Sports

MLB Playoffs

Giants win ugly against Nationals, advance to NLCS

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

San Francisco Giants players celebrate on the field after defeating the Washington Nationals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Oct. 7, 2014. (KYLE TERADA/USA Today)

San Francisco Giants players celebrate on the field after defeating the Washington Nationals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Oct. 7, 2014. (KYLE TERADA/USA Today)

SAN FRANCISCO - 

Thirty-some years ago, the Chicago White Sox coined the term “winning ugly” on their way to a 99-win season.

Apparently the rights to that phrase have been ceded to the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants are moving on to the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals after a 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals. Cooperstown will not be asking for a play-by-play of this clinching victory.

All you need to know is the Giants scored their three runs in this order: A bases-loaded walk, a groundball out, and a wild pitch. The wild pitch, delivered by reliever Aaron Barrett, scored San Francisco second baseman Joe Panik from third in the bottom of the seventh to break a 2-2 tie and the Giants bullpen made that slender lead stand up.

The Giants got a clutch pitching performance from Ryan Vogelsong, who pitched into the sixth inning, allowing just two hits and one run as the wild-card Giants eliminated the Nationals, who finished the regular season with the best record in the National League. On the night, San Francisco managed nine singles against Washington pitching, starting with Gio Gonzalez, who lasted through four innings, but all the run-scoring damage was done in weird fashion.

As a prelude to what would become surely the softest, quietest, least offensive little rally of this postseason, Brandon Belt popped up on the infield to start the bottom of the second inning. Four Nats infielders converged, their collective body language shouting “You take it!” before first baseman Adam Laroche took charge and hauled it in.

Brandon Crawford followed with a legit single into left field, the only time the ball would leave the infield in the inning. Next up, Juan Perez hit a weak groundball right back at Gonzalez and he whiffed it like it was October, 1986 (think Mookie Wilson-Bill Buckner). Vogelsong came to the plate, intent on moving the runners and he laid down such an exquisite little bunt that, halfway to first base, everybody in the park knew the bases were going to be loaded.

To extend the sequence of ordinary events that added up to be more than the sum of their parts, Gregor Blanco walked on four pitches to push San Francisco’s first run acros the plate. A moment later, Panik hit a soft grounder to the first baseman to score Perez and it was 2-0. Just like that. Neither run was earned but they both counted.

Meanwhile, aside from a first-inning walk to Jayson Werth, the Nationals did not have a baserunner until Ian Desmond led off the fifth inning with a solid single into left field on Vogelsong’s 57th pitch of he night. A moment later, Bryce Harper sliced a double down the left-field line that scored Desmond all the way from first base to cut the San Francisco lead to 2-1. Vogelsong quickly regrouped and got out of the inning, stranding Harper at second base and Nate Schierholtz, who hit for Gonzalez, at first.

The Giants had a chance to blow it open in the fifth against reliever Tanner Roark and squandered the opportunity. After singles by Blanco and Panik, they had runners at first and second with nobody out. Later, they had the bases loaded with one out but, in succession, Pablo Sandoval popped up to the first baseman and Belt struck out.

With one out in the top of the sixth, Werth came to the plate, representing Vogelsong’s last batter of the night. Lefty reliever Javier Lopez was warm and ready in the bullpen to face Adam LaRoche, a lefthanded hitter in the on-deck circle. On Vogelsong’s last pitch of the night, Werth hammered a ball to right field where Pence made a leaping catch at the top of the wall, robbing Werth of extra bases.

That’s the way the game stayed until, with one out in the top of th seventh, reliever Hunter Strickland fell behind 3-1 on Harper. On the next pitch Harper hit a moonshot to right that somehow stayed just fair, splashing down somewhere in McCovey Cove. Tie game.

As bizarre as the Giants second-inning rally was, the game-winner was even more weird. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Panik and Posey hit back-to-back singles off reliever Matt Thornton. Washington manager Matt Williams then sent for Barrett who walked Pence to load the bases. With the count 2-1 on Sandoval, Barrett uncorked a wild pitch that bounced up to the top of the screen and Panik easily scored from third for the go-ahead run. With the count 3-1, the Nats decided to walk Sandoval intentionally, but that intentional ball got away from Barrett and Posey tried to score from third but was thrown out by catcher Wilson Ramos to Barrett.


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