NLDS Game 1: Giants Fall to Reds

Jeff Gross - Getty Images

Matt Cain wasn't sharp, and the line drives weren't falling. So it goes.

This game was the devil plopping down on the barstool next to you. Slick hair, slick suit. The devil. Lucifer. Mephistopheles. Ol' Scratch. He sits down next you and mumbles something like, "Hey, what's it worth to you to have Mat Latos hang a bunch of pitches in this series."

Sure, sure. I'm listening.

"It won't be the same Latos. He won't be sharp. He won't have command. There will be pitches left up in the zone."

Yeah, sounds great.

"I can promise a bunch of hard-hit balls by the Giants, too. Line drives every which way. Hell, I'll even throw a Cain shot in there. With the bases loaded. How about that?"

Cool, cool.

"And if you're down by two in the ninth, I'll give you runners all over the place in the bottom half. I'll even spot you a run."

This sounds too good to be true.

"All I'll need is your soul."

Ooh. I'm kind of using that.

"I will accept $50."

Wait, you're just Terry, the guy from the triplex next door.

"I'll do this for $5. All I want is a gin and tonic. Can you spot me $5?"

Terry, go home.

"Mat Latos really is an assface, you know."

I know.

And it's not sour grapes to suggest that Latos was pitching poorly. I've watched many a Latos start. I've seen the good ones, the ones where he carves up the Giants like so much corned beef, brisket, and turkey, served on delicious little buns for $9 or so.

This was not that Mat Latos. He was off. He wasn't who we thought he was, and we let him off the hook. When Latos is at his best, there's a beauty, an artistry, to the ugliness, like a nude Willem Dafoe giving a soliloquy from Henry V. That wasn't the Latos we watched tonight.

While the Giants helped him out by flailing at the occasional stinker, there were also a lot of fouls back to the screen, or over the backstop. There were good swings that ended up as strikes. Those didn't help.

It's not sour grapes to suggest the Giants hit into some bad luck, either. I can come up with a bunch off the top of my head: Matt Cain with the bases loaded, Brandon Belt lining into a double play, Pablo Sandoval to Cozart, and Scutaro to Ludwick, who trolled us all before his shopping-cart-down-the-stairs barrel roll. If any one of those plays goes differently, the Giants might have had something. Instead, nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Constant pokes in the eye, this game.

That isn't to say the Giants necessarily deserved to win, or that the baseball gods hosed them, or something like that. Matt Cain hung the fattest pitch I've ever seen him hang. That's a pitch that deserved to fly into the bleachers. There were other mistakes and related nonsense.

I don't think Cain pitched that poorly, and in retrospect, I kind of like the decision to get Cain out early in case the Giants need him on three-day's rest. The magic wasn't there, the toothpaste was out of the tube, and a bullpen game wasn't the worst idea. He probably could have fought on for another two innings. There wasn't much of a reason for that, other than style points.

Look, I've been doing this for a while. You've been watching baseball for much longer, most likely. This game didn't feel like a moribund offense, going through the motions. There were things I didn't like, but this didn't have the feeling of a team that was doomed to fail. There were millimeters here, millimeters there, a few stupid at-bats, and a few screwy rolls of the dice.

That doesn't mean that I don't want to stab something right now.

Star-divide

In the NLDS era, here are the years in which the Giants won Game 1:

2000
2002
2003
2010

They hadn't lost a first game of their first playoff series since 1997. And it's a wide cross-section there, ranging from first-round exits to pennants to a championship, so I'm not trying to make some sort of grandiose point that the Giants are better off. But there are still a couple of games left, at least.

And, more importantly, how glad are you not to be a Braves or Rangers fan right now? One and done, after 162 games? I used to think a best-of-five was cruel. But, man, those one-game playoffs are miserable. The Giants won two of the series in which they jumped out to a series advantage, and they lost two. There will be time for freakouts. That time is not now.

Star-divide

I had a bad feeling when there was ebullient cheering when Johnny Cueto left with an injury in the first. It was probably a minority of over-exuberant jackasses who were all hopped up on Blue Angel dust, but it still made me uncomfortable. You want the Giants to beat Cueto 1-0 on a seventh-inning bloop, not on a back spasm after eight pitches.

The karma cannon shot out the hittable unhittable Mat Latos at us. Sweet. That'll do, baseball gods. That will do.

Star-divide

It was good to see Uncomfortable Aroldis Chapman. It was really good, actually. He's a funky dude with a funky history. There are gremlins in that arm, flicking switches and pulling levers. And it'd be swell if the Giants could get an exciting come-from-behind win against him, just once.

Again, we're talking millimeters and fractions of a second. That's how close Pablo Sandoval was to making us all delirious. He was sitting on a first-pitch fastball, and he got it. He got a second-pitch fastball too. And Buster Posey got a first pitch fastball, too. He was right on it.

It makes you appreciate the times when it does work, when there is that game-winning homer.

It also makes you want to sleep so you can forget about this whole thing.

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