MLB Playoffs: San Francisco Rolls To NL Flag

The end of the road in the National League was anti-climactic last night in San Francisco, but no one in Pac-Bell Park was complaining. The rains pounded the field in the top of the ninth and St. Louis batted, and everyone just hoped the Giants could get the clinching outs without an interminable delay. Finally, Matt Holliday hit a towering pop-up that ended up, appropriately enough, in the glove of Marco Scutaro and San Francisco’s 9-0 win was complete.

San Francisco’s comeback in this series—winning three straight after being pushed to the edge—wasn’t quite as surprising as when they turned the same trick against Cincinnati in the Division Series, given that all three of the wins over the Reds had to come on the road.

But the complete dominance the Giants showed in Games 5 thru 7 of the National League Championship Series was surely striking. San Francisco won those games by a combined score of 20-1, a drubbing that brought back bad memories for Cardinals’ fans—in the 1996 NLCS, they lost the final three games to Atlanta by a combined 32-1.

Game 7, as the score suggests, isn’t one that left fans with a lot of what-ifs. San Francisco did everything right from the outset, while St. Louis just struggled to play clean baseball. The Giants got a run on an early infield out when Cardinal starter Kyle Lohse seemed to struggle with getting the ball out of his glove and had to go to first, rather than come home. Lohse ended up leaving in the third inning with the score 2-0 and the bases loaded.

Then came the at-bat for Hunter Pence. He was panned in this space for his Game 3 struggles (though I modified my criticism later after Game 4). Pence came through here with the right combination of good play and good luck. He hit the ball hard, but it seemed to be set up for a room-service 6-4-3 double play. But Pence’s broken bat but a lot of English on the ball and it seemed to change trajectory in mid-flight. Cardinal shortstop Pete Kozma looked like a defensive back in football, momentarily deked out of position and the one step the wrong direction prevented him from getting back to the ball. Then centerfielder Jon Jay booted the ball in center, the bases cleared and the game was all but over.

Matt Cain dominated through 5.2 IP, though Bruce Bochy wasted little time in giving him the hook with two on and two out in the sixth in what was still a 6-0 game. Cain foolishly decided to plunk Matt Holliday on an 0-2 count to start the inning. Holliday had been involved in a dust-up at second base with Marco Scutaro in Game 2, a double-play takeout slide that was clearly illegal, but unlikely done with malicious intent to hurt.

Scutaro had let bygones be bygones and deciding to take revenge on the leadoff hitter of an inning where you’re twelve outs form the World Series was, in my view, rather stupid. There’s plenty of time next year to take care of business.

In the end, no one took care of business like Scutaro, who had 14 hits for the series, tying a record held by several players in LCS competition. The second baseman was named NLCS MVP. In yesterday’s post, I indicated an early preference for Ryan Vogelsong. I’ll admit to bias on behalf of starting pitchers who win two games in dominating fashion—it’s tough to argue against a guy who gets you half the necessary wins almost by himself, as Vogelsong did. But upon further review, it’s even harder to argue against someone who ties a record for hits, plays great defense and seems to bring a lot of intangibles to the team. Congratulations to Scutaro and congratulations to the Giants.

The last stage of the MLB playoffs starts Wednesday night, as Detroit and San Francisco commence the World Series, and TheSportsNotebook preview of the Tigers-Giants Fall Classic will be up tomorrow morning.