For the Giants, winning requires losing

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For the Giants, winning requires losing

The Giants first seventh game in 50 years wasnt a game at all, but a high-speed parade with bits of debris stuck in the grill work. It was also a tribute to Indonesia during the monsoons, but that was just something for the tourists and the TV folks.And something to scare Giants trainer Dave Groeschner.Im out there scared to death about the mound, that one of our pitchers is going to slip and hurt his arm or something, he said. But I knew the umpires werent going to stop it, and besides, why would we do anything easy?Well, there is that. Even in the final few flooded moments of their 9-0 victory over St. Louis and the propulsion into their second World Series in three years, they couldnt back in. They had to do a little more stunt work first.Hunter Pence hit a three-run double up the middle, three times in one swing. Marco Scutaro sno-coned the final popup. Matt Cain struggled with the strike zone before subduing it, with an RBI single as an exclamation point. And on and on and on into that sodden happy night.BAGGARLY: The Giants win the pennantAnd in 43 hours, they would have to do it all again, and even weirder, against the Detroit Tigers. They do so soaking wet and scorching hot. Comfortable and balancing on a hot knife-edge. And looking for one more way to scare themselves to death, as they have all year.The Giants have embraced this postseason while wearing a damp dynamite overcoat.They didnt overcome adversity as much as they kicked it in the throat. They didnt overcome the threat of elimination as much as they wore it like a shiny orange fez.The Giants, in short, are the 2010 team, only with a death-cheaters swagger they couldnt even pretend to attempt two years ago.And to play this out to the end, they will require one demonstration of proof against the Tigers. After winning their sixth elimination game in 13 days, winning the World Series apparently will require that they lose the first two games of the series.And no, this isnt the third bottle of Tractor Shed Red talking, or the lead paint inhalation problem acting up. This is now what they do.In laying out the Cardinals in such perfectly bizarre fashion, the Giants have made claim to the elimination game as their chosen idiom. With the dark hand of Uncle Death ready to clutch their very throats (or something like that), they outscored the Cardinals, 20-1. And in defying logic, they have refashioned it for themselves.So now you see how the Series has to play out for them to get maximum value. They have to lose Game 1 to Justin Verlander in a 60-mph wind, and Game 2 to Max Scherzer in an unplayable fog. And both games must feature systematically starved seagulls who view the players as grub on the hoof.RELATED: VERLANDER STATSIt isnt the only way to win the Series, and by most analytics it is a stupid way to do it. But it is the way the Giants seem to like it best these days. Its like when we won (Game 5) in St. Louis (behind Zito), Scutaro said while cradling his LCS MVP trophy. It just seemed like the ball started bouncing our way.And when Game 7 came along, the Giants had their best pitcher, the redoubtable Cain.Hey, hes the guy Id want out there, Game 6 winner Ryan Vogelsong said. I think it started with Barry, but it ended with the right guy.Tales will be told of the extraordinary alchemy Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean affected to make this team . . . well, this team. Brian Wilson became Santiago Casilla who became Sergio Romo, the guy who ended it. Tim Lincecum became Vogelsong. Freddy Sanchez became Ryan Theriot who became Scutaro. Carlos Beltran became Melky Cabrera who became Pence. Orlando Cabrera became Brandon Crawford. Madison Bumgarner became Zito. Pablo Sandoval became a much better Sandoval. Brandon Belt, who homered the last run of the series over the steam cannons in right, became a more reliable Brandon Belt.And Cain pretty much stayed the same.Not all these changes worked out ideally, but the Giants arent an ideal team. They have flaws. They are, however, indigestible. The more you tenderize them, the tougher they are to swallow.This strangely zen approach to the task of winning baseball games makes them hard to figure in the Series, even against a Detroit team that had the seventh best record in the American League. And to be sure, this is Detroit team with its own advantages. Verlander comes about as close as a pitcher can come these days to putting the other team two games in the hole. He beat Oakland twice, crushed New York in Game 3 of the ALCS sweep, and is aligned to start Game 1 against the Unsinkable Molly Brown . . . err, Zito.SPOTLIGHT: The Detroit Tigers
So assuming Verlander is Verlander, and as such the best pitcher the Giants have faced since The Disappearing Steven Strasburg subdued them August 15, the Giants may well have to figure out how to win four out of the other five games to reprise their World Series of two years ago.And if that seems unduly pessimistic at a time like this, you may blame them. They choreographed their postseason for maximum shock value. They juggle cleavers. They saw themselves in half. They scare the audience without scaring themselves. They wait until only the foolhardy proceed, and then they break into a dead sprint. This is what they do now. This is who they are.The conditions be damned.

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO — This spring, Hunter Pence briefly tried to cut back on his coffee intake. The experiment did not last long for a player who is pure caffeine on and off the field, but even Pence is occasionally in need of more than a large cold brew. 

Pence tried to stay upbeat throughout a sluggish start to the season, but around him was a clubhouse in need of energy. Christian Arroyo walked through the door on Monday. Two days later, Michael Morse arrived.

“That’s quite an energy jolt,” Pence said of Arroyo. “Morse, it’s been an energy jolt as well.”

The two recent River Cats sent a pair of jolts through a stadium that was sold out for the 499th consecutive time. Arroyo hit a two-run homer in the seventh, his first in the big leagues. Morse went deep in the eighth for his first big league hit in two years and first homer as a Giant since the 2014 NLCS. 

Pence is close friends with Morse and and admirer of Arroyo, the 21-year-old who has taken a locker a few feet away. He made sure neither jolt went to waste, hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to give the Giants a thrilling 4-3 win they hope they can build on.

“That was a shot in the arm,” Morse said.

The big slugger was just that earlier Wednesday. Morse agreed to terms on a minor league deal at Pence’s wedding last winter and he was on track for opening day before a hamstring injury. He was so excited by Wednesday’s call back to San Francisco that he beat Bruce Bochy to the park. The manager tried to lower expectations before the game, telling reporters that Morse would not be a regular starter, especially in left, where the Giants have watched a black hole open. 

Morse was here for the late innings, for the moment when Bochy looks at him and says simply, “Get ready, Mo.” For most of Wednesday’s game, it looked like that big moment wouldn’t come. Alex Wood took a no-hitter into the sixth but he was pulled in the seventh by a Dodgers staff trying to protect his arm. Sergio Romo entered and soon faced a kid who was 19 the first time he walked into Romo’s clubhouse. 

“He’s been doing the same thing in the big leagues with good results for a long time,” Arroyo said. 

Arroyo got the slider that’s always coming, low and away, and he drilled it deep to left-center. He hit only three homers last year but Giants management felt the 36 doubles at Richmond showed a developing power bat. The strength has come quickly, and the ball carried into the first row of seats. 

“I looked up and saw the ump waving and I was like, ‘I’ve got to slow down,’” Arroyo said, smiling. “I tried to slow down and take it all in.”

As Arroyo crossed the plate and looked to the sky, his family shared hugs — without spilling a nacho — in a section overlooking the home dugout. The ballpark roared. A 3-0 deficit had been nearly erased. 

“Now it’s a one-run game,” Bochy said. “Anything can happen.”

Even by that standard, Morse’s blast was improbable. This is a player who didn’t have a hit last season before being sent home by the Pittsburgh Pirates. A player who, at 35, was having a poor spring before he announced to a reporter one day that he was going to hit a homer -- and then promptly did. On a rehab assignment over the past week, Morse had a .250 average and no homers, but he insisted to general manager Bobby Evans that his swing was ready. 

Evans believed, and Morse rewarded him with a moment that had everyone in the park throwing it back to 2014. Just as in the deciding game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Morse was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. Sidewinding Pat Neshek was replaced by fire-balling Pedro Baez, but the approach was the same. 

“Swing hard,” Morse said. “Just in case you hit it.”

Baez kept pumping fastballs and Morse turned on one at 97 mph. He raised his arm the same way he did three years ago, an inning before Travis Ishikawa’s heroics. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Bochy said. “I was thinking about that game against St. Louis.”

All the Giants were. 

“You kind of just sit there and shake your head a little bit because it was very similar to his last homer here,” Posey said. “Even his excitement out of the box was similar.”

Morse said he didn’t intend to strike the same pose. 

“I was like, ‘I hope I didn’t strike out and I’m just running around the bases,’” he said, laughing. “It was cool, man. Not only for me, but for the team.”

For four innings, the surging bullpen made sure the homers would not be a fun footnote to another loss. Gorkys Hernandez kicked off the winning rally in the 10th with a single. He was pushed along by a stolen base, walk and bunt. Pence stepped in with no outs and engaged in one of the strangest battles of a career full of them. 

Ross Stripling, a starter with a deep repertoire, kept pumping 94 mph fastballs up near Pence’s eyes. Pence swung through one, fouled off five, and took three more for balls. Only one of the pitches he saw was in the strike zone. In the dugout, Posey shook his head in amusement. 

“It was kind of hard not to laugh,” Posey said. “He’s probably the only guy who can do that.”

Some Giants couldn’t hold the laughter in, even in a tense spot.

“He had that ‘Thou shall not walk’ going in that at-bat,” Bochy said. “He probably expanded as much as I’ve ever seen. If he would have walked it would have gone down as one of the more amazing walks with all the balls he swung at.”

On a night full of so much energy, a walk would have been an anticlimactic ending. Pence, who had been expecting a curveball the whole at-bat, lofted a 10th fastball deep enough to left to score Arroyo and send the Giants streaming out of the dugout. 

Arroyo, the youngest of them all, went sprinting across the infield. Morse followed, and soon he had Pence wrapped in a hug. Hours earlier, he had promised that at the very least, he would bring energy to the clubhouse. He delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

“To do that is one of those special moments that can change a season,” Pence said. “It was electric ... Morsey being Morsey.”

Instant Replay: Arroyo, Morse go deep, Giants walk off on Dodgers

Instant Replay: Arroyo, Morse go deep, Giants walk off on Dodgers

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Morse hoped to bring a little levity to a battered clubhouse Wednesday. On his first day as a Giant since the 2014 World Series, he ended up bringing the most thrilling win of the season. 

Morse’s pinch-hit homer in the eighth shook AT&T Park and tied the game. His good friend Hunter Pence won it with a sacrifice fly in the 10th, giving the Giants a 4-3 win over the Dodgers. 

The 10th-inning rally started with Gorkys Hernandez’s single off Ross Stripling. Hernandez stole second and Conor Gillaspie drew a walk, and both runners were safe when Adrian Gonzalez went to third on Nick Hundley’s bunt. Pence flied out to deep left on the 10th pitch of his at-bat. The Giants had been 0-13 when trailing after seven. Morse  helped change all that.

Morse’s homer came an inning after Christian Arroyo’s first career homer. The newcomers saved a night that started with nothing but failure. 

The Giants entered with four games this month where they failed to put a runner on the first time through the order. Lefty Alex Wood stayed with the theme. Brandon Belt finally touched first with a one-out walk in the fourth but it wasn’t until the sixth that a Giant — Drew Stubbs — picked up a hit.

By that time, the Dodgers led 3-0. Johnny Cueto worked around some early trouble but Corey Seager got to him in the sixth. The young shortstop led off with a mammoth blast on a 3-2 pitch that landed a couple dozen rows up in left-center. The homer was tracked at 462 feet per Statcast, tied for the longest in the Majors this season.

The Dodgers went up 2-0 when Chase Utley blooped a single to left with the bases loaded. Utley was 1-for-31 at the time. Andrew Toles beat out a grounder to bring home a third run. 

The Giants looked dead in the water, but Wood — the Dodgers’ swingman — was pulled after 77 pitches and old friend Sergio Romo immediately opened the door. Buster Posey hit a one-out single and Arroyo lined a slider just over the fence in left-center.

Morse’s first at-bat as a Giant in three years sent an even bigger charge through the park. He got a 97 mph fastball from Pedro Baez with two strikes and blasted it to left. Morse held his arm up right away and screamed as he rounded first.

Starting pitching report: Cueto was charged with three runs on seven hits and two walks. He’ll finish April with a 5.10 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. After holding opposing hitters to a .238 average last year, he’s getting hit at a .271 clip this season. 

Bullpen report: Steven Okert did a great job of settling the place down, throwing a scoreless inning before Arroyo’s homer and retiring two more immediately after. 

At the plate: The 21-year-old Arroyo calmly clapped his hands once as he rounded first. He was pushed out of the dugout for a curtain call as the park roared. Most impressive of all, his mom, Kimberly, didn’t drop a single nacho as she celebrated in the stands.

In the field: Stubbs made a diving catch to open the seventh and Gorkys Hernandez followed with a nifty sliding catch at the wall.

Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,572 human beings. Thursday will be the 500th consecutive (announced) sellout.

Up next: Matt Moore (1-3, 5.87 ERA) will try to turn his month around. The Dodgers will trot out young lefty Julio Urias, who spent three weeks in the minors to control his innings count.