Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This Game Can Eat You Up

Pennant races in baseball bring a delicious level of tension. Every pitch has meaning, and the true fan juggles the home team's action with what's going in on in several other cities.

That's what made last night's 2-1 Colorado win over the Giants so painful to San Francisco fans. The Giants eked out a run off Colorado's funky left-hander Jorge De La Rosa in the 4th inning, and Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez pitched his best game of the season, holding the Rockies scoreless through 8.

Meanwhile, the three teams that matter to the Giants in the race for the playoffs--San Diego, St. Louis and Philadelphia--were losing. A perfectly taut and thrilling evening in the heat of the pennant race.

And then they played the 9th inning.

Sanchez got two quick strikes on Colorado's Dexter Fowler and then lost it. Four straights balls. Fowler at first, Sanchez headed for the dugout, Brian Wilson headed to the mound, and a sense of foreboding settling over AT&T Park.

Nobody could have guessed what would happen next. Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez, the league's leading hitter, shatters his bat on a ball hit into right-center. Giants rightfielder Cody Ross does what instinct tells him to do on a broken-bat play: he breaks in. But the ball is actually crushed and gets past him. A triple. Tie ballgame.

But wait. Ross hustles the ball down and gets it to second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who thinks he has a shot at nailing Gonzalez at third. His throw (he would later admit he never got a good grip on the ball) hits Gonzalez, eludes everyone, and ends up in the third-base camera well. Out of play. Gonzalez, on his belly, pounds his fist in joy as the umpires direct him to trot home with the go-ahead run.

The Giants hit three balls hard in the bottom of the 9th--but all are right at Rockies fielders. It's over. A ghastly, painful one-run loss in the heat of a pennant race.

God, I love baseball.

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