Johnny Cueto’s 2016 season was one of the 10 best by a Giants pitcher since AT&T Park opened. That's by any metric, regardless of context. There have been Cy Youngs, no-hitters, a perfect game, three All-Star Game starters, even more All-Stars, and warm October nights. But Cueto stood out, even among that tough competition.
When that kind of pitcher throws a game like this in the postseason, he should win. If he doesn’t win, there had better be a damned Cy Young contender on the other side.
Which there is.
Okay, just making sure.
That adds up to an unsatisfying conclusion: Just One Of Those Games™. The people who aren’t emotionally invested in this are all thrilled. It was a great baseball game, they agree. Nothing you can do about that. Cueto pitched his heart out, he did. Fantastic pitcher’s duel, they still agree. This is what the postseason is all about.
They’re right, you know. And for one minute, at the beginning of a surly, grumbly recap, I want to appreciate Johnny Cueto for what he did, not what he (or the lineup) didn’t do.
We’re in our warrior pose ... releasing all of our thoughts and troubles ... and with the exhale, we’re saying ... that was just a truly magnificent game. Cueto was absurd. Jon Lester was absurd. The Cubs had a long fly ball that caught a basket. The Giants had a long fly ball that short-hopped the wall. Just a memorable, incredible game. Nothing to be ashamed of.
Also, I’m not actually doing yoga and saying that. I’m listening to Leviathan and taking a break between paragraphs to throw things. But the general idea remains clear: The Giants lost, and that stinks, but it was a helluva baseball game and there’s no shame in losing like that. Every pitcher makes one mistake or three. The Giants made their mistake at the wrong time.
It wasn’t an error. It wasn’t a 105-mph line drive with the bases loaded that found a glove. It wasn’t a baserunning blunder. At least, not directly! It was a classic duel with one mistake. The Giants have won games like this before. They’ll win games like this again.
So the introduction of this post is dedicated to Johnny Cueto. What a game. WHAT A GAME. The Giants have scored three runs in their first 18 postseason innings, and they’re 1-1. What a stupid sport. I mean, what a game! And Cueto pitching that well, coming out that strong, hitting his spots with movement and velocity like that, should have been enough.
It wasn’t, but we still salute him. A complete-game loss is so 2016. Way to stay on brand.
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AND NOW TO THE OTHER PARTS OF THE GAME.
As is customary with Giants postseason losses, we shall have an airing of grievances.
Grievance #1: That damned check swing in the ninth
Not a swing. Not close. Not close when looking from the center-field camera. Not close at all from the side. Camera angles can be deceptive, but as someone who has watched about 700 hours of baseball this year, I can tell you that kind of check swing is almost never called.
It was the difference between a leadoff runner and one out, no one on.
That’s as far as I’ll go, though. I’m not going to say that Posey’s double would have scored him, because Posey wouldn’t have gotten the same pitch sequence. For all we know, Aroldis Chapman would be so distracted by Gorkys Hernandez that he would have thrown a 103-mph fastball at Posey’s knee. I’m someone who earnestly, honestly believes that the Giants don’t win a single championship without Barry Zito. I’ve grabbed the butterflies right out of the butterfly effect, and I’m licking the dust off their wings, and it’s AWESOME.
Also, I’m not prepared to say that Posey totally would have hit a double and Hernandez would have scored. That’s not how life works! Y’all watched too much Back to the Future growing up.
It was still a dreadful call.
* * *
Grievance #2: That stupid baserunning
Gorkys Hernandez got the worst possible jump you can get off a pitcher who is literally terrified of making pickoff throws. David Ross isn’t prime-years Pudge back there. It was as if Hernandez was inhabited by Scott Bakula, and he had to figure out how to steal a base for the first time.
Conor Gillaspie — man, what has that guy done for us lately — was wandering off first too far, even though scouts have described his speed as "Conor Gillaspie-like."
Posey I’ll give a pass to, considering he couldn’t assume that Ben Zobrist was going to muff the fly ball, so he had to slow up around second. People were saying he forgot how many outs there were. That was poppycock. There were risks to tearing around second, especially when you have Posey-like speed. The last thing he should have expected was a ball getting by Zobrist.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting.
Grievance #3: That stupid center-field camera
What utter trash. That remark up there about watching 700 hours of baseball? That wasn’t bragging. It was a cry for help. But it also means that a fella gets used to some things. Such as telling the balls from the strikes. Not getting closeups of butts and faces because the producer knows the center-field camera is trash.
Anyway, it was one of the worst baseball-watching experiences I’ve ever had, at least from a technical standpoint. And it made it hard to judge balls and strikes, which was important, considering ...
Grievance #4: The strike zone got weird in the ninth
These are, again, all from the catcher’s perspective. What you’re looking for are red squares outside of the box, or green squares inside the box. Those are the missed calls according to the lasers, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
This is Johnny Cueto:
Fair. Really impressive, to be honest. Umpires usually do a good job, and this is a perfect example of that. Cueto didn’t get much at all, and he didn’t have much taken away. This is a 3-for-4 night from an umpire.
This is Jon Lester:
Again, mostly fair. There were two pitches out of the zone, but whatever. That’s baseball until the robots use us all for sustenance. It looked worse because of the Mars cam. Occasionally they would ZOOM IN on the strike zone with another weird angle for the replay, and it would look like it was filmed on a RAZR. Whatever, they have a few months to get the postseason kinks out.
Here’s Aroldis Chapman:
Two blown calls. But what’s that? Those blown calls came with two outs in the ninth inning and the tying run in scoring position. Let’s just isolate Hunter Pence’s at bat.
That’s two missed calls and a blown check swing in the ninth inning. There were about as many missed calls in Pence’s at-bat as there were in the entire game from Cueto or Lester.
Post-loss whining? Sure. But it’s noticeable when you’re facing a fastball demigod and he’s getting calls with one out left.
Grievance #5: Get a hit, you fools
Oh, these aren’t in order of importance. This is probably the most important one, though. The Giants were 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position because of course they were. But they had so few hitters reach, mostly because of Lester’s excellent pitching, that there just weren’t that many opportunities.
And they don’t have a Javier Baez in the lineup, a hitter who can hurp his way into a home run at just the right time. Not consistently, at least.
Grievance #6: We aren’t talking about Gorkys or Kelby right now
Gorkys Hernandez made a catch that Denard Span couldn’t have made if he got a three-minute head start. Kelby Tomlinson made two otherworldly diving plays to squelch rallies.
Those are the two players we aren’t used to. Those are the kinds of randos who help the Giants in situations like this. And they’re footnotes. What a shame.
Grievance #7: That the Giants didn’t win
Well, hot dang. This wasn’t ideal. Still, if they win on Saturday, they’ve done what they were supposed to. They’ll have stolen home-field advantage with a split. It’s not the best scenario, but considering there are already two different teams down 2-0 in their series, I’ll take it. Begrudgingly.
I just wish we could appreciate Johnny Cueto’s amazing start more. It should have been legendary. It was one of the best starts in Giants postseason history.
Giants lose, 1-0. Helluva game, though. Helluva game.