Monday 17 December 2012

Guest Post: Elimination Game

A look back at magical moments from:
Special guest author Ruhee from Doubleswitching.

"And Carlos Beltran takes a strike from Zito to start the seventh."

In my sports-fan life, one thing I've learned above all others is not to be too optimistic--or, sometimes, not to be optimistic at all. It's hard to do -- I'm guilty of getting my hopes up in every situation, realistic or otherwise, but sometimes you have to prepare yourself for the absolute worst. There are times when nothing appears to be possible and you want to be ready, if only to cushion yourself from potential heartbreak.

Game 5 of the NLCS between the Giants and the Cardinals was just such a moment. The Giants were once again on the brink of elimination, a now-familiar refrain. Down three games to one, they were trotting out a starter who had posted 2.2 innings in his last outing (Game 4 of the NLDS, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks). Barry Zito's first inning in that game had gone out, out, single, walk, walk, walk (run).

I trust you'll forgive me for being pessimistic.

The reaction to Bochy naming Zito as his Game 5 starter went exactly as you'd expect. Woe is us, all is lost, good luck to the Cards in the Series. Bets were placed on Zito's total innings--I took 3, which after the Division Series debacle felt generous. All I could hope for was a gentle loss, a well-fought one which would at least allow the Giants to retain some dignity. The NLCS felt like borrowed time to begin with, and I was steeling myself for the disappointing end.

The bottom of the first was relatively uneventful, a one-out single to Beltran and nothing more. The second, though, started off with a Yadier Molina single followed immediately by David Freese's double to right, and suddenly there we were on the brink of disaster. I assumed, holding my breath, that there was no way Zito would get out of two on/no out without allowing a basket full of runs. 

Strikeout. Intentional walk. Double play.

Well, that was something, wasn't it?
(I was alone, but I'm not above talking to my television when sports are involved.)

Zito made it through the third clean, too: twelve batters, four baserunners, no runs. Luck, surely?

The Giants scored four runs on Lance Lynn the next inning, knocking him right out of the game. Zito had everything he needed, and gave nothing back. Leadoff double in the fourth--stranded. Clean fifth. Clean sixth. 

And there he was, in the seventh inning, and there was Carlos Beltran, taking a strike. None of it made sense and it was wonderful.

Zito was finally pulled at 115 pitches, two down in the eighth and a man on. Six hits, one (INTENTIONAL) walk, six strikeouts, no runs, 64% strikes. The game of his life. One of mine, too. 

It was the defining game of the playoffs for me, right beside Game 5 of the NLDS with the tying run at the plate in four consecutive innings. Seven and two-thirds innings of absolute disbelief every time Zito walked back to the mound. It's always easier to be prepared for anything, but the real magic happens when you're not. 

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants: 2012 World Series Champions. It was all downhill from there. 

Editor's note: there were a lot of people hoping for this kind of miracle, and evidence of that hope still litters the internet with their hashtag from that night:  #rallyzito

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