The winds were howling at AT&T park on Tuesday afternoon as the Giants and Cardinals took the field for Game Three of the NLCS, and Mother Nature would play the role of tenth man as these two teams fought for the series lead.
The Giants came out of the gate swinging against Cardinals starter John Lackey, plating four runs in the bottom of the first inning. Lackey retired the first two batters before the hits started falling, including back-to-back singles by Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval followed by a double off the bat of Hunter Pence that scored the first run. After falling behind Brandon Belt 3-0, Lackey opted to put him on intentionally to load the bases. Travis Ishikawa then stepped to the plate, having been flip-flopped in the batting order with Brandon Crawford, and Ishikawa responded with a deep drive to the archways in right field.
The baseball clanged off of the base of an archway in right-center field, clearing the bases as Ishikawa rolled into second with a double that gave the Giants an early 4-0 lead. The play sent Twitter aflutter, with some arguing that rookie Randal Grichuk should have had a chance to field the ball (rather than drifting, dazed and confused, 20 feet away) and others pointing at the wind for re-directing the baseball's flight path, potentially knocking the ball down and preventing it from leaving the yard.
After the first-inning explosion, the Giants bats went into hibernation. The only baserunner for the orange-and-black over the next eight innings came in the form of a Tim Hudson single (he was 2-for-53 during the regular season). Meanwhile, the Cards chipped away at the deficit. Giant-killer Kolton Wong cut the difference in half with his fourth-inning triple that drove home Matt Holliday and Jon Jay, as Hunter Pence learned the lesson that schooled Grichuk three innings prior, with the swirling winds in right field keeping Pence from getting a solid read on the ball.
Jay scored another run in the sixth, following his single and a pair of productive outs to come home on Jhonny Peralta's Panda-aided single. The grounder to third bounced over Sandoval's glove, turning what might have been the third out of the inning into the third run of the game for St. Louis. The comeback was completed by Grichuk's solo homer in the seventh, a towering drive that hit the left-field foul pole and knocked Hudson from the ballgame.
The bats on both sides found hard contact but with empty results over the next three frames, sending the game to extras. Jay got his third hit of the game (and sixth of the series) in the tenth, but was left stranded. Randy Choate came in to pitch for the Cardinals in the bottom half and he walked the first batter he faced, putting Brandon Crawford aboard for just the second San Francisco baserunner since the first inning. Juan Perez then squared to sacrifice Crawford to second, but after two failed bunt attempts, he moved the runner along the old-fashioned way with a base hit through the left side of the infield. The two-on, no-out situation brought the sac bunt into play once again, and though Gregor Blanco fouled his first attempt, the second go-around resulted in a more favorable outcome for the Giants faithful.
Choate's error gave the Giants the walk-off victory along with a sense of karmic redemption, evoking the recent memories from Game Three of the NLDS, where Madison Bumgarner's throw on Wilson Ramos' sac attempt went wide of the bag and allowed the eventual winning runs to score. The sac bunt has taken on a new life in the 2014 playoffs, and failed execution of baseball's simplest plays has stood between winning and losing on baseball's biggest stage.
The Stage is set for Game Four, with Shelby Miller on the docket for St. Louis to square off against Ryan Vogelsong of the Giants. Tune in to see if the ghosts of Candlestick Park bring the winds to AT&T for a second day.