The Giants’ win over the Atlanta Braves last night mirrored their season: agony followed by despair, but ultimately ending in triumph.
Nothing comes easy for this team, and that was true through this whole series. Every game was decided by one run, and in last night’s game, neither team had more than a one-run lead at any time.
The Giants couldn’t even get a hit off Braves’ starter Derek Lowe, operating on three days rest, until Cody Ross homered in the fifth. Ross’ home run kept Giants starter Madison Bumgarner in the game for another inning, because Giants manager Bruce Bochy would otherwise have pinch-hit for him.
But Braves catcher Brian McCann answered with a home run on the first pitch from Bumgarner, who otherwise pitched a fine game in his postseason debut, giving up just two runs in six innings.
In the seventh inning, when the Giants finally chased Lowe, it was Ross who again had the big hit, a single through the Atlanta infield that scored the go-ahead run.
It was another reminder of how this Giants team has been built during the season with veterans acquired by Giants GM Brian Sabean.
Pat Burrell’s big bat has been crucial for the Giants as he and rookie Buster Posey have picked up the slack as Aubrey Huff cooled off after a hot first half of the season.
Ross was acquired on waivers, as much to keep San Diego — then ahead of the Giants in the NL West — from getting him. He’s valuable not only for his hitting, but his strong outfield defense.
But that one-run lead looked tenuous when, after Santiago Casilla worked a scoreless inning, Bochy turned to closer Brian Wilson.
Wilson may be the best closer in San Francisco Giants history, though Rod Beck is remembered fondly and Robb Nen was great for the 2002 Giants who so nearly won the World Series. (Stu Miller was great for the ’62 Giants, the first San Francisco team to reach the Series, but that was a totally different time, and it’s impossible to compare relievers of that era with the closers of today.)
But for all his effectiveness, Wilson is what’s known as a “top-step” reliever — meaning that the manager is often on the top step of the dugout, anxiously waiting for the outcome of the game. And, in fact, Wilson had blown a save in Game 2 of this series.
Last night, he did not have good command of all his pitches, and walked two batters with only one out. You didn’t think it would be easy, did you? But he got Omar Infante and the dangerous Melky Cabrera to put the game away.
The way the Giants played in this series does not give much hope for their chances against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series. The Phillies look like the best team in baseball, with great pitching and great hitting. The Giants struggled to beat the Braves, who looked like the weakest of the eight playoff teams.
But all we can be certain of in the NLCS is that there will be more agony and despair — and we can hope they will ultimately triumph again.