team, Kansas City.

But as Yost made so clear and Giants followers know so well, the Series now goes to the other team’s ballpark, and that brings up unhappy thoughts.

It was 2002 when the Giants led the Angels three to two, went to Anaheim and lost the last two games and the Series.

Brandon Crawford is the Giants’ shortstop now and was one of the heroes Sunday night, driving in the first two runs. But in 2002 he was a 15-year-old in Danville, and a fan as passionate as those who filled AT&T Park Sunday night screaming and chanting.

“When we lost,” said Crawford of the Series 12 years ago, “I was depressed for a couple of days. I remember in Game 6 they had a 5-0 lead, and they lost.”

So it’s all there, the bad times, and now the thought of more good times, of adding another Series title to those of 2010 and 2012.   

The Giants are one game away. As they were in Anaheim.

“We’re going back to our home crowd,” said Yost, sticking in a dart. Game 6 is Tuesday. Game 7, if needed, is Wednesday.

“The place is going to be absolutely crazy. We’ve got to walk the tightrope now without a net, but our guys aren’t afraid of walking without a net.

“We fall off, and we’re dead. But we win Tuesday, nobody’s got a net.”

What the Giants have are memories. Long ago memories. Unpleasant memories.

If it could happen in ’02, it could happen in ’14. What the Giants probably won’t have unless there is a seventh game is Bumgarner.

“Would he be available if that situation came up?” Giants manager Bruce Bochy asked rhetorically after some journalist wondered if Bumgarner, who went nine innings and 117 pitches, could come in as a reliever in Game 7.

“Yeah,” said Bochy. “He’d have two days off, and he’s a strong kid. We wouldn’t mind pushing him one time, but the talk about doing it twice, we did have some concern.”

Bumgarner is 4-0 in four World Series starts, including two this time, with an 0.29 ERA. He’s allowed only 12 hits in 31 innings, and struck out 27, eight of those Sunday night.

It’s a truism of sport that if the opponent doesn’t score the worst you’ll ever get is a 0-0 tie. But the Giants are able to score, in their own unique manner. On Sunday night they got their first run when Crawford grounded out, their second when Crawford singled.

Then, most unlikely of all, they broke loose in the eighth when Juan Perez, a defensive specialist who had a paltry .170 batting average in the regular season, was sent up to bat for Travis Ishikawa — and hit a ball off the centerfield fence which scored two more runs.

The wizards keep casting their spell.

“That’s the way we do it,” said Crawford. “Our averages may not be high, but we can produce when we have to.”

Bumgarner, the 25-year-old lefty from North Carolina, has been remarkably productive. And to the other team, baffling. The Royals had only four hits and were able to get only one man as far as second.

"He's so fun to watch,” Crawford said of Bumgarner. “He's always fun to watch. In the postseason, you could look at him and he looks like he's just pitching in the middle of June, like it's no big deal. He takes the pressure off of everybody else. We just feed off of him."

Said Yost, the K.C. manager, “You know what (Bumgarner) does so well, and what he’s so impressive doing, he commands his fastball in and out and up and down. He commands his breaking ball in and out, and really can command that pitch down and away in the dirt when he needs to get a strike.”

Bumgarner, pure country, and the last year or two quite shaggy, with a beard and long hair, said he’s humbled to be compared with the greats of history.

When he did a TV interview in front of the Giants dugout, fans who had been yelling “MVP, MVP” simply let loose a resounding cheer. Always polite, Bumgarner tipped his cap.

“It’s something that’s tough to say right now,” Bumgarner insisted when asked about the meaning of the victory. “I’m just happy we won. That was a big game for us.”

Which put them in position for the game that’s even bigger, the one that would give them another World Series. The one they couldn’t get back when Brandon Crawford was a fan, not a hero.


Pablo, Petit, Pence are Giant together

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — This World Series of unpredictability took a few more wild steps on Saturday night, swinging from disappointment to relief, and leaving an emotionally spent crowd wondering what more can go wrong. Or right?

Friday night ended with a couple hundred spectators dressed in blue chanting from behind the first-base dugout, “Let’s go Royals,” and certainly a few hours later when Kansas City burst to a 4-1 lead it seemed the Royals were on their way.

But like that, the Giants, and about 98 percent of the sellout crowd of 43,066 at AT&T Park, awoke in a blend of big hits and big cheers, and after a enthralling, captivating game that lasted exactly four hours, San Francisco had an 11-4 victory and the Series was tied at two apiece.

And not even Royals manager Ned Yost could find fault, saying, “Oh, man. Somewhere inside of me secretly I had hoped it would go seven games for the excitement and the thrill of it. Sure looks that way.’’

We’ll know in two games, but now it’s certain to go six, with the fifth game Sunday night again amongst the bedlam and breezes of AT&T, where for good measure Saturday night not only did the Giants’ drought end but briefly so did Northern California’s. Yes, rain, if only a smattering, by the Bay.

We saw the past, what happened Saturday night, Pablo Sandoval proving he can hit as a righthanded batter, Hunter Pence coming through again and Yusmeiro Petit pitching beautifully, blending with the future — the pivotal fifth game, the Giants last in San Francisco this 2014 season.

Madison Bumgarner, who Giants manager Bruce Bochy so stubbornly and correctly held to his normal rest period instead of using him in the fourth game, will start against “Big Game” James Shields. Bumgarner won that matchup in the Series opener, but the way everything has gone so far precedent may be of no consequence.

“We got our tails whipped,” said Yost, who a long while ago grew up in Hayward, south of Oakland. “But it’s Game 4 of the World Series. We’re tied 2-2. How much more fun can than be. There is nothing better in the world. I never felt so good about getting my tail whooped in my life ... This is a phenomenal series. It’s exciting. It’s fun.”

The whoopers in this case, the Giants, would hardly disagree. Look, after the KC half of the third, the Royals were ahead 3-1, San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong was finished and although the players later said they knew they had time to come back, you can surmise the people in the seats were skeptical.

That top of the third took a half hour. It was excruciating for fans, as well as Vogelsong. Fall behind the Royals, and when the seventh inning rolls around the opponent rolls over, so dominating is their bullpen.

But the Giants picked up a run in the bottom of third when Buster Posey, who was hitting an awful .154 in the first three games, singled home pinch hitter Matt Duffy. Then, boom. Two more runs in the fifth to tie. Three more in the sixth. Four more in the seventh.

“When the lights go down in the city ...” Those lyrics to the Journey song were bellowed by a delirious, if off-tune, group of individuals finally able to let loose because their baseball team had broken loose.

Petit, the super fill-in, the guy who took over when Matt Cain underwent surgery and when Tim Lincecum couldn’t get people out, was — dare we use the word? — brilliant.

The winning pitcher, Petit went three scoreless innings to extend his postseason streak to 12. He is 3-0 in the postseason, including six innings in that 18-inning win over the Nationals in the Division series. He also set a major league record of retiring 46 consecutive batters.

“It’s a pretty nice weapon to have in the bullpen,” said Bochy, “a long guy like Petit who seems to calm things down the way he goes about his business, and of course the way he pitches.”

Sandoval had been sick Friday when his streak of reaching base safely in 25 straight postseason games came to a halt, and Saturday, batting righthanded against KC lefty Jason Vargas, struck out in his first two plate appearances.

But he singled in the fifth, part of the rally, then singled in two runs in the sixth. And no one seemed to care he hit .199 righthanded in the regular season.

“(Friday) night, he was feeling worse,” Bochy said about Sandoval. “I talked to him today. He felt great. I was a little concerned about him being a little washed out today. He goes out there and has a great game. It’s nice to have a switch-hitter that swings it well from both sides of the plate, and he seems to rise to the occasion when you need him.”

The Giants rose when the fans needed them.

“Yeah,” said Bochy, “it is exciting. Great game tonight. It’s obvious we think it’s a great game. These guys fought hard. I mean they scratched and clawed to get back into it. You get down against this club and that bullpen, and you have your work cut out.

“Do I wish it would go seven? The way these two teams go at it, it wouldn’t surprise me.”


The 2014 Royals are the 2012 and 2010 Giants

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — The template is as old as the game. The Giants used it in 2010 and 2012.

Now the 2014 Kansas City Royals are using it. The Royals are the new Giants.

Pitching wins, and the Royals have pitching, great pitching. From start to finish. Especially at the finish.

This supposedly was the one that tips the balance. When the first two games of the World Series are split, the metrics tell us, 70 percent of the time the team that wins the third game win the Series.

Well, the Royals took Game 3, won it, 3-2, Friday night at AT&T Park, and the mood by the Bay has gone gloomy. The crowd filed out in a state of disbelief.

The Giants never lost at home in their last two World Series, never failed before their boisterous fans. In fact, home or away, against the Rangers and Tigers they barely lost at all.

This is different, a shock perhaps, although to those who have followed the Royals through their remarkable postseason when they’ve won 10 of 11 games, probably not a shock.

It’s an electric, exciting baseball team that keeps on the pressure — just as the Giants are a team that never gives anything away, most of all a game.

No designated hitter for the American League Royals on Friday in a National League ballpark. No problem. Except for the Giants, who were down 1-0 three batters into the game and never caught up. Now, with Ryan Vogelsong scheduled to pitch for San Francisco on Saturday night in Game 4 — as scheduled — the Giants never may catch the Royals.

“If you look at their pitching,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said philosophically, “you can say they might not need the DH. That’s how well they threw the ball. It’s more like a National League team. Very well balanced. Speed. They do the little things well.

“Their defense played very well. We hit some balls hard. We couldn’t find one to fall in. Cain (rightfielder Lorenzo Cain) made a couple nice plays out there, but it always comes down to pitching. I don’t care if you’re in the National League or American League. If you pitched well, you probably have a chance to win.”

The Giants pitched well, although the very first ball thrown by Tim Hudson, finally in a World Series game after 16 big league seasons, was smacked off the left field wall — out there by the Chevron cars — for a double by Alcides Escobar.

“It was a fastball,” said Hudson. “He could just as easily have popped it up.” But these Royals don’t pop up, they pound. Two batters later, Cain, that pest, grounded out and scored Escobar from third.

When it was 2-0, in the top of the sixth, with one out and a runner on second, Javier Lopez, the lefty, was bought in to face Eric Hosmer, a lefthanded batter. Lopez got two strikes, but Hosmer stretched the count to 3-2, then singled home Alex Gordon. That run was the difference. Kansas City forces the issue.

“He did what the Royals have been doing all postseason,” said Lopez.

Which is finding a way to beat you.

There was some discussion between Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti about perhaps using Madison Bumgarner on Saturday in a game of such importance.

A loss in Game 4, and the Giants would be where in 2010 and 2012 they had the other teams, in a hole from which excavation would be impossible.

But what we’ve learned about Bochy in the seasons he’s been in control is that he is very much in control. He stays the course, allows the patterns to remain unchanged.

“It’s confidence in (Vogelsong),” said Bochy, “and we’ve pushed Madison pretty good here. So we’re going to keep things in order and go with Vogey. He has experience. He’s pitched great in postseason. It was a good ballgame tonight, but we’re not going to change things because we lost.”

And, Bochy reminded, “If Madison pitched (Saturday), we’re going to have to pitch somebody the next day.”

San Francisco’s pitching wasn’t the problem for San Francisco. Kansas City’s pitching was the problem for San Francisco. The Giants had only four hits, received no walks. 

Jeremy Guthrie, the Stanford kid, was excellent in the five-plus innings he worked. The people who followed from that in-your-face bullpen, Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Finnegan, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, were no less excellent. Maybe more, if that’s possible.

“It’s a pretty good bullpen,” said Bochy, understating the situation somewhat. “It’s the reason they’re here. You get late in the ballgame, and you’re going to face those guys. You have your work cut out. We know that. Still, you hope to score off them.”

In the bottom of the ninth, against Holland, the Giants had their big three: Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence. Posey was the only one to get a ball out of the infield. A soft, sad response.

“The key factor in all this for us,” said Ned Yost, the Royals’ manager, “is timely hitting, great defense, really solid starting pitching but a dynamic back of the bullpen.”

Sounds like the Giants when they were champions.


Will Raider mess ever be cleaned up?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — The question is not whether the Raiders are broken. We know they are. It’s obvious. It was obvious before they fell to 0-6 on Sunday.

They can’t stop anybody, and in football if you can’t stop anyone, can’t play defense, you have no chance. That’s understood.

But how can the Raiders be fixed? Can they ever be fixed? To look back and blame it on the late Al Davis doesn’t do any good, except maybe for some vindictive sorts.

If Al made some bad draft picks, if Al kept trying to play 1980s football in the 2010s, railing against him in 2014 doesn’t help the situation.

For the second game under interim coach Tony Sparano, in control only for two games, the Raiders hung in there, at times played effectively. But against a better team, which the Arizona Cardinals are — a very good team, at 5-1 — bits and pieces are not good enough. Oakland was beaten 24-13 at Coliseum.

What you need to succeed in football at any level are a defense and a quarterback. In rookie Derek Carr the Raiders very well may have that quarterback, the man who can lead them into the future. But they don’t have a defense.

They haven’t a defense for years.

“We put ourselves in position to win,” said Sparano. “But we didn’t win. In the 140-odd plays there are eight or nine that are critical. You’ve got to make those plays to win. We have to get better on third down. We have to get off the field.”

They have to stop the other team when it matters. The Cardinals had 15 third-down plays on Sunday. On nine they made first downs, 60 percent.

They never relinquished the ball. They had it for almost 37 minutes of the 60, and while possession time is not always a determining factor in this game — as was the case in last weekend’s against the Chargers — it certainly was.

The opposition just grinds up and down the field, holding the ball, holding the game. Is there an individual to blame?

Mark Davis, Al’s only son, is the one in charge, the team president. But he’s not really a football man as was his late father. Mark hired Reggie McKenzie to fill that role. It appears he hasn’t done it very well.

For two years Oakland and McKenzie were hobbled by the salary cap. Then, before this season, his third, he signed veteran free agents who have not done much, if anything, except earn huge salaries.

Do the Raiders start over? Does Mark Davis hire new executives? People with a plan? Or at least a plan that  might be better than the one installed by McKenzie?

Dennis Allen, a defensive specialist, was McKenzie’s choice as coach. He was fired at the end of September, four games into his third season.

Maybe he didn’t have the players. Maybe he couldn’t be a head coach. The team has been more competitive under Sparano.

However, Sparano is the interim coach. Who will replace him? And does Oakland replace McKenzie?

Where to begin? When to decide? Do you clean house? Do you stay patient?

Charles Woodson is in his 17th season. He played safety on Sunday as he has forever, with the Raiders after he was the fourth player picked in the 1998 draft, then with the Green Bay Packers where he helped them win Super Bowl XLV, then in 2013 back to the Raiders.

He’s old. He’s still competent. In the second quarter, Charles Woodson, 38, 1997 Heisman Trophy winner, intercepted a pass thrown by Carson Palmer, 34, 2002 Heisman Trophy winner.

The Cardinals probably will have Palmer for a while. Woodson’s days are not so certain. He does provide good quotes.

“I think it’s pretty much snowballed on us,” said Woodson of a season that supposedly had promise and now at almost the halfway point doesn’t even have a single victory.

“We had a close game that first game (a 19-14 loss to the Jets) and it felt like we were on the right track. We just weren’t able to capitalize on that first game. We haven’t been able to put four quarters of football together. But again, third downs, on both sides of the ball, are really killing us.”

Not as much on offense as on defense. If you rarely have the ball, you’ll never have any rhythm. If the defense is ineffective, you’ll rarely have the ball.

“We didn’t do the job on third downs,” repeated Sparano. “Some of that we have to look at scheme. Some of that we may have to look at players.”

Some of whom were signed by McKenzie, who was signed by Mark Davis, who got the team as a legacy. They’re all in it together, and what they’re in is a mess that some way needs to be cleaned up.