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October 31, 2012
The Freaks and Geeks Go All the Way
Well, and what did you expect? It’s Halloween, and the Giants wear black and orange.
Yes, I know, those are not stats. But to push on this a bit harder: it’s costume week, and the time of the dead, and the Giants dressed the part. Look at them. Brian Wilson, who is spending a year-plus dead, has the fake-looking beard, and Sergio Romo went trick-or-treating in the closer costume (beard included) Wilson used to wear. Pablo Sandoval went as the power hitter he used to be (his ISO dropped 70 points this season and he hit 12 home runs). In Game One he went as Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and/or Albert Pujols.
Barry Zito went as the pitcher he used to be, outpitched his latter-day Cy Young counterpart, and got an RBI single off him for good measure. His face was cadaverous, his voice haunt-quiet in interviews. Yet the guitar-playing lefty with the long hair could also have been going as Billy Crudup playing the guitarist for Stillwater in Almost Famous, if you added a mustache; and Brandon Crawford—also longhaired, also seventies—could have been going as Zito’s Stillwater bandmate-frontman, played by Jason Lee.
You might as well throw into Stillwater the longhaired, .321-slugging Ryan Theriot (Quiet Riot, no?), who went to Game Four dressed as DH—yeah, sure, okay—and of course hit the 10th-inning single that led to him scoring the game-winning, series-clinching run. The player who drove him in was the guy the Giants acquired midseason partially because Theriot wasn’t good enough to play regularly.
Instead of going as himself, a two-time Cy Young starter, Tim Lincecum (yet another longhair, and why not? This is San Francisco, home of the Grateful Dead), went as a relief pitcher. You know how that went: almost perfectly, and quite famously. With his baseball cap on, Lincecum looks like he has hair extensions. In 2010 he went to the playoffs as Ken Rosenthal. There’s something about the Freak that seems quite ornery, though, under the costume locks and the bowtie and the crazy mechanics that look like a guy whom I sometimes think learned how to pitch by watching tennis players serve.
Gregor Blanco went to the World Series as Melky Cabrera, basically, and hit the big triple that plated Hunter Pence to open the scoring in Game Three. He also made catches—or rather, catches! The two diving catches; the running catch against the wall wide of the left field foul line, where the ball plopped into the heel of his glove in the ninth inning of that same Game Three. Not a can of corn; kandy korn. (Brandon Belt, one game later, went as Gregor Blanco for one at-bat, hitting a triple of his own that plated, yup, Hunter Pence and opened the scoring in Game Four. It was Belt’s only hit in 16 plate appearances in the World Series.)
Gerald Posey went as a guy named Buster but still looked 16 years old, both too old to be trolling for candy and too young to be the National League MVP.
Hunter Pence went as a baseball player. It’s obvious that in real life he is either an X-Games athlete or the lead singer of the Spin Doctors. Watching Pence swing and miss at breaking balls feet off the plate, at least once ending up on his knees, was one of the true delights of the World Series.
It was another ball feet off the plate, in Game Three, that was the moment when it became quite clear that the Giants were destined to win. Bottom of the eighth inning, Andy Dirks batting, a runner on first (he reached on a Crawford error), two outs. Lincecum pitching, 0-1 count. Lincecum throws a two-seamer that runs way outside. Way outside:
The ball goes past Buster Posey as he lunges to his left. Posey’s glove is turned around, pretty much backhand, and sort of halfway facing the ground. A totally bass-ackwards way to try to catch this pitch. Terrible technique. If you did this, you’d get made fun of, maybe even by Buster Posey. But he had so little time to react to the pitch that this was the only stab he could make.
Somehow, though, the ball catches the inside of the thumb of Posey’s mitt even though Lincecum’s pitch already appears to have sailed nearly all the way past it. Nonetheless it glances off the tip of the inside of the thumb (or maybe finger) which, miraculously, redirects it into Posey’s mitt, yanking both the mitt and then the rest of Posey backwards and way out of the catcher’s box, as though he’s just been knocked aside by a charging animal.
Fox replays the thing a number of times, with Phantom Cam delight. The sound is off on the television, so I assume Joe Buck and former catcher Tim McCarver (whom I don’t dislike anywhere near as much as the rest of you) are clucking appreciatively at the play, which basically defies physics. The ball seemed to catch the mitt, not the other way around. A ghost, a gremlin, a goblin is at work here. It is a Halloween catch, a bobbing for apples catch. Supernatural and witchy. And deeply GIFfable:
Circumstantially, it’s an important if not quite critical play. The Giants are leading, 2-0. Posey’s bizarre, goalie-like stab has kept Delmon Young from moving into scoring position. Two pitches later, Dirks will strike out.
This, perhaps, is what it means to be the Freak. You can miss this badly, the ball can be caught anyway, and then you can punch the guy out, long hair waving in the breeze. You can do all this as a two-time Cy Young award winner after being demoted to the bullpen.
This Halloween catch by Posey brackets another freak (but not Freak) play from Game One, the play that—if you wanted to make Colin Wyers mad and build a narrative—essentially decided the series. In the third inning, with Giants up, 1-0, two outs and none on, Angel Pagan’s weak grounder to third hit the bag and became a double. Two batters later, Pablo Sandoval’s second homer off Justin Verlander made it 4-0 and pushed San Francisco’s win probability to 90 percent. They were going to beat the ace with their fourth-best starter.
Better, the homer summoned Detroit’s pitching coach to the mound for the visit that prompted Verlander’s instant-classic George Clooney wry face—a hell of a face, somehow caught halfway between defiance and vulnerability—and lip-readable “What are you doing out here?”
Which seems to have been the question the Tigers might have been asking the Giants all throughout San Francisco’s shocking sweep of the team many people thought was the best in baseball before the season started. Another Wyers-baiting narrative, shrinkwrapped around this Series before it started: Tigers need all of long, long season to fulfill prophecy made before it began; after all the hurly-burly, they are the best team in the end, after all, as had been predicted months before. They had the ace starter, the couple of other excellent rotation hurlers, the MVP (maybe), the frightening closer, the free agent lefty slugger, the fleet and formidable center fielder (Austin Jackson had the fourth-highest BVORP among center fielders, and in only 137 games). With Omar Infante, they had finally plugged that second base hole. They had survived the upstart A’s, demoralized and swept the Yankees, and were hitting their peak just in time for the World Series.
And then: What are you doing out here? Answer: scaring you to death.
Anyway, who was you, exactly? My wife disliked these Giants. I’ll go ahead and articulate why for her: there was something a little fakey about them. Those antics: the beards of Romo and Wilson, the latter’s hyper jumping around and the former’s gooniness; the dugout-screaming pep-talks and the wild eyes of Hunter Pence; the silly salutes of Angel Pagan (a pagan! on Halloween!); Marco Scutaro reveling in the slo-mo rain at the end of the NLCS, like a guy in a bad eighties video; not to mention Melky Cabrera’s “fakey” stats. You sort of got the sense that the Giants were a bit of a put-on. Or that, in any case, they were indulging a lot of showmanship, a kind of performative front that turned out to mask a real needto win. They had to overdo it in order to do it.
If that’s who they were, then what were they doing out here? The whole Series was emblematized by the immediately legendary final pitch, the 89-mph fastball that Romo threw past a stock-still Cabrera. Trick or treat, Miggy. Miggy was so sure he was getting the trick that he stared at the treat. Everything the Giants did seemed to be rooted in surprise, in jumping out from behind a bush.
Great starting pitching didn’t hurt, either.
Throughout the four games, the Tigers mainly looked a little embarrassed, taken aback, mildly offended, startled. The Giants were a bunch of grownups—the third-oldest team in baseball—acting like kids and dressing as beasts in despite of the supposedly-mighty, all-devouring Tigers. The danger of building narratives inheres partially in what happens to those charged with executing them. The Tigers were a little apologetic, it seemed, flummoxed and annoyed, that they couldn’t complete the script, that Giants had the temerity to be out here, flouting the agreed-upon story about Detroit’s dominance.
But as Brian Sabean was quick to point out while receiving the trophy from the dynamic duo of Bud Selig and Erin Andrews, they did win 94 games (going +6 on their Pythagorean W/L), more than Detroit. They did just win the Series two years ago with a bunch of these same players. And these players, well, a lot of them are freaks. Maybe they’re put-on freaks, image-mongering freaks. One of them is the Freak. But also geeks, really: bug-eyed Hunter Pence, rosy-cheeked Gerald Posey, so-“cool”-he’s-nerdy Wilson—geeks.
Yet they were also all really feeling it. Quiet Riot was super-feeling-it, anything but quiet, when he slid home with the winning run and a yawp in the 10th inning of the deciding World Series game. Throughout the playoffs, the Giants’ dressed-up, in-character intensity was an overplay—but so is Halloween. It’s a put-on, but the candy you get for it is real, and kids really, really want it.
Jeremy Affeldt was caught on camera as he exited Game Four in the eighth inning, looking skyward and mouthing the words, “Thank you, Father.” He had performed a little magic in the seventh, whiffing the holy trinity of the Tigers’ order in sequence, then adding another strikeout (of Dirks) before surviving Jhonny Peralta’s long fly to the warning track in the eighth: “Thank you, Father.” This had a bit of performance in it, too, as public prayer tends to do, especially for those of us accustomed to worship as a private ritual. There were even those who felt it didn’t belong, believers in the separation of church and state (national pastime and all). Affeldt wanted to been seen seeing God. Was it a little much? Yes. Did he mean it? Yes. Halloween is too much, too, a little hard to believe, but it still has magic, and it can still scare you. Just ask the Tigers.