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October 28, 2010

World Series Prospectus

Game One Report

by John Perrotto

Wednesday night's Game One of the World Series served as a reminder that baseball is still played by human beings, and that it is never wise to completely to remove that factor when analyzing the game.

Game One showed that no matter how advanced the statistical measures of the game and the way of obtaining the information for developing those metrics become, there is still no way of knowing what can happen in a given game. And it showed that no matter how much you study a particular matchup, its history, and all the variables that go with it, there is still no way of knowing what can happen in a given game.

That was certainly the case on a picture perfect evening at AT&T Park as the Giants outlasted the Rangers in a game that finished with the football-like score of 11-7. The Las Vegas oddsmakers set the over/under runs line at the seldom-seen total of 5 ½, expecting the Rangers' Cliff Lee and Giants' Tim Lincecum to pitch up to their reputation as two of the game's best.

Really, did anyone really think that the Giants, the team with the bats made of balsa wood, would abuse Lee, the man who has been all but untouchable in the last two postseasons? And who would really had any confidence in a prognostication in which Lincecum would not post a quality start yet still beat Lee? Not even someone whose daily attire now includes a Lincecum wig and Brian Wilson fake beard while being caught up in the hopes that the Giants can finally grasp the world championship that has eluded them since moving west from Harlem in 1958.

Yet when Game One was over, the Giants and Rangers had not only gone over the 5 ½ total but more than tripled it. Furthermore, they combined for 25 hits, 11 of which went for extra bases, used 12 pitchers and made six errors that helped increase the runs total, though only one of the 18 was unearned. And on top of it all, all-time home run leader Barry Bonds played the role of lucky fan by catching a foul ball hit into the stands.

"Sometimes when you say that anything can happen in baseball, people sort of roll their eyes at you because they think you're just using a cliché," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "Well, it's not a cliché. In any given game, anything is possible. The Giants proved that tonight and we did, too, to a certain extent."

"A lot of people spend a lot of time studying this game," Wilson, the Giants' closer,said. "A game like this just shows the beauty of baseball. You can make a pretty educated guess at how you think a certain game is going to turn out but you don't ever know for sure. That's what makes it so interesting and makes people keep coming back."

The Giants had not scored in double digits since September 23 when they pummeled the Cubs 13-0. Since then they had scored more than four runs just twice in 19 games, including only once in their 10 post-season games.

Yet, the Giants won the latest most-anticipated pitching matchup in the history of baseball, just like they won the previous most-anticipated pitching matchup in the history of baseball by beating the Phillies' Roy Halladay in Game One in the NLCS. That's a pretty nice daily double for a team that has been repeatedly knocked for its lack of offense, as the Giants were 17th in the major leagues and ninth in the National League in runs scored with an average of 4.3 a game in the regular season.

"I know we've had our critics and I understand that," Giants hitting coach Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens said. "I'm not trying to be a wise guy when I say this but you've got to score some runs to win games and this was our 100th win of the year when you count the regular season and the postseason. We beat the Braves (in the NLDS) and we beat the Phillies (in the NLCS), and those are two pretty good teams. We might not have scored runs like we did tonight but we scored enough to beat some really good pitchers. You can't win a game 0-0."

The Giants have also been criticized for being a free-swinging bunch. They were 14th in the NL in walks this season and. Yet Meulens believes the aggressive approach is paying dividends at the most important time of the year, noting, "You're facing guys in the postseason who are usually around the plate with all their pitches. Halladay is like that and so is Lee. They're great pitchers and they're going to come right at you. We told our guys to be ready to swing the bat because Lee was going to throw a lot of strikes. He made a lot of mistakes tonight, which obviously worked to our advantage. On the other hand, our guys did a good job of jumping on his mistakes. You don't go into any game expecting to score 11 runs, especially in the World Series but it was one of those nights where a lot of things went our way."

Freddy Sanchez led the Giants' 14-hit attack with by going 4-for-5 with three doubles and three RBIs. Aubrey Huff had three hits and Juan Uribe's three-run home run capped a six-run fifth inning that enabled the Giants to obliterate a 2-2 tie.

"We've had somebody in the lineup step up in every game we've won in the postseason," Uribe said. "The difference this time is that a lot of people stepped up in the same game and you saw what happened. We know we're capable of having games like this."

Through four innings, Lee was not completely untouchable as he had been in allowing just two runs in 24 innings while winning all three starts in the American League-only phase of the postseason, beating the Rays twice in the ALDS and the Yankees in his lone ALCS start.  In fact, the Giants nicked him for two runs in third inning to tie the game at 2-2 as Sanchez ripped a run-scoring double to left-center field and Buster Posey followed with an RBI single to left. Yet, it was hard to envision what was about to happen to Lee in the fifth inning when the Giants scored six runs, five of which were charged to the Rangers' ace.

Andres Torres started it by doubling to left and Sanchez followed with another double to the left-center gap that put the Giants ahead. Lee came back to strike out Posey for the second out, but then walked Pat Burrell on a full-count pitch and could not stop the onslaught that followed. Cody Ross and Huff hit consecutive RBI singles to center to make it 5-2 and Ron Washington lifted Lee and brought in Darren O'Day, who seemed rattled in his first World Series appearance by the energy pulsing through the crowd of 43,601. The sidewinder badly missed with his first two pitches and Uribe lined the third into the left-field seats for a three-run home run and an 8-2 lead, which sent the fans to the edge of pandemonium.

"I've never heard the crowd that loud," Uribe said.

Lee's rough outing smoothed over the fact that Lincecum did not pitch like an ace, either. While Lincecum does not have the October track record of Lee, he has won the last two NL Cy Young Awards. Yet Lincecum looked uncomfortable from the start and wound up allowing four runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings with two walks and three strikeouts.

The Rangers scored single runs off Lincecum in each of the first two innings. Elvis Andrus led off the first with a single and scored on Vladimir Guerrero's infield single then drove in the second run with a sacrifice fly in a second inning that included the highlight of the night for Lee, a double.

Lincecum then couldn't make it out the sixth inning after being given a six-run lead. His night ended after Bengie Molina rapped an RBI double and scored on David Murphy's pinch single. However, any hopes the Rangers had of a major comeback after reducing the deficit to four runs were snuffed when Santiago Casilla took over for Lincecum and struck out Andrus with runners on first and second to end the inning.

Lincecum admitted to feeling a case of nerves in his World Series debut. He received the loudest ovation of all in the pre-game ceremonies and was so hyped that he never really settled down.

"It's the first World Series for a lot of us and it's a different type of atmosphere," Lincecum said. "I don't think anything you go through can really prepare you for this until you actually go through it."

To use some basketball parlance in the first days of the NBA season, both teams scored three runs in garbage time. The Giants got their three in the eighth when Travis Ishikawa doubled in a run and Sanchez and Nate Schierholtz hit RBI singles. The Rangers countered with three in the ninth on Vladimir Guerrero's sacrifice fly and Nelson Cruz's two-run double before Wilson ended things by inducing Kinsler to hit a game-ending pop fly to the right fielder with a man on second.

Wilson is a throwback closer who pitches in the eighth inning and non-save situations. Thus, he wasn't perturbed about being called into an 11-4 game or allowing all three of his inherited runners to score. He was just thrilled to have a seven-run lead to protect.

"See, our guys are allowed to score in double figures once in a while," Wilson said. "It was exciting to see our offense break out like that. When I wake up in the morning, I'm going to go downstairs to see if there are going to be presents under the tree, too."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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