SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 18: Angel Pagan #16 congratulates Melky Cabrera #53 of the San Francisco Giants after he hit the game winning hit that scored Brandon Belt #9 in the 11th inning of their game against the Philadelphia Phillies at AT&T Park on April 18, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Even if the Giants had lost this game, it would have been a special game. I mean, no one really remembers who won the 16-inning duel between Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal, right? It happened, and it was cool, and more than 40 years later, everyone still talks about it. It doesn't matter who won or lost.
Wait, no. The Giants won it, 1-0. That does make the story cooler, I suppose. And it was a walk-off homer from Willie Mays. Right, right. That did make the game much, much more legendary.
Okay, nothing will ever top that game. But this game would have been memorable either way. Like the time the Giants hit into a record seven double plays. That must have been the most annoying baseball game in San Francisco history. And for a team that eventually came in second place, it was a horrific way to lose. But it was an amazing baseball game. They play 162 of these things every year, but that one was the one with seven double plays. It was worth it. Kind of. After a few decades.
If the Giants would have lost tonight, it still would have been remembered as the Cliff Lee/Matt Cain duel -- a saga about two pitching titans at the height of their powers.
It would have stung tonight.
It would have made you wince in a month.
On the year anniversary, you would have sighed with a rueful smile.
Two years from now, you would have had a strong-but-begrudging respect for it.
Ten years from now, you would have swapped stories about it with your cellmate like it was no big deal.
It was just a tremendous baseball game, and in retrospect, it probably wouldn't have been a good reason to freak out and stab that pedestrian, gurgling something about Matt Cain and run support as you flossed with the dying man's larynx. In a decade, we all would have laughed about this, except for the murder part.
So it's probably better that they won.
Yeah, it was probably better that they won. The best part was the winning.
So much second-guessing in a game like this! Oh boy oh boy oh boy. The two main mini-controversies:
- Hitting for Matt Cain in the ninth
- Bunting Angel Pagan after Hector Sanchez reached
By pinch-hitting for Cain -- who had 32 pitches in the game by my unofficial count -- Bochy inadvertently gave him a no-decision. By giving away an out in the ninth, Bochy was playing against the percentages.
Both times, I agreed with Bochy. He managed the in-game stuff just fine tonight.
The Mark Gardner Theorem posits that you pinch-hit for the damn pitcher. It's a simple theorem, and it's sort of a blunt weapon that isn't perfect in every situation, but you have to pinch-hit for the pitcher in that spot. He's leading off the bottom of the ninth. What's the advantage? That Cain gets the win if the Giants score in the next two innings? I thought we all agreed pitcher wins were silly little things. How about instead of "wins", we just call them "style points" for a game like this. Now say it again.
"Bochy should have let Cain hit in the ninth so he could get style points!"
Style points, an extra life, a ruffly, ruffly ribbon … pick whatever term you want to swap in, but that's what you're rooting for when you let your pitcher lead off the ninth in a game like that.
And once Sanchez reached base, bunting Pagan was absolutely the right move. The run matrix suggests that teams score more runs with a runner on first and no outs than with a runner on second and one out. That's the math.
But the odds of a single run scoring are better with a runner on second and one out. The Giants didn't need a big inning; they needed a run. A runner has about a 38-percent chance of scoring from first with no outs, and about a 41-percent chance of scoring from second with one out. It's a small difference. But the odds are better with a successful bunt.
That's the catch -- the bunt has to be successful. They are about 75-percent of the time, give or take. The 25-percent chance that the bunt doesn't work futzes up the odds in the previous paragraph. So unless you have some sort of bat-control bunt-wizard at the plate, it's probably not worth it.
That's for general situations, though. In this actual situation, it was Cliff Lee making the Giants look like fools. Absolute fools. By not bunting, you're hoping for either a) two positive outcomes against Lee, or b) one extra-base hit. By bunting, you're hoping for one hit. One error. One something. When it's Cliff Lee at his best, you hope he screws up once instead of hoping he'll screw up twice with an extra out.
Does that make sense? Matt Cain.
Matt Cain's done this before. Both the hard-luck, 1-0, extra-inning, no-decision thing, and the I'm-just-not-going-to-give-up-runs-over-a-stretch-of-several-outings thing. I think the important thing to remember is that Matt Cain is good.