"Let's play two!" -- Ernie Banks
"You are a monster, Ernie Banks. You are a horrible monster." -- Me, right now
I grew up with the Joe Morgan game and the Bob Brenly game. I was one of the 6.3 million people at both, and the fact that it's a cliché to joke about how many people actually claimed to be there says something. Those were the legendary games, those were the ones people remembered. A game in which the Giants played spoiler for the team that never lost, and a meaningless four-error game of atonement against an awful team. Those were the badges of pride.
When I got older, the Brian Johnson game was the gold standard -- a game that vaulted the Giants into a tie with the overdog Dodgers and eventually led to Barry Bonds dancing on the Candlestick dugout. Yeah, that was a good one.
In the last five years, those have been replaced with all sorts of transcendent moments, and it's easy to think that they'll just keep coming. But don't take this one for granted. I know you know that. I'm talking to the person behind you. You're going to hear a lot about the Giants being annoying (because they are) and how the Giants troll the world (because they do), but they went decades without a game like this, without a reason for a game like this. Before you focus on Madison Bumgarner in Game 3 and possibly advancing to the NLCS, just take a breath and repeat it:
That was one of the very best Giants games I will ever watch in my lifetime.
Breathe out. In. Repeat that sentence again. Out. In. Foooo. Now you can think about the future. As long as you realize that these games shouldn't come around every other year. This was a kernel of an idea kicking around in my head if the Giants lost, too. The tone would have been much, much different, of course, but the air of wonder hopefully would have come across. Did you see that? What was that game? When will we ever see something like that again?
Never. The answer is, hopefully, never. Not for at least ... 11 years. In 11 years, it will be okay to have an 18-inning playoff game like that.
You know there's another one coming in the next week, right? Hey, you rooted for this.
That was going to be the designated tip-your-cap game. The annoying, unavoidable tip-your-cap game that you should expect when you face a staff as good as the Nationals.
He's yelling at you. Tip. Your. Cap. He already did the thing with the brass balls. Now he's telling you to tip your damned cap to Jordan Zimmermann.
Who deserved it, of course. He reminds me of a younger Matt Cain, in that he doesn't have that instantly sexy pitch --the 100-mph fastball, the 12-to-6 curve that makes hitters look stupid, the disappearing change. That isn't to say he has average stuff. He has great stuff, clearly. But it's a pot of water with the heat turned slowly up beneath you, not a flaming shuriken thrown at your head. He was masterful.
And then with two outs. Joe Panik came up.
That's from the catcher's perspective, and it's the kind of thing that makes my palms sweaty with admiration. Look at how close these pitches were. One of them's hiding behind the other, too. There's a missing fourth square in there. Edit: Because it's off the grid. That was an easy take. Still. Still!
There are some folks who still aren't sold on Panik right now, either because there's something missing from his stats (dingers!) or something missing from his scouting profile (tools!). That's fine. But here's a reminder that the eye isn't an easily appreciated tool. Panik has a great eye, and a rookie in that situation can't be faulted for getting himself out on pitches those good. Zimmerman had been around the plate all night. If Panik's expecting more fastball around the plate, how does he not swing at those?
They were balls. All four of them. And they led to a sure loss becoming one of the most memorable baseball games you'll ever see. There will be time for Brandon Belt and Yusmeiro Petit feting down below, but none of it starts without Panik's walk. It seems unfair to gloss over Pablo Sandoval's double -- a two-out double to tie the danged game -- but Panik's walk is the one I want a tattoo of. Like, a little constellation of the strike zone on my shoulder or something. Without it, it was a tip-your-cap game. And those are the worst.
So now the Giants are in the 10th inning, feeling like teenagers who got away with a 12-pack by avoiding eye contact with the clerk and pretending they had deeper voices than they did, and they needed innings. Jeremy Affeldt got one, and for the first couple of batters looked like he hadn't thrown a warm-up pitch since Tuesday, but eventually got the Giants out of the inning. Then came Santiago Casilla, a closer in a non-save role to face the heart of the order, something for which Bruce Bochy needs to be credited immensely.
Then came Yusmeiro Petit. After he set the record for consecutive batters retired, I referred to him as the Forrest Gump of spot starters. Joe Roas come and Joe Roas go, but this guy keeps showing up at the White House, so to speak. He kept doing amazing things at amazing times. The Giants were supposed to count on Edwin Escobar if they needed rotation help this year. Instead, they counted on Petit and used Escobar to get Jake Peavy.
What a damned coup.
Six innings for Petit. One hit. He was uncharacteristically wild (three walks), but he picked up his strikeouts, as usual. He left quite a few balls over the plate in terrifying moments. If you missed them, you'll see them again when you close your eyes tonight. There was the Rendon ball in the blurnsteenth and the LaRoche ball in the frindstenth. Other than that, though, he was befuddling. It says something about his unpredictability that the Nationals weren't ready for the rare mistakes, which is the point of Petit in the first place.
His outing was perfectly managed by Bochy, too. The double-switch forced Petit to bat only once. He just had to pretend Petit was a starter on normal rest, and the 80 pitches didn't seem so bad. The ratio of 46 strikes to 34 balls might be one of his worst as a Giant, but it didn't matter. What a luxury to have a third- or fourth-starter rested and ready to come out of the pen in the event of a nonsensical 18-inning game.
What a luxury to have Yusmerio Petit.
Gameday had the pitches to Asdrubal Cabrera as strikes. Brooks Baseball didn't. I do feel bad about that part. Then I think about Brandon Belt.
I was happy with him playing baseball again. There are so many horror stories of lingering, unshakeable concussions in baseball, from Justin Morneau to John Jaso. Him showing up in March proclaiming that everything was fine would have been a swell outcome to a miserable sequence of events.
Then he came back and hit like a blindfolded Brandon Belt. You couldn't blame him. He missed just a ton of time, and he couldn't catch up to live pitching. I wouldn't have faulted Bochy with starting Posey at first and Andrew Susac behind the plate for the bulk of the playoffs at one point. About 11 hours before I wrote that hot take, Belt started hitting. He hasn't really stopped, and when he isn't hitting, he's taking pitches like the Belt we're used to. The guy who should probably call his own game under the honor system because he's better at it than the umpires.
Pick a player on the roster to hit that homer in the 18th. Seriously. Pick one you would have rather seen hit that instead of Belt.
Dammit, someone realistic.
Dammit, pick a position player. It's Belt. Posey has the name value and Travis Ishikawa would tickle your dadaist sensibilities, but considering what Belt's been through this season -- heck, since 2011 -- he's the obvious choice. If you're not happy for him, you're happy for Matt Kemp right now, and it's not like that's even a choice in a rational world.
Tim Hudson was outstanding. This is for you, Giants. This a wooden nickel of trust. This means that you get to exchange this for a blind appeal to authority the next time you make a questionable decision.
You: What the hell? Jean Machi's starting Game 5?
Giants: /hands over wooden nickel
You: Right, right. The Hudson thing. Go get 'em, Machi.
The Hudson in Los Angeles didn't even seem like a possibility. Not remotely. Not if the Giants wanted to win. Sinkerballers who don't sinkerball aren't any kind of fun. At some point, the Giants saw enough to trust him, though, and he got one of the biggest no-decisions in franchise history.
If the Giants are fortunate, Hudson's next start won't be against the Nationals. He would have to start again against either the Cardinals or Dodgers. It's good to feel like that's a something to look forward to instead of a terrifying outcome.
There were at least six or seven times that I was sure the game was over, that caps would be tipped, and that our salvation would lie in the idea that taking a game at Nationals Park was essentially like stealing home-field advantage away. Instead we get to be greedy. Sweep. Reset the rotation. Rest Buster Posey's cream-of-legs. Win the 2012 World Series Game 2 rematch, and keep trolling the world.
And win every game for the rest of the year by 12 runs, please.