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LOS ANGELES You dont need to remindGiants manager Bruce Bochy that the bullpen plays a critical role in thepostseason.
Two years ago, Bochy used his beardedwonders and his lefty sidewinder to win almost every late-inning matchup whiledispatching the Braves, Phillies and Rangers in so many torturous, one-runvictories.
That bullpen entered the playoffs withsparkling credentials an 0.90 ERA in September, including 24consecutive scoreless innings to end the season.
This current group of relievers has performed admirably given the lackof an unquestioned hammer in the ninth inning following Brian Wilsons elbowsurgery in April. But they are not nearly so untouchable. They had a 2.56 ERA inSeptember, and for the season, the Giants are just 7-8 when tied after eightinnings.
Not only that, but in 2010, the Giants 2.99 relief ERA was the lowestof all four NL playoff teams. This time around, their 3.51 bullpen ERA ranksfourth out of five clubs headed to the postseason. And two of those other NL playoff teams the Reds withAroldis Chapman and the Braves with Craig Kimbrel sport closers havingall-time great seasons.
Thats what made Tuesday nights environment such a perfect Petri dishfor Bochy. With the Dodgers playoff hopes connected to a plug and a loud,intense crowd stirring when anyone reached base, it was the perfect time toseason the soup and taste a ladle.
Sergio Romo grabbed the plug and pulled with both hands. He had such a memorable meltdown in Atlanta two years ago. He's still a bit volatile with the home run ball. But now that he's added that two-seamer against left-handers, he's a different pitcher. And the more you see him in big situations, the more you get the feeling that he's a bit stronger inside, too.
But it was not a perfect night for the bullpen, and that offered Bochy another learning opportunity. After Guillermo Mota allowed extra-base hits to three of the fourbatters he faced, Bochy brought in rookie George Kontos.
Mota struggled and hes the guy werelooking at in the sixth, seventh innings, Bochy said. Kontos, we wanted tosee how hed handle it and he did a good job.
Enough to improve his chances of makingthe playoff roster?
The way he handled himself, sure, Ithink he helped himself, Bochy said. Hes a young pitcher and you dont knowhow hes going to react against one of the best hitters in the game. He got himout.
That would be Matt Kemp, with the tyingrun at third base.
I was telling some of the guys thatwas the most adrenaline Ive had on a baseball field, Kontos said. It was mybiggest moment in professional baseball. Its a taste of what the postseason islike, if Im fortunate to be on the playoff roster.
He has a better shot of that now.Kontos fell behind 2-0 but came back with two fastballs one taken, one swingand miss to get back in the count.
My slider is my best pitch and I wontchange that even for a great breaking ball hitter, Kontos said. But with thatclosed stance he has, Im able with my sinker to get it in there and run it onhis hands. It was a great call by (catcher Hector) Sanchez. If he calls slider,Id have thrown slider. Im just glad he didnt because fastball was the bestpitch.
Once he got to two strikes, Kontoscould break out that slider again. It was well off the plate and in the dirt(Sanchez saved a run by blocking it), and Kemp couldnt stop his swing. Then hereally let the bat go, spiking it into the turf in a fit of rage.
I was pretty geeked up, said Kontos,and then I saw him and it fired me up a little more.
Kontos is a rookie, remember, so in thesmallish, outdated visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, that gets you a lockerin an alcove, mashed between the equipment closet and the 1980s, arcade-stylevideo game machine.
Makes sense. His outing Tuesday waslike a video game come to life.
Why on earth did Dodgers manager DonMattingly have right-hander Jamey Wright intentionally walk Angel Pagan to getto Marco Scutaro in the fifth inning? Didnt he remember what happened on Sept.7, when he put Pagan on base and Scutaro hit a two-run single?
Didnt he realize that Scutaro washitting .438 over a 19-game hitting streak, and .361 in 55 games as a Giant?
"He was 2-for-19 vs. Wright, Mattingly said. Thattells me he doesnt see him well."
Im sure there were times Scutaro didnt when he was withthe As several years ago and Wright was with the Texas Rangers. That isnt thecase now. Scutaros two-run double gave the Giants a 4-1 lead.
No, it wasnt quite Joe Morgan. But knocking out the Dodgersonly adds to Scutaros brief but growing legacy as a Giant.
If it makes the fans feel good, thatmakes me feel good, too, he told me.
Does it fire him up to get a hit afteran intentional walk?
Well yeah, a little bit, he said. Theymade their move. They think its going to work better. They make their move andI try to make mine.
If Scutaro can manage a hit on Wednesday, he'd extend his hitting streak to 20 games -- and match Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval for the longest hit streak by a Giant this season.
It also would mark the first time in nine years that a major league team had three hitting streaks of at least 20 games. In 2003, the Pirates had Kenny Lofton (26), Jason Kendall (23) and Aramis Ramirez (22). Also that year, the Blue Jays had Mike Bordick, Reed Johnson and Vernon Wells (20 apiece).
Thanks to the amazing @dfeldy for looking that one up for me.
Clayton Kershaw vowed to make his starton Wednesday, even though the Dodgers are out of contention. Bochy vowed tostart his regulars behind Ryan Vogelsong, too, but the game could have a lateMarch feel to it. Most of the starters wont play the whole game, Bochy said.
Interesting that Bochy inserted BrandonCrawford at shortstop in the ninth inning but didnt slide over Joaquin Ariasto third base. Pablo Sandoval finished the game. Perhaps Sandoval has earnedBochys trust again with his defense.
With the Nationals and Reds both winning,the Giants still cannot be certain of their NLDS opponent. The possibilitiesare simple, though: The Giants will face the Reds unless Washington loses ANDCincinnati wins on Wednesday. If those events came to pass, the Nationals wouldbe the No.2 seed and head to AT&T Park.
The Nats play before anyone else onWednesday. If they beat the Phillies, then you can forget about the rest.Theyll clinch the top seed and fly to meet the winner of the wild-cardknockout game between Braves and Cardinals (Medlen vs. Lohse).
The Reds already have their top threestarters lined up: Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos all right-handers.Homer Bailey, another right-hander, would be the likely choice in Game 4.
Congratulations to Mike Matheny, who isgoing to the playoffs as a rookie manager with the Cardinals. Considering what a fine stay he hadin San Francisco, it seemed rather proper that the Giants victory touched offa champagne celebration at Busch Stadium.