The San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics won close contests on Tuesday night, and stayed alive in their best-of-five Division Series. The Giants entered the game against the Cincinnati Reds down two games to none, and eked out a 2-to-1 road victory in ten innings. The A’s lost the first two games of the series on the road but beat the Detroit Tigers 2-to-0 before a raucous home crowd at the Oakland Coliseum.
Both teams won with superb pitching, outstanding defense, and just enough offense. Both teams will need to repeat that formula in today’s action to force a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.
Bochy’s Gamble Pays Off
Giants manager Bruce Bochy surprised some in the baseball world when he named Ryan Vogelsong the starter for Game 3. Many expected Bochy to turn to two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. But Lincecum wasn’t Lincecum this season, particularly in the first half, when he posted a 6.42 ERA in 18 starts. His record improved after the All-Star break, but he never fully commanded his fastball, and posted a 4.4 BB/9 down the stretch. Vogelsong was at or near the top of the National League’s ERA leaderboard for much of the season. Then he hit a wall in August, when every batted ball fell for a hit, and his ERA for the month ballooned to 6.32.
Vogelsong then returned to form in mid-September and yielded only one earned run over his final three starts. Lincecum also returned to form — the poor form he displayed early in the season. So despite Lincecum’s career numbers, postseason experience, and reputation as a “big game pitcher,” Bochy asked Vogelsong take the mound and keep the Giants’ season alive.
The Reds scored one run off Vogelsong in the 1st inning and that was it. Sure, it could have been worse, had Buster Posey not gunned down Brandon Phillips at third trying to take an extra base on a wild pitch. But Posey made the play, the Reds scored only the one run, and Vogelsong cruised from there. In five innings, he allowed three hits and three walks and struck out five.
Giants offense still missing in action
Reds starter Homer Bailey was even better than Vogelsong. He held the Giants hitless through five innings before Marco Scutaro poked a single into right field in the top of the 6th. The Giants had tied the score in the 3rd on a hit-by-pitch, a walk, a sacrifice bunt, and a sacrifice fly. It was the kind of rally that kept the Giants afloat for much of the 2011 season.
This season was different. San Francisco led the National League in runs scored in August and were close on the heels of the Brewers and Nationals in September. Leadoff hitter Angel Pagan went on one of his signature hot streaks. Marco Scutaro hit .358 after coming over from the Rockies at the trade deadline. And Buster Posey burnished his MVP credentials with a .385/.456/.646 line after the All-Star break.
In the first three games against the Reds, Pagan and Scutaro have all but disappeared. Posey has three hits and two walks in 13 plate appearances, including a home run, but he’s come to bat too often with the bases empty. Overall, the Giants have 12 hits — three for extra bases — and have scored only four runs.
Bullpens come up big
With such an anemic offense, it’s hard to blame the Giants’ losses in Games 1 and 2 on their pitching. Matt Cain gave up three runs in five innings in Game 1. Madison Bumgarner yielded four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 2. But the Giants bullpen couldn’t keep the score close in either game.
Tuesday night, Giants relievers did their job. Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo combined for five scoreless innings. With the game tied at 1-1, Reds manager Dusty Baker lifted Homer Bailey in the bottom of the 7th for a pinch hitter, and brought in Sean Marshall to pitch the 8th. That led to flame thrower Aroldis Chapman in the 9th. And with the Giants bullpen matching zeros inning after inning, Baker turned to Jonathan Broxton in the 10th. That was the Giants’ big break.
Posey and Hunter Pence led off the 10th with back-to-back singles. Two outs and a wild pitch later, Posey was on third. Joaquin Arias knocked in the winning run with a tough grounder to Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, who bobbled the ball, and allowed Posey to score.
The A’s bullpen had cost Oakland Game 2. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour — the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning relievers who pitched so brilliantly for the A’s down the stretch — couldn’t hold the line on Sunday. Doolittle and Ryan coughed up two different leads late in the game and Balfour lost the game in the 9th on two singles, an intentional walk and a sacrifice fly.
But the trio pitched perfectly on Tuesday night, protecting the two-run lead built by starter Brett Anderson over six innings. After striking out Omar Infante to lead off the 9th, Balfour gave up a single to MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera. But he ended the game by inducing a double-play grounder from Prince Fielder.
A’s center fielder Coco Crisp made a costly error in Game 2. With the A’s leading 2-to-1 in the 7th, Cabrera came to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs. He lofted a soft fly ball to shallow center field. Crisp broke late on the ball and then tried a circus-like basket catch:
Crisp redeemed himself Tuesday night. The A’s took a 1-0 lead in the 1st when Crisp singled, Stephen Drew walked, and Yoenis Cespedes knocked in Crisp with a single into right field. Then Crisp made the defensive play of the game in the top of the 2nd with a leaping grab of a Fielder fly ball heading over the center field wall.
Crisp saved a run, the A’s padded their lead on a Seth Smith home run in the fifth, and the bullpen nailed down the victory.
Both series head to Game Four on Wednesday. The Giants take on the Reds at Great American Ballpark at 4:00 PM EDT. The A’s host the Tigers at the Coliseum starting at 9:30 PM EDT.