Last night, Barry Zito pitched the last game of his $126-million San Francisco Giants career.
Tonight Tim Lincecum is on the mound, his Giants future uncertain.
I didn’t know either one in their stronger days. I never knew Lincecum as the two-time Cy Young winner, or as the touted prospect. I knew him as a struggling long-haired starter with flashes of his old brilliance, and sometimes with more than that. Nor did I know Zito with the A’s, or when he signed his huge contract; I knew him mostly as a tenuous starter at best, but also as the guy who pitched the game of his life in the NLCS, and the one who started Game 1 of the World Series. I loved them both, the unpredictable madness, the goofy personalities, the disastrous meltdowns, the storybook moments of perfection when they were most needed.
The 2012 playoff run was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had. I remember where I was for almost every game. I remember cursing at the grocery store when I saw the alerts for NLDS Game 4, when Zito surrendered a single and three walks in a row. I remember practically falling off my chair during the Jay Bruce vs. Sergio Romo marathon. I remember shouting in disbelief when Barry Zito came back out for the eighth inning in the NLCS throwing a strike to Carlos Beltran. I remember Long Reliever Tim Lincecum doing everything he could to push the team toward a championship.
I saw both of them pitch in person when I visited AT&T Park for the first time. The Giants and the Blue Jays split that series; Zito was okay, but thoroughly overmatched by R.A. Dickey. Lincecum was fantastic.
If this week is a Giants goodbye for both of them, I’m glad I got some of those golden moments, even if I missed so many. It’s been pretty cool.
Boy, we needed that.
I was faced with the world’s most wonderful scoring conundrum in the first inning when the Blue Jays sent eleven batters to the plate against floundering Barry Zito, scoring six runs—Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista had two at-bats each in the frame, which had me frantically scrambling to figure out what to do. No one at the ballpark could quite believe what was happening. Six! Runs! In the first! (Yelling!)
In the end I used the boxes in the second inning—sure feels nice to be on the happy side of a card like this for once.
When Zito finally got Bautista to line out to Sandoval for the third out of the inning, the Rogers Centre was on their feet applauding the team’s ridiculous first (or perhaps standing for Zito?), something I don’t think I’ve ever seen. In the end, the Blue Jays scored ten runs for a second game in a row but without hitting a single home run, which is easily the weirdest part of this whole wild night. Ten runs on eighteen hits, all in the ballpark!
Maybe things are getting better.
Dickey: 6.0 IP 6H 2ER 2BB 10K!
Zito: 5.2 IP 12H 8R/5ER 2BB 2K
Dickey, might I add, got Buster Posey to strike out swinging twice.
And first star Melky Cabrera went 4 for 5 with a double, scoring twice and reaching base the fifth time on an error by Pablo Sandoval. Can he get a ring every day?
Guys, I forgot what winning decisively was like and the Blue Jays have done it twice in a row against teams doing much better than they are. This is actually fun. I haven’t been so relaxed at a Blue Jays game in ages.
Tomorrow, Ramon Ortiz vs Ryan Vogelsong … a duel for the ages.
Entering Game 4, only one postseason game in the previous 15 days had experienced a lead change. And that was a paltry 1-0 early-inning lead. After the final inning of the Nats-Cards division series, nothing mind-searing has happened. Of fine games, there were plenty. But the kind of screaming hair-pulling madness that consumes many postseasons was absent. It wasn’t until this final game that we saw a game sway to and fro — the Giants leading 1-0, trailing 2-1, leading, 3-2, then being tied at 3 before finally winning. In doing so, they ended one of the most remarkable, and perhaps least appreciated, October title runs in baseball history. After escaping elimination six times, they swept the sweepers.
Case, and season closed.
Virtually every sports fan has a story of a Game 7 that broke their hearts.
At least, those sports fans who enjoy games incorporating a best-of-seven round somewhere — baseball, hockey, basketball … There’s Game 5 do-or-die contests in baseball too, in the Division Series, but “Game 5” doesn’t quite come with the same gravitas. Game 7 is the ultimate. Six games played, three up and three down, and two undoubtedly tired teams must then fight one last time, winner take all. They are sports all wrapped up in one defining game: the highest highs, the lowest lows, the nail-biting and teeth-gnashing and incoherent joyful shouting and some of the most heart-racing seconds you will ever experience.
I’ve got plenty of Game 7 stories, having grown up a hockey fan. It’s where the awe and terror of those words was instilled in me, bound into my instincts. Say “Game 7” to those of us in the know and our hearts begin to pound and our hands start to sweat. They’re the scariest words in sports. Those nights are the best day of someone’s sporting life, and the worst day of someone else’s.
Last season was my first MLB playoffs, and we all know well what Game 7 broke many hearts (and buoyed up many others) then. If we’re going to be perfectly accurate, though, it was Game 6 that did the breaking; the next was just the cherry on top. It ensured that I’ll never be able to confidently say “Down to their last strike” about the Cardinals again—a valuable lesson that no game is ever certain, no lead protected, until the game is over. The Rangers had so many chances, were so close every time, and could never quite make it.