The Giants win the pennant

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The Giants win the pennant

UPDATE: (8:55) Marco Scutaro has been named MVP of the NLCS after batting .500 (14-for-28)

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO On the day he dropped his red Phillies duffel bag in the Giants clubhouse, Hunter Pence raised an extra large coffee mug and made a declaration.

Ive got to be honest, he said on Aug. 1. Every now and then, I do things you dont see very often.

When youre bucking all conventional wisdom, a little unorthodoxy is just what you need.

The Giants had to strike down the Cincinnati Reds three times to advance past the NL Division Series. They needed to take three more from the St. Louis Cardinals to claim a National League pennant.

Normal teams do not pull this off. The Giants are not normal. And they could not be deep-sixed.

They survived a half-dozen kill shots, and after a Game 7 replete with fantastic defense and a fluky, not-often-seen, triple-contact hit off Pences splintered bat, the Giants are taking their survival school to the World Series.

Matt Cain let his defense spin his pitches into outs, Marco Scutaro kept on raining hits and the Giants dismantled the Cardinals 9-0 Monday night to claim the 20th National League pennant in franchise history.

It was a surreal scene in the ninth inning, as the skies opened up and drenched the ballpark.

The Giants and the 1985 Kansas City Royals are the only teams in major league history to win six elimination games in a single postseason.

The Giants clinched a postseason series at home for the first time since the 2002 NLCS, also against the Cardinals. That one was done in five games, though. This was Game 7 and the Giants hadnt won one of those in their 130-year history. This was just the second Game 7 to be held in the San Francisco city limits, and the first since the 1962 World Series.

That was many yesterdays ago. For these Giants, its been a rallying cry to make it till tomorrow.

Their next tomorrow will be Game 1 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, on Wednesday at AT&T Park.

Starting pitching report
Cain was far from perfect. His fastball rode up in the zone. He relied on his defense to make plays. He survived a choppy, 46-pitch sea before he could tie his boat to the dock after two innings.

But Cain kept daring the Cardinals to beat him, and they never could.

Before this season, no Giants pitcher in the franchises 129-year history had ever won Game 7 of a postseason series. No Giant had ever pitched a perfect game, either.

Cain has done both.

He held the Cardinals scoreless through 5 23 innings, and while they made enough loud contact to jangle nerves, the big ballpark and a surehanded defense allowed Cain to keep advancing toward 27 outs.

The Cards threatened in the second inning, when Yadier Molina hit a leadoff single and David Freese walked. But first baseman Brandon Belt smothered Daniel Descalsos short-hop smash and threw from his knees for a forceout at second base. Then after Pete Kozma struck out, pitcher Kyle Lohse hit a line drive that shortstop Brandon Crawford snared with a backpedaling, leaping catch.

Left fielder Gregor Blanco made two terrific plays to help Cain escape the third without giving up a run. First, Blanco cut off Jon Jays hit near the bullpen mounds to hold the Cardinals leadoff hitter to a single. Then Blanco got an excellent jump to catch Allen Craigs drive to the gap.

Scutaro contributed a couple of clean picks on short-hops, too.

The Cardinals started just one more rally against Cain, and that was of his own making. It probably wasnt an accident when, leading 7-0, Cains 0-2 fastball plunked Matt Holliday on the arm to start the sixth inning. The Cardinals bull-strong left fielder was owed a little something after his controversial slide wiped out Scutaro at second base in Game 2.

Belt made a reaction catch of Craigs line drive, and after Molina singled, Cain struck out Freese to end his night. Too superstitious to tip his cap, Cain walked off the mound to a standing ovation after 102 pitches.

Bullpen report
Jeremy Affeldt retired Descalso on a pop up to strand both of Cains runners, then he pitched around a walk in a scoreless seventh inning. Affeldt is unscored upon in eight appearances this postseason and owns a 1.53 ERA in 20 career playoff games.

Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez subdued the Cardinals in the eighth, then Lopez allowed two of his four batters to reach in the ninth. Under a downpour, manager Bruce Bochy went to Sergio Romo to face Holliday and four pitches later, Scutaro saw a pop fly through the raindrops, punched the air with his fist and the Giants celebrated their second trip to the World Series in three years.

At the plate
Several Giants remarked that they let Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse off the hook in Game 3, when they collected 12 baserunners but just one run in his 5 23 innings. They vowed that they wouldnt let that happen again.

They were right.

Lohse had tame stuff and a hit-me slider, and the Giants acted like lunchroom bullies to put him under constant duress. They scored a run in the first inning when Angel Pagan singled, took third on Scutaros classic hit-and-run single a 2-1 slider to right field -- and scored on Pablo Sandovals RBI ground out that Lohse fielded on the first base side of the mound.

The bottom of the lineup didnt make it easy on Lohse in the second inning, either. Gregor Blanco hit a one-out single and Cain proved no slouch with two outs, barreling up a slider for a hard single up the middle that sent Blanco diving across the plate. It was the third consecutive game that a Giants pitcher collected an RBI, combined with Ryan Vogelsongs butcher-boy grounder and Barry Zitos sneak attack bunt.

Lohse and the Cardinals suffered a system collapse in the third inning, as the Giants sent 11 men to the plate and scored five runs. Scutaro started yet another rally, whistling a single to increase his NLCS average to .500. Sandoval, who has been on most every pitch in this series, followed by taking an outside pitch down the left field line for a double. Sandoval raised his arms in something that resembled an NFL sack dance as he stood on second base. Buster Posey didnt bite on a 3-2 pitch, drawing a walk to load the bases and send Cardinals manager Mike Matheny out to give Lohse the hook.

But Matheny didnt go to Trevor Rosenthal, his TNT-throwing right-hander. He turned to Joe Kelly instead, and thats when things got weird.

Kellys first pitch, a 95 mph fastball, splintered Pences bat halfway up the handle. That was the first impact. His loosened barrel traveled through the zone faster than the ball. That was the second impact. And because the ball needed a bit more coaxing, hide and wood kissed one more time.

A pool-hall shark couldnt have created more english on the ball. It shot in an unexpected direction past Kozma, who broke the wrong way toward third base as two runs scored. When center fielder Jon Jay dropped the ball, third base coach Tim Flannery aggressively sent Posey, who scored from first base without a play.

It was one of the flukiest hits youll ever see, and all of the sudden, every physical law favored the Giants. They led 5-0, and the Cardinals reactor shield continued to superheat from there.

Belt chopped a single off Kellys bare hand, Blanco walked to load the bases and Kozma, now fully on tilt, tried to throw for the force at home after picking up Crawfords grounder. He might have had a chance if the Cardinals had pulled in their infielders, but Matheny had them at double-play depth. Kozmas throw was hopelessly late as Pence scored, then descended the dugout steps to a raucous reception.

The Giants completed their rally when Pagan beat out a double-play grounder, allowing Belt to score and make it a 7-0 lead. It would have been even worse for the Cardinals if first baseman Allen Craig hadnt stopped Sandovals line drive with the bases loaded to end the inning.

Rosenthal struck out the side when he finally appeared in the sixth inning, but the Giants didnt mail in any at-bats against the Cardinals bullpen. Belt licked some icing when he turned on a 98 mph fastball down and in from Mitchell Boggs, clearing it over the steam cannons for a solo home run in the eighth.

Scutaro was 3 for 4 to finish 14 for 28 in the series -- breaking Will Clark's franchise record for the most hits in an NLCS.

In field
The Tigers have been trying to keep sharp by scrimmaging against a team of prospects culled from instructional league. It only seemed like the Cardinals were filling that role against the Giants

While the Cardinals broke down, the Giants held firm. Scutaro, Belt and Crawford each tamped down rallies with huge plays.

Attendance
The Giants announced 43,056 paid to see just the second Game 7 in San Francisco and the first since the deciding game of the 1962 World Series. This time, Bobby Richardson did not play a role. And somewhere, Charlie Brown and Linus are smiling.

Up next
By virtue of the National Leagues victory in the All-Star Game (oh, and thanks, Melky!) the Giants will play host to Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday at AT&T Park. The Detroit Tigers are expected to send right-hander Justin Verlander to the mound, likely against left-hander Barry Zito. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. PDT.

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ty Blach is the young one in the race to be the fifth starter, but on Sunday he sounded like a veteran. Asked if he has gotten a hint one way or the other about his opening day role, Blach smiled.

“I’m just taking it day-by-day and trying to get better,” Blach said. “I’m enjoying the process and having fun.”

Smooth. 

Those days are adding up to a nice spring for Blach, the left-hander trying to unseat Matt Cain. While Bruce Bochy didn’t shed any additional light on the current lean, team officials hinted Sunday that this is not as open-and-shut as it seems. Matt Cain, who will start Tuesday, looked like a lock to be the fifth starter a week ago, but the Giants are considering all options because they have an off day during the first week and two more shortly thereafter. 

“We’ve had discussions every day,” Bochy said. “We’ve got some tough calls.”

The Giants are expected to announce their official rotation when they return home for the Bay Bridge Series. Whether he’s starting, long-relieving, or pitching in a completely new role, Blach has certainly done all he can to make sure he’s in the big leagues on April 2. He gave up two runs over six innings Sunday, walking one and striking out one while giving up seven hits. Blach has allowed 10 runs in 20 1/3 innings this spring, but four of those came when he was ambushed coming out of the bullpen one day.

“Wherever I’ll be, I know I’ll be in a good spot,” Blach said. “I’m just looking forward to getting the season rolling.

After pitching out of the bullpen most of the spring, Blach got his pitch count up to 85 on Sunday. 

“We’ve gotten him stretched out,” Bochy said. “That’s a solid, solid job. We’ve got guys stretched out where you want them. We’ve got some flexibility. We’ll see as we get close here which way we’ll go.”

POSITION BATTLES: The Giants will carry a backup for Denard Span, and for about a month it looked like Gorkys Hernandez would be that guy. But Hernandez has slumped so badly this spring that he went over the minor league facility Sunday to get a ton of extra at-bats, and Justin Ruggiano has emerged, reaching base in nine of his last 16 plate appearances. The plan a few days back was for Ruggiano to go to Sacramento and get 50 or so at-bats to see where he’s at, but this is another race that could change in the coming week. 

Cory Gearrin has done his part to hold off any charging relievers, throwing two sharp innings while going back-to-back for the first time this spring. 

FAMILIAR FACES: A rough day for a couple of longtime Giants. Ehire Adrianza and Gregor Blanco both have oblique injuries, hurting their odds of breaking with the Twins and Diamondbacks, respectively. Elsewhere, David Hernandez showed that he made a smart decision asking for his release. He was signed by the Braves. 

AROUND CAMP: Hunter Pence really does do all he can to make every single teammate feel welcome in the clubhouse. He spent some time with young right-hander Roberto Gomez on Sunday morning, learning a few Spanish phrases. When the players went out to warm up, Pence threw with Jae-Gyun Hwang. These are small gestures, but for the new guys, they matter. 

BARRY’S BACK: We all knew Barry Bonds would step into the cage at some point, and on a quiet Sunday morning, there he was. Bonds, 52, took about five or six easy hacks before crushing one out to deep right. He’s still got it. The other day, reporters asked Bonds if he could suit up in the WBC if asked. He said he can absolutely still hit, but he would need to DH and he would need a day or two off before games. Being a big league hitter is not easy, even if he always made it look that way.

 

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants knew Barry Bonds would step back into the box at some point. It happened Sunday, with Bonds taking a few cracks at BP pitches from Gary Davenport.

Bonds warmed up with a couple of lighter swings and then blasted a homer to deep right. That was enough, as the 52-year-old walked away with a big smile on his face. 

Bonds is in camp as a special instructor, and he still picks his spots to show off his legendary swing. When he was the Marlins' hitting coach last season, he beat slugger Giancarlo Stanton in an impromptu home run derby.