Tipsheet: Will Game 4 become a Freak show?
They knew Game 3 of the National League Championship Series was pivotal and yet they lost with their best starter, Matt Cain, on the mound.
How could a team put so many runners on base and score only once? It was baffling, for sure, but manager Bruce Bochy has no time to dwell on the past.
With his starting rotation in tatters, Bochy opted to play his one remaining card -- pulling former ace Tim Lincecum out of the bullpen to see if he can pull his team even.
Cardinal fans were no doubt surprised to see Lincecum reduced to a middle relief role in these playoffs, but they didn’t have to sit through his horrific collapse this season. Now the man known as “The Freak” will try to rise up when his team needs him most.
Here is what the pundits had to say about that:
Albert Chen, SI.com: “For the Giants, down 2-1 in the series, here comes their unlikely October weapon, the biggest X-factor in this series . . . and maybe the entire postseason. Enter the Freak. Here's the thing: no one knows for sure which Tim Lincecum will show up when he throws his first pitch in Game 4 --- and that's what makes Thursday night in St. Louis so fascinating.”
Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports: “Every year provides referenda on past vs. present, who you were vs. who you are. Alex Rodriguez was the game's best player. He is now the guy being benched for Eduardo Nunez. Next up is Tim Lincecum. He was the game's best pitcher. He is now the guy whom the Giants sent into relief to start Barry Zito. This one start will not answer the question of who Lincecum will be – a washout whose league-worst 5.18 ERA indicates the beginning of a quick and painful downfall or the victim of a bad season bound to recover – nor is it trying to. What's material in the postseason is how someone is playing now. It is a season for small-sample-size guesses, for gut feelings – for a marriage of numbers and scouting. And based as much on the latter as the former, Bochy is convinced that the Lincecum who revealed himself over the past two weeks as a crack relief pitcher – 8 1/3 innings, one run, one walk, nine strikeouts – is more real than the up-and-down mess who time and again followed one good start with a handful of bad ones.”
Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle: “Lincecum has proved a lot of things in these two weeks, both to himself and to the Giants. No one could be sure how he'd respond to being taken out of the starting rotation, to being used out of the bullpen, to being uncertain of his role. Two years ago, he delivered a World Series to San Francisco. But at various times in his career, he has been accused of a lack of focus or immaturity. This October, he has accepted his role without complaint.”
Gwenn Knapp, Sports on Earth: “After losing Game 3 to the Cardinals, Giants manager Bruce Bochy announced that, yes, the most decorated player on his team would be promoted from middle relief. Bochy had no other reasonable choice. The other options, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner, had not delivered much beyond anxiety in their postseason appearances. There's more to it than a default, though. Lincecum seduced Bochy. He beguiled his way back into the rotation with three stalwart relief appearances that blurred the memories of a 10-15 regular season, a 5.18 ERA and two wan final starts. One can assume that he barely made the playoff roster at all -- who carries five starters in the postseason? -- except for the quirks that allow him to relieve in a way that few starters can, and a history that demanded his presence. The Giants didn't owe it to Lincecum to keep him for the playoffs. They owed it to themselves.”
CARDINAL GRIT EARNS PRAISE
On the Cardinal side of the NLCS, it was business as usual. Carlos Beltran tweaked a chronically sore knee and scrappy Matt Carpenter stepped in to crush a two-run homer. Shane Robinson drove in the other run with the middle of the Cardinal batting order still slumbering.
Kyle Lohse escaped one jam after another and the power pitchers in the bullpen did their thing. Ho hum, just another resourceful victory for Mike Matheny's team.
Here is how the national media saw this:
Jayson Stark, ESPN.com: “So what won't those St. Louis Cardinals put themselves through to win a postseason baseball game, huh? That whole one-strike-away thing? Mastered. That death-defying, six-runs-behind-and-live-to-tell-about-it act? Done. That fabled infield-fly-rule magic? Been there. Done it. And that old gong-the-starter-in-the-second-inning trick? Perfected that one, too. So you know all that nutty stuff that happened to them in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday? Why the heck would that be a big deal? A 3½-hour rain delay in the bottom of the seventh inning? . . . A starting pitcher who allows 12 baserunners in 5⅔ innings? . . . The scary sight of Carlos ‘Mr. October’ Beltran grabbing his knee and leaving the game in the second inning? . . . And ripping through the bullpen before the raindrops and then having to ask the closer to rip off the first six-out save of his life? No problema.”
Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News: “Back in 1987, just like this year, these same two teams met in the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals advanced to the World Series when a low-profile utility infielder named Jose Oquendo slammed a three-run homer to win Game 7 and the NLCS. Carpenter's blow Wednesday was not totally Oquendo-esque. It obviously did not decide the series. There is still much baseball to be played. But it will haunt the Giants unless they grab the steering wheel and turn the series back in their favor Thursday night with Tim Lincecum on the mound.”
Jon Heyman, CBSSports.com: “Matheny seems to have the magic touch. And even when he doesn't, something intercedes. In this case it was Beltran's surgically repaired left knee which he ‘jammed’ on first base in the first. Carpenter was actually already a perfect 4 for 4 against Cain going into the game, a pretty amazing record against one of the game's best pitchers.”
Ken Rosenthal, FoxSports.com: “Matheny, in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Nationals, lost an eighth-inning chess match with Davey Johnson when Nats pinch-hitter Tyler Moore hit a go-ahead, two-run single in a right-left matchup against Cards reliever Marc Rzepczynski. One of Matheny’s options in that spot was to insert closer Jason Motte in a double-switch, but the manager said he was not comfortable with the accompanying move — the removal of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig or Yadier Molina from the middle of his lineup. On Wednesday night, Matheny showed no such hesitation, pulling Craig, his cleanup hitter, in a double switch in the middle of the seventh inning. His choice was all the more surprising considering that the Cardinals had just a 2-1 lead at the time, and already had lost their No. 2 hitter, Carlos Beltran, to a left knee strain. Different game, different circumstances. The Giants were threatening against reliever Edward Mujica, who had allowed back-to-back singles with one out. Matheny could have stuck with Mujica, his usual seventh-inning reliever. Instead, he summoned Mitchell Boggs, knowing that a rain delay was imminent — and that the interruption might prevent Boggs from pitching his normal inning, the eighth. Well, Boggs struck out Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt to escape the threat. A delay of 3 hours, 28 minutes hit with two outs in the bottom half, at which point Matheny faced another pivotal decision. He couldn’t bring back Boggs for the eighth after that lengthy a wait. Motte was his best remaining option.”
“Any manager in baseball, they will tell you, if you can get to your closer with a lead, you've done good. I don't give a rat's (ascot) what anybody else thinks. If it's a one-run lead, a two-run lead, you did it.”
Nationals manager Davey Johnson, ruminating on the fateful Game 5 of the NLD