I'll admit to being jaded. The Giants had a 10-game lead, and then they didn't. Playing after the 162nd game is always special -- I still consider the 1998 Giants a playoff team, dang it -- but there was something about the way the Giants lost the lead. There was something about all those wins leading to a humiliating night at Dodger Stadium.
Clayton Kershaw dominated. He got a triple. Yasiel Puig homered. Gregor Blanco tried to chew his way to third base. Joaquin Arias couldn't catch a ball. No one could throw strikes, even though every single person watching the game just wanted them to throw strikes. Then the Brewers lost when most of us were at lunch. How is that supposed to feel? No one really knew. I snarked a little because that's what I do when I'm confused and sad and lonely and happy.
Then the news came: The Giants were actually going to have a ski-goggle-and-champagne celebration, win or lose. That sounded like fun. It sounded forced and weird. But fun! As long as they won. And maybe if they lost, I don't know.
The Giants came out strong. Brandon Belt hit a dinger. Brandon Crawford hit a dinger. Pablo Sandoval kept driving in runs, a good sign. They were up 6-0 against the Padres, who are literally -- literally -- hitting .222/.285/.335 on the road, much less AT&T Park, so it felt like a 10-0 lead. The shame and humiliation of a sad, post-loss celebration wasn't to be.
The Padres, rascals that they are, cared not about the shame and humiliation of a sad, post-loss celebration. They did not empathize. They came back and played the Ghosts of Playoff Future. What kind of team gives up seven runs to the Padres to blow a 6-0 lead? A team that doesn't belong in the playoffs.
Pablo: /pops cork
Buster: Not now, Pablo.
Pablo: /gets cork
Celebrating after that game would have been an obligation, not a treat. Yes, it's right to celebrate after 159 games in which you won more games than most of the other teams in baseball, but we're in this weird era where those celebrations can come after a loss or a string of losses. If the Giants lost on Thursday night, it would have been their sixth loss out of their last seven games. How do you pop corks for that? How do you remove yourself from the present and reflect back on the idea that, yeah, winning enough games to go to the playoffs is pretty cool? It would have been hard, especially when they're still fighting like mad to get that playoff game at home.
It didn't come to that. The Giants won. They jogged down to the clubhouse. The tarps were over the lockers. It was kinda neat. The jaded, why it faded. Bruce Bochy gave a boilerplate speech because it wasn't time to be Patton, but it was still fun.
Then Hunter Pence showed up.
I want to win the fucking World Series. Hey, yeah. Don't you? That sounds delightful. There's a chance the Giants could go through the Pirates, Nationals, Dodgers, and Royals to get there (a combined 3-9 in playoff series over the last 25 years, no pennants, no World Series, only shame), breaking hearts that have waited so danged long to feel the thrill of a championship, but you know what? Hunter Pence wants to win a fucking World Series.
I do too. He reminded me that I do. That's what he's there for.
All year long, the Giants have had big injuries. Their starting second baseman was eaten by a vertebrae. The horse of the staff had chips like Black Sabbath LPs floating around in his elbow. The starting center fielder was absent for half the year, and now he's gone for the season. The starting first baseman had a ball thrown at his hand before he had a ball thrown at his face. That, as Hunter Pence describes, is fucking all sorts of shit. Ups. Downs. The works.
I don't know if that speech would have been there if the Giants didn't come back. I'm not sure how earnest it could have been. I'm not sure how into it Pence was, even after the win, when someone kicked him in the butt and told him to do the reverend thing again. But when he started, I listened and laughed and listened and agreed.
It's a long season for the players. Plane rides, plane rides, bus rides, plane rides, hotels hotels hotels, up all night, up in the morning, work out, batting practice, win or lose, up all night up in the morning, hotel, plane. It's also a long season for you. Three hours a day for 162 days in a six-month stretch is insane. Maybe you caught half of those, maybe you caught a quarter, maybe you caught them all. Whatever, you spent months of your life with them, win or lose. Baseball seasons are so damned long.
So give zero bothers about the people who complain that 2012 wasn't that long ago and that it's time to let someone else have a go. You heard Hunter Pence. He wants to win the World Series. He emphasized it with just the right words. I happen to agree with all of them..
I had hot takes ready about Brandon Belt ready if he had another depressing performance. The difference between Andrew Susac and a recovering Belt didn't seem like much of a difference at all. Seemed like an upgrade, to be honest.
Then Belt hit one into the water against a good pitcher throwing hard. His other at-bats were solid, too. This was the third lick of the Tootsie Pop. That's how many it takes to get him normal again.
Two dingers aside, we all agree that Yusmeiro Petit starts a playoff game, with Ryan Vogelsong going before or after him? Good. The Giants can play around a bit and make sure that Petit starts only at AT&T Park, limiting his biggest (only!) flaw: the dingers. If the Giants face off with the Dodgers at some point -- whoops, there go those bowels again -- they can start him home or away.
If the Giants get past the Pirates or Cardinals, of course.
Which isn't guaranteed.
I'm a watch that Hunter Pence Vine again, just to make sure.