I just wrote a bunch of silly words about Bruce Bochy and Bud Black, but they need a prologue. The Giants lost on Monday night because Will Venable made one of the greatest catches I've ever seen. It was probably the best catch I've ever seen in person. I'm not going to get drunk on hyperbole and call it the greatest catch of the year, decade or century just yet. But it was as good of a catch as I can possibly imagine. Full extension, on the run, perfect break, perfectly timed leap, and the winning run streaking around the bases.
The top three hitters in the Giants' lineup have sproingy hamstrings, mallet fingers, and broken feet. Barry Zito pitched, and the Giants allowed 24 runners. The Giants couldn't hit Edinson Volquez that hard, even though he's like the Jonathan Sanchez of pitching. They couldn't touch a Padres bullpen that's been allowing a ton of homers.
Yet the only reason they lost is because Venable made an absolutely remarkable play.
There will be games the Giants lose on a balk. There will be games they lose on an error, a caught-stealing, or a blown call. They'll lose because the pitching is bad, and they'll lose because the hitting is worse. But very, very rarely will they lose on one of the best defensive plays you'll ever see. When you put it like that, I can almost deal with it.
Hell, I'll watch that six more times tonight. It doesn't even make me mad or frustrated. Losing on that play is like your wife leaving you for Pet Sounds. It's a drag that you're alone, sure, but you'd sleep with Pet Sounds if you had the chance.
With that out of the way, let's explore the managerial decisions of the game. The Giants lost for a myriad of reasons. But the managerial decisions were among the most curious. On June 17, 2013, two of the best strategic managers in the National League West found themselves in the middle of a chess match.
Bochy kept his hand on the knight, but his eyes never left his rook. Black silently urged him to take the bait. Bochy moved the knight and stopped the clock with a quick slap.
Of course, neither of them really knew how to play chess. They're just kind of winging it. And it made for fascinating theater.
Black bounced the ball quickly, a flash of red. It was a clean bounce, and he swept up three pawns before catching the ball with his other hand.
Bochy wiped his brow with his sleeve. Damn, he thought. This guy was good.
The game started with Brandon Crawford hitting third. It's probably not okay to make fun of Crawford until his OPS drops below .700 or so, and he's been hitting well, I suppose. The Giants are slammed with injuries, and Posey was getting the day off, so it's not like there were a lot of aesthetically pleasing combinations out there.
Still … Brandon Crawford hitting third. It just didn't seem like a good omen.
Black's fingers tensed, flitting over the bishop for a split second before going back to the rook. He stopped.
"I'm going to trade my board in."
Before Bochy could reply, Black changed his bishops, rook, pawns, queen, and king in for fresh tiles. He turned them over. Four "E"s and three "I"s. He didn't let his adversary see the disappointment on his face. But Bochy could smell it.
The real chess match didn't start until the late innings. Bud Black used a pinch-hitter to bunt a runner to second in the 10th, giving away an out against a pitcher who looked awful. Bochy countered by leaving the pitcher in for several innings. Sandy Rosario kept pumping meatball after meatball down the plate, pitching like a guy who left the oven on. Padres hitters kept swinging and missing, or swinging and foul-tipping.
Really, I don't remember the last time I saw a late-inning reliever throw as many fastballs down the middle and get away with it. It was like watching Roger Rabbit take care of Baby Herman.
Bochy moved his queen under the dangling mousetrap. Black looked up, stunned.
"You're putting the queen under the mousetrap on purpose?", he said.
Black quickly reached for the dice and started shaking. "Come on … come on … come on …." He threw them on the table.
Snake eyes. The mousetrap wouldn't move, not today. Bochy smiled with his eyes, but his mouth kept the same grimace. Black slunk back in his chair.
The problem with the Giants' bullpen as currently constructed: Rosario is awful, and you certainly can't trust Jake Dunning yet. Jose Mijares shouldn't face right-handed hitters unless the rest of the bullpen is eaten by wolves and Brandon Belt isn't available to pitch. Javier Lopez has his moments against righties, but he's not exactly a full-inning guy, either. It's a thin bullpen, with injuries and disappointments messing up the best-laid plans.
But I still can't believe that Rosario started the 12th inning. He had to be the worst option available. But it worked. Kind of. It took some amazing Javier Lopez magic to work, but the Padres still didn't score. And because Black wasted Amarista on a pinch-bunt, there would be a pitcher up for the Padres the next inning. If they got there.
Bochy moved the queen back to the triple-word score. He flipped over his hand and counted. "Fifteen for two, and a pair makes four." He plucked a pink peg from the pile and taped it to the queen. She would make a good mother to this peg-daughter. She would be stern but fair. Like him.
At no point did Bochy decide to use Buster Posey as a pinch-hitter. The Giants' best hitter stayed on the bench. Hector Sanchez left, Guillermo Quiroz came in. Buster Posey never came in.
Black moved his king one square up.
"King," Black said.
"Bomb," Bochy replied. He picked up the king and ate it. "Checkmate, my friend. Checkmate."
And then Posey came in on a double-switch. Brandon Belt was pulled. The move guaranteed that Posey would hit after the pitcher's spot came up … which is the exact opposite of why a manager should do a double switch. Buster Posey's day off was officially over, yet he was still extremely unlikely to get an at-bat.
(The double-switch happened because Bochy messed up, by the way.)
He was extremely unlikely to get an at-bat because the Giants gave up runs in the top of the 13th. The Giants gave up runs in the top of the 13th because Tony Abreu oléd a hard-hit double-play liner. Now, you couldn't pay me to get in front of a ball like that, but that's because I'm bad at baseball. Abreu isn't bad at baseball -- he's just less good than we were hoping he would be at that very second.
Then Andrew Cashner had to pinch-hit because of Bud Black nincompoopery, and he placed a bunt perfectly between the pitcher and third base. Joaquin Arias rolled on it because that felt like the thing to do.
After all that, Posey came into play first base. The better defender left the game so the Giants could get the pitcher's spot up sooner. Then there was a bases-loaded walk. I woke up under the scoreboard with a seagull going through my wallet.
It was amazing. All of it. Yet the Giants still almost won. Should have won, even. It took the play of the year for the Padres to win. It was almost worth losing to watch a play like that.
That was probably the worst game of the year, considering. But we'll probably look back at it and laugh when Guilermo Quiroz wins Game 7 of the World Series pinch-hitting for Brandon Belt. We'll look back and just laugh.