I wasn't scheduled to write anything tonight, you know. I was planning on waiting for the weekend to sit back, eat several pounds of fruit salad, and drum up some game recaps.
This was the kind of night you can't not write about.
The story of this night is the ninth inning. The story of this night is yesterday's ninth inning, and the ninth inning before it. And these innings, representative of the games that produced them, were one haymaker after another, drawing out sharp cries and warm blood and bright stars.
Two nights ago, the Giants took the field two games ahead of the Dodgers, in the most exciting divisional race since the Giants and Padres of 2010 duked it for 162 games before crowning a victor. For eight innings, San Francisco dreamed of securing a series split in the first two games, only to see it dashed by bullpen tragedy as Tyler Rogers completely botched it. 11 pitches was all it took to derail the game. It was the kind of loss that can derail a season. Each day, from Opening Night until then, Giants fans have rightfully eyed their lockers in fear of a late-inning bully twisting them into a pretzel and shoving them inside.
Then, like a cough you just can't shake, it happened again. Just, in reverse. The Giants trailed 2-1 in the ninth against one of baseball's premiere Giantslayers, Kanley Jansen, who took the mound with his fire-breathing cutter to punish those who stood against him. But Kapler pulled every lever and pushed every button in his arsenal, and just before Jansen could strike, Posey willed a single into left. And when Jansen roared back to finish the job, Wilmer Flores didn't blink. But Jansen did. And all of a sudden, it was 3-2 Giants, and the wheels fell off and the Dodgers collapsed. The Giants did the impossible- they stared down the NL West's crown jewel team at the height of their power and won.
Then the first eight innings of July 22nd were thrown, coming fast and hard like a boxer's blows. DeSclafani pitched six terrific innings, giving up only 3 hard-earned runs. Buehler did him one better and pitched seven 1-run innings. And the outs fell and fell until once again, the Giants found themselves staring down the barrel of a 9th-inning deficit at Chavez Ravine against Kanley Jansen.
Yastrzremski strikes out. Wilmer Flores, #ForeverGiant, sparks something, anything, with a single to right. Dickerson strikes out. Donovan Solano steps up to the plate. And the Giants, having done the impossible the night before, had to ask themselves whether they had the audacity to ask for second helpings of miracle.
For a second, it looked like Solano was about to do it again, as his hard-hit ball sailed over Bellinger's head. But it bounced off the center field wall, and Ron Wotus held Flores at third. His run would never matter, so there was no reason to risk sending him on a routine double. Even if he scored, and the next batter struck out, all it would be is window dressing on a tense but disappointing loss.
Jason Vosler did not strike out.
He came as close as humanly possible! He went down 1-2, then fouled off a close pitch. And then he took. And he took. And he took. It was masterful. He aced the sequencing test as smoothly as I've ever seen a hitter do so. Fastballs in on his hands to get him to 1-2 yielded a curveball in the dirt, but Vosler knew it was coming the whole time. He saw the fastball coming the next time, and never yielded as Jansen feinted and baited. He walked to load the bases.
Then Vosler followed up an MVP (of the game) plate appearance with an MVP base-running move. Estrada grounded weakly to short, and our hearts fell. But Vosler took a two-out lead and a two-out jump and a million fan's hopes and launched himself into second. And on replay review, he was safe. The lead was cut to one. The Giants had life.
The boos rained down on Jansen already.
He was rattled, and as the camera panned to the Dodgers fans in the stadium, you just knew. It was the same feeling every San Francisco fan had in the ninth inning of Game 4, 2016 NLDS. That subtle shift when the momentum turns, when the feeling of inevitability you had just minutes ago turns to so much dust in your mouth.
The first pitch wasn't close. Neither was the second. Neither was the third, but that one was called a strike, and THAT'S where everything got topsy-turvy. Jansen was reeling. The Giants were going to walk their way out of LA. And then a clear ball became a terrible strike became a 2-strike hole, and the Dodgers were seconds from salvation. Never mind the boos raining down on Jansen, this could go any way possible.
On the seventh pitch, the direction of the game became the first base line. Down the field stood Ed Hickox, staring down Ruf's check swing on a ball a foot above the strike zone. The entire world looked down to first for the call.
The Giants' dugout exploded. Dave Roberts exploded, getting tossed out for the second consecutive night. Max Muncy exploded after taking the time to look at the replay review. The replay will not exonerate Ed Hickox. But the run stood.
Jansen, somehow, and to his incredible personal credit, stayed in the game. He gave up a single that Billy McKinney, making his Dodgers' debut after being shipped in from the Mets, didn't get a jump on and couldn't quite fall forward into. Two runs scored, sealing the comeback to the tune of a 5-3 lead for San Francisco.
Phil Bickford, the wayward son of San Francisco's pitching prospects, came in to retire Posey a few pitches later and send us to the bottom of the ninth, where Jake McGee entered to seal the game with none of the nerves and trepidation that Tyler Rogers filled us with the past two days. No knock against Rogers, whose quick, personal comeback is nothing short of inspirational. Baseball, the deliciously romantic sport that it is, offered a plot twist in the form of a poorly-handled double from McKinney that rolled to the wall, reminiscent of the ninth inning of Bumgarner's Game 7 masterpiece. But these are different Giants, and this is a different time. Two runs were needed. The Dodgers could only do so much. The pressure never fazed McGee, who retired the side, and the Giants went home the undisputed kings of the West, at least until the teams meet again in the Bay.
This is a game and a series that anyone who watched will remember for a very long time. There are still two months of baseball ahead of us, but what this season has provided so far is nothing short of incredible. The Giants were never supposed to be this good. The West belonged to the Dodgers, unless the Padres could challenge. But instead, San Francisco's collection of cast-offs, old hands, and new blood in the coaching staff have propelled this team to baseball's best record day after day after day. If this keeps up, if the unthinkable happens and the Giants can become the dynastic juggernaut of an organization that their potential is hinting at, this will be a day that will go down in history. If the Giants win the West, Tauchman's robbery of Pujols in May will become the moment that the Giants declared they could stand on the same ground as Los Angeles. Last night will become the night they snatched the golden crown off the Dodgers' organization in full view of the world.
And tonight will become the night they crowned themselves the team to beat to all of baseball.