Reminder: That was a meaningless game. You could mutter it under your breath, over and over, using it as a mantra to clear your thoughts. The Giants are the third seed in the National League. They aren't getting home-field advantage unless the winner of the Braves/Cardinals game takes out the Nationals.
But there's no such thing as a meaningless game when there's a chance to eliminate the Dodgers from postseason contention. Fine. But if the Dodgers won on Tuesday night, they'd have to win again on Wednesday, hope the Cardinals lose on Wednesday, fly to St. Louis, win there, then fly to Atlanta and win, just to get to a real playoff series. If they did all that, then they'd get to face the Nationals in a best-of-five series. Not bloody likely.
So it was meaningless.
Except, did any part of that seem meaningless? Was there a Giants fan out there who was idly watching this game, a bemused look on his or her face, pleasantly watching to see how the whole thing played out? That felt like Game 6 of the NLCS, with Howard up and the tying and winning runs on base. It shouldn't have. It did.
Here's the validating part, though. It wasn't just a bunch of hyper-fans with misguided priorities. The Giants played it like it was Game 6. Bochy managed it like it was Game 6. The game meant something to everyone, from George Kontos fighting for a roster spot, to Barry Zito fighting to start the first Giants playoff game of his career, to Sergio Romo hating the Dodgers because he is pure of heart. The cheers and the fire in the dugout weren't fake. The meaningless game meant something to everyone.
And while it was going on, I wasn't thinking about sad Dodger fans. I wasn't thinking about Stan Kasten making a cup of tea to settle his upset stomach and broken heart. I wasn't thinking about Adrian Gonzalez having his first career postseason appearance ripped away from him at the last second for the third straight year.
Although that last one is pretty funny.
No, I was thinking of the Dodgers as a monolithic entity, a faceless golem that the Giants simply had to beat. Why follow sports if you can't get irrationally hooked on a rivalry? And a come-from-behind win here meant the Dodgers had a chance and some hope. It wouldn't take long to snowball into something more, and the next thing you know, the Dodgers are the Giants' opponent in the NLCS.
(That's my big fear, by the way. The Giants and Dodgers in the NLCS. It's been a substantial fear of mine since the wild card was implemented. It's not that I think the Giants can't beat the Dodgers. It's just too much stress to even contemplate. The Giants and Dodgers in a best-of-seven series for a trip to the World Series. Screw that. I'll just move to a commune and grow beets. Nothing would make me drop out of society quicker. I don't need that kind of stress.)
Instead, there's a peaceful calm. The Giants won the NL West, and the Dodgers can't even sneak in under the newfangled diplomatic immunity of the second wild card. There is still more baseball. Another parade would be swell. But this is already a season that gets put up with the best of the best -- 1987, 1989, 1997. It's so, so rare to a) have the Dodgers as direct competitors, b) win the division, and c) eliminate them late in the season.
And if I see Guillermo Mota anywhere near a real Game 6, I'll cut someone. This was a trip in the flight simulator. The plane crashed into the mountain. Learn from it.
So Barry Zito pitched himself into the rotation, did he? Okay. Against a Reds team that pummels lefties, I'd rather go with Vogelsong, but I can't deny that Zito looked fantastic on Tuesday. The curve was stellar again, as it has been for the last quarter of the season. His cutslidecutter was moving, and he even touched 86 a time or two. Got a beep from Kim, if you want to get into the details.
I've pretty much made peace with it. It's what-have-you-done-for-me-lately thinking, when baseball seems like a lot more from the outside. But maybe Zito's really found something that he had lost. Maybe the curve and the improved command within the strike zone isn't just a mirage. Really, it'll be a decade of title-free seasons before I'm not feeling like we're playing with house money. Throw Zito out there.
/takes a shot
Whatever. He sure pitched well in his last game of the regular season. I'm not going to suggest that he deserves the rotation spot by way of longevity and tribulation alone. However, he's certainly a redemption story I'd love to tell my grandkids. The Tale of the Guy Who Was Kind of Sucky for Six Years Until … That'd be a magnificent part of any franchise's lore, to be sure.
Not buying it. But I'd like to buy it! Just give me a warranty.
Keep your Jim Tracys. Nuts to your Clint Hurdles. Don Mattingly is consistently, eternally the most baffling in-game manager I've ever watched.
Don Mattingly: Have him walk Pagan to get to Scutaro.
Trey Hillman: Walk Pagan? But Scutaro is 75 for his last 76. Pagan's kind of slumping. Do we really …
Mattingly: Have him walk Pagan to get to Scutaro. He's 1-for-19 against Jamey Wright.
Hillman: When? When Wright was on the Giants and Scutaro was on the A's? When Scutaro was on the Blue Jays and he had an appearance against Wright when he was on the Royals? When Scutaro was on the Red Sox, and he hit a line drive against Wright straight to the Mariners' center fielder? What in the absolute hell does that have to do with right now?
Mattingly: Have him walk Pagan to get to Scutaro. Then bunt Scutaro over.
Hillman: That doesn't even …
Mattingly Bunt Scutaro over, then bunt Wright over to third, and have him pitch to Scutaro from third base. Scutaro doesn't have a hit against Wright when facing him in second-third-movable-mound situations. I have to go. My keepers are calling me. My handlers are bidding me home. I'll miss you Trey. There are others like you on my home planet. Bunt something for your wife. Tell her it's from me.
I get frustrated with Bochy. Oh, boy, how I get frustrated with Bochy. But Don Mattingly is Cap'n Perspective over there in the other dugout.
He put a runner on base to face Marco Scutaro. That run decided the ballgame. The game eliminated the Dodgers.
Don Mattingly. I think I might get a Giants jersey with Mattingly's name and number on the back. He's the best.
Remember how you felt on July 29. Going from that to this is why you follow sports.