* * out of 4 stars
San Francisco at Arizona. Action. Starring Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Marco Scutaro, Patrick Corbin, and Paul Goldschmidt. Directed by Bruce Bochy. (PG-13. 168 minutes. Internet, Bay Area and Arizona televisions.)
For a while there, this story felt like a return to form for the San Francisco Giants team. In previous adventures, we've seen Buster Posey, Matt Cain and company tightrope their way through a tense, low-scoring affair and come out victorious. This latest edition, though, speaks to some of the creaks and cracks that have appeared as time goes by, mainly, that they're no longer on top.
Instead of picking up that thread and doing something interesting with that, though, director Bruce Bochy tries to squeeze out one more adventure as though nothing has changed and, in a questionable choice, leaves Matt Cain to face the Diamondbacks one last time after throwing 100+ pitches. It was this decision that started the rally that led to the Giants' downfall, and although it's not always fair to question directorial choices because sometimes the actors simply don't deliver, here was a clear moment to point to and ask, "Was this necessary?"
Bochy compounded the matter by giving one of his supporting players, Jeremy Affeldt -- one who has certainly delivered some positive, memorable moments over the years for this team to be sure -- a pivotal role late in the game by letting him face their rival's biggest threat in Paul Goldschmidt. Here, Bochy eschewed his recent habit of raising the stakes and increasing scene tension by walking the bases loaded and instead forced a ridiculous action sequence where Affeldt faces Goldschmidt Mano-a-mano. The outcome is predictable and Goldschmidt beats the Giants late.
And in the final curious choice, Heath Bell is relieved of his more recent characterization as comic relief and in a haunting, efficient performance, shuts the door on the Giants. There's even a moment of cruelty where he allows a baserunner, defensive indifference, and then a wild pitch to get Arias to third, before getting the save. There's a lot to be desired about the ending of this one, and it's certainly the ending that will leave audiences disappointed as they leave the theater, but it's worth noting that the ending is as problematic as it is because the first two acts are so compelling.
Matt Cain is a once great pitcher who finds himself down on his luck lately. He's been terrible at his job and he knows it. Worse still, everyone else knows it. Cain's not in a position to slump because the team is counting on him. What's brilliant here is that Matt Cain doesn't panic and neither does Bruce Bochy. They let the performance bubble to the surface and don't force things -- it's a slow burn. A 31-pitch first inning sets up our expectations that, once again, Matt Cain is going to get hit hard. But he doesn't. Better still, his slider looks sharper at times than it has all year. The fastball isthere. After a disastrous start he transforms into the character we recognize, the one that raises the audience's expectations about the entire game.
And then there's the Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin, the primary villain. He's everything that's been advertised in the promotional materials. The Diamondbacks, in fact, are everything they've been made out to be at the start of the story and represent a legitimate threat to Buster Posey, Matt Cain, and the Giants, which makes the lead and the team's return to their slim-lead dominance recall days of yore and really get our hopes up that there will be a classic 1-0 finish.
Even though it doesn't work out for the Giants in the end, it could've been handled better. Still, despite it's flaws, the game's not without its charms as it recalls to mind more pleasant days where the Giants didn't have to panic about not scoring many runs. Perhaps future adventures will retain this quality, and if that's the case, then this game's ending won't feel quite so aggravating.