Some nights, it seem, are meant to be seared into your memory bank no matter how badly you wish otherwise. October 26, 2002 officially stunk its way into my “Bad Day Hall of Fame” at approximately 9:30PDT. There was no balloting or second-guessing needed. I didn’t have to conduct any over-long debates with myself over how the day’s suckery measured against those of previous inductees – such as the day in the 6th grade when a police car hit me while riding my bike to school. Or the day I managed to leave my left pinky in the door way just as my older brother proceeded to slam said door shut, causing my pinky nail to fall off in a bloody mess.
Ten twenty six oh two will forever be filed in my scarred psyche under the heading “GAME 6” – the night my beloved San Francisco Giants stood 8 outs away from the first World Series championship in its history only to falter in the final 2 2/3 innings to a team that, like Voldemort, shall remain unnamed. The loss of Game 6 made the outcome of the subsequent deciding Game 7 a foregone conclusion. Just thinking about it makes me want to go outside and punch an unusually aggressive homeless man.
But first, some context.
I inherited my love of this woe-bygone team from my Mom; as quietly undercover of a baseball fan as you’ve ever seen. If she wasn’t watching the games on TV, then she was listening to Jon Miller call them on her little AM/FM Walkman. I think she liked the drama of being a Giants fan -- the perpetual tease involved with following a team that always seemed good enough to get near the playoffs, yet never enough to actually bring home a title. I suppose that’s why I got hooked as well. I started following the team during the Will Clark/Kevin Mitchell/Roger Craig “Hum Baby” years and became a full-fledged fan in 1993 when the team signed a spry, young, superstar named Barry Lamar Bonds. The next 17 years would prove to be a challenge in just how masochistic a sports fan could feel.
It’s been said that the best way to achieve closure is to confront painful memories head on and consciously decide to move past them. Eleven years and two World Series titles later and I swear I’m still trying to forget how miserable I felt. Despite my best efforts to banish the memories of that evening into the furthest recesses of my brain parts, the details refuse to go away like a bad case of herpes.
That season was a roller coaster ride for Giants fans. Within that season, we had witnessed the team sink to a seemingly unrecoverable 3rd place division spot – signified by the infamous dugout brawl between then superstar teammates Bonds and Jeff Kent – only to have that same brawl spark an improbable win streak that would catapult them into the National League Playoff Wild Card berth. The team went on to defeat the Braves in a tightly contested first round and then the Cardinals in the slightly less dramatic but infinitely more enjoyable NLCS. The table had been set for the Giants to represent the National League in the World Series against the team from Southern California that I refuse to acknowledge.
The Giants entered Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead. We had won the first game, lost the second and third, but recovered with wins in Games 4 and 5 to take the series advantage into Game 6’s possible clincher. We had our horse starting that game; Russ Ortiz, who had pitched beautifully all playoffs-long and for whom I had an affinity since I had personally opened he and his wife’s Wells Fargo checking account a year earlier. We took a 5-0 lead into the 7th on excellent pitching and timely offense. I was feeling TREMENDOUS! So tremendous, I called my other fanatically-invested friend to cheer wildly after solo homers by Bonds and the geriatric Shawn Dunston.
And then it all slipped away.
Ortiz got the first out of the 7th before giving up back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second. Now, this move will be second-guessed ad infinitum, but I will defend Dusty Baker’s decision to pull Ortiz in this situation till I no longer care about baseball. Our “big-three” bullpen of Rodriguez, Worrell, and Nen had had a combined 1.7-something ERA throughout the closing months of the season. They had been lights out and despite every sane Giants fan’s trepidation at seeing the notoriously-wobbly-in-clutch-situations Rodriguez entering the game, we all knew that the pen had earned the chance to close the game. Well they didn’t.
You know what? Despite my wanting to close out this entry with a bang, I’m going to have to pull a Felix Rodriguez here and cut it short as I’ve lost all desire to even think about that night any further.
Needless to say, we lost the game 6-5. My friend and I, mildly comatose and in a state of numbed shock, decided to drive into The City and get hammered. I distinctly remember nary a word spoken between us during the drive up as we were both still too stunned to speak. That is until we saw Pac Bell Park. As soon the sight of the ballpark from I280 came into view, a flurry of curse words and screaming filled the car. For ten straight minutes, we let the anger and rage induced by the Giants’ monumental choke release into the ether. And then we got obliterated, which, in a bit of cosmic irony, caused me to forget everything else that happened afterward.