Commentary

Giants' bats make surprise appearance

San Francisco pounds Cliff Lee and earns another postseason win against big-name arm

Updated: October 28, 2010, 11:25 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Cliff Lee didn't see this coming. But then again, we're pretty sure Miss Cleo didn't see this coming.

In a World Series game started by Lee and Tim Lincecum -- here in The Year of the Pitcher and The Postseason of the Pitcher, and in a game played in one of the most beloved pitcher's ballparks on planet Earth -- what the heck just happened?

An insane 11-7 game happened. That's what. A game featuring 18 runs, 25 hits, 10 extra-base hits, six errors and 12 pitchers happened. That's what.

And, most astounding of all, a game in which the invincible Clifton Phifer Lee gave up seven runs, and five doubles -- and threw 104 pitches without even making it through the fifth inning -- happened. That's what.

So suppose we'd told you before Game 1 of this World Series, as two Cy Youngs headed out to pitch, that THAT'S what was about to unfurl Wednesday night. Just think what you would have said.

"I mean, if you'd thrown 100 bucks at Vegas," quipped Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff, after his team's Game 1 mugging of Lee, "you'd probably be a millionaire. Wouldn't you?"

Well, not that we'd endorse that sort of thing, and not that we've consulted any oddsmakers on this, but … yes. We believe you would. Possibly even a billionaire. Because the more we think about it, the more we think the odds of this kind of game breaking out were longer than the odds of Lindsay Lohan becoming the next pope. So let's run down how unlikely all of this was:

• Lee came into this game with a 1.26 career postseason ERA. That's eight starts, nine earned runs. So what were the chances that, in this game, he would allow seven runs, six earned, in a span of 15 hitters?

[+] EnlargeCody Ross
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesThe Giants' offense -- yes, the offense -- led San Francisco in Game 1.

• In Lee's previous eight postseason starts, the opposition had scored a total of 14 runs against him and all the relievers who formed his backup band in those games. So what were the chances that, in this game, the Giants -- never previously mistaken for the '95 Indians -- would score 11?

• In Lee's three previous starts this October -- against the Rays and Yankees, two teams that outscored the Giants by a combined 267 runs this year -- he faced 87 hitters and gave up a total of two runs and three extra-base hits. So what were the chances that, in this game, he'd face 24 Giants hitters and give up seven runs (six earned) and five extra-base hits?

• And before this game, the Giants had scored more than four runs in a game once since Sept. 25. That was 4½ weeks ago. So what were the chances that, in this game, they'd score six runs in one INNING, with five of them coming off Lee?

OK, you know exactly what the chances were, don't you? Because even the ecstatic roster of the team that won this game knew what the chances were.

"NO chance," said Giants hit machine Cody (Mr. October) Ross. "Especially on this stage, and in this moment."

But in baseball, stuff happens. It's bound to happen, even when the calendar says it's October. Even when it involves a pitcher who starts the night being compared to Sandy Koufax, and he's facing an offense that came into this game hitting .231 in the postseason and thought "double figures" was some kind of skating term.

Before this game, the Giants had played exactly two home games all year in which they'd spliced together 11 runs, 14 hits and seven extra-base hits in the same game. Next thing they knew, everybody was hitting a double in this game except Tony Bennett.

"Our pitching has been there all year, man," said Huff, who had three hits. "It's about time WE showed up."

Before this game, the Giants hadn't won a single postseason game by more than three runs. In fact, they hadn't won any kind of game by more than three runs since Sept. 23.

"So we needed this one," Ross chuckled, "for our psyche."

And this man wasn't joking, either. He plays for a team whose motto -- brilliantly coined by play-by-play genius Duane Kuiper -- is: "Giants baseball: torture." But while that line may be guaranteed to make you laugh, there's only one problem with playing for the team that specializes in torture:

It really IS torture to be playing one-run games every single night in October.

"Look at me," Ross deadpanned. "I'm bald now. Look at Eli Whiteside. He's got a ton of gray hair." (Author's note: In truth, that baldness and grayness set in years ago, but you get the idea.)

"It IS tough," Ross went on. "It really is. It takes a lot out of you -- emotionally and physically. Buster [Posey] and I were talking about that in Philly after another one-run game there. He was saying, 'I don't know how much more I can take of this.' Then I came back and said, 'How do the Phillies do this every year?' But I mean, I see why. This is what you live for. This is what you play for. But it's definitely tough, when it's torturous."

On nights like this one, however, you realize there's one thing all of us may have missed while we were picking apart the stuff the Giants don't do -- which was to notice the stuff they do do. And at the top of that list this postseason is this:

They beat great pitching.

They've now won games this postseason started by Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. And before every one of those games, they had to listen to us baseball geniuses spew nonstop hype about how unbeatable all those guys can be at their best.

The Giants hitters were well aware of that hype. They just happened to buy into none of it.

"Oh, we listen to some of it," Ross said. "We ignore a little. But we also feed off it. We like being the underdog. … We like the fact that nobody really gives us a chance, and we feed off that. But we're not scared. I'll tell you that. That's the last thing we're thinking about."

And never was that more apparent than in this game. They spotted the Rangers a run in each of the first two innings -- which meant that to win this game they were going to have to score at least three times, against a pitcher who hadn't given up three runs all month.

But this was not the same Cliff Lee.

This Cliff Lee kicked and pawed at the dirt on the mound all night like a guy who could never get comfortable. He had no feel for his off-speed stuff -- throwing just six of 16 curves and changeups for strikes. So he had to lean, more than ever, on his fastball and cutter, and he even had shaky command of his money pitches.

"I was trying to make adjustments," Lee said. "I was up. I was down. I was in. I was out. Nothing was working. My fastball and cutter, I wasn't really able to command either one consistently. … I made some good pitches, too. But for the most part, I was erratic. I couldn't get consistent locating pitches."

Meanwhile, the Giants came into this duel with a game plan that actually worked: Lay off the off-speed stuff. Attack the fastball. And it worked.

Dobbs We've been playing a lot of one-run ballgames. And you ARE allowed to score 10 runs every once in a while.

-- Giants closer Brian Wilson

"Our plan was, stay on the fastball," said their hitting coach, Hensley (Bam-Bam) Meulens. "We knew he had a good curve and cutter, but we were going to stay on his fastball. He throws a lot of fastballs for a guy who has good secondary pitches. He throws 75 percent fastballs. So we stayed on them. And he made enough mistakes. And we were able to capitalize on those mistakes."

Rangers third baseman Michael Young made an early mistake himself, clanking a leadoff roller by Edgar Renteria to kick off the third inning. Then Lee, who hit one batter during the entire regular season, drilled Andres Torres with an 0-2 pitch. And that turned into a game-tying two-run rally -- which could have been worse if Lee hadn't scrambled out of trouble by whiffing Pat Burrell and Ross with two on.

But two innings later, the madness erupted. Freddy Sanchez's third double in three trips put the Giants ahead 3-2. Next, after a walk to Burrell, Lee went 1-2 on Ross, left a fastball up and watched Ross smoke it right past his noggin for the hit that made it 4-2. And this game would never be the same.

Suddenly, the Texas bullpen was cranking. The orange pompoms were shaking. The Giants' dugout was a disco. And 43,000 witnesses were obliterating their vocal cords.

"It was electric," closer Brian Wilson said. "You couldn't ask for a better crowd, on a better night, in a better month."

Then Huff stroked another RBI hit up the middle to make it 5-2. And shockingly, Lee was done.

"They made me throw a ton of pitches in the fifth inning," Lee said afterward, not real happily. "I have to do a better job of damage control. That's unacceptable."

And also practically incomprehensible.

Since Lee was traded by the Indians to the Phillies more than 15 months ago, he'd made 48 starts. In only one of them did he allow six earned runs or more and fail to get through the fifth inning. That was Sept. 4, 2009, against Houston -- 42 starts ago.

Three pitches after he left this game, the irrepressible Juan Uribe launched yet another game-changing home run -- a three-run monster that was headed for San Rafael when the left-field bleachers got in the way. And that meant this was, somehow or other, an 8-2 baseball game -- with seven of those runs charged to a man who had started this night with the third-best postseason ERA (1.26) of any starting pitcher in history who had made five starts or more.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesCliff Lee didn't have his best stuff, and for once, the Giants took advantage.

But by the time Lee twisted the shower knobs, he owned just the 18th-best ERA in postseason history (1.96). And by the time he finished toweling off, his team had given up 11 (count 'em, 11) runs -- to the hitless wonders of October. It was the first time any team had scored 11 times in a game Lee started since June 30, 2009, when the White Sox did it. That was 54 starts -- and four teams -- ago.

"Tonight," Huff said, "you just saw one of those nights where, every two or three weeks, we actually score more than three runs. It just happened to happen in Game 1 of the World Series."

But in fact, this was not just some random event in the universe. Throughout this postseason, this has been as prepared a team as you'll ever watch play baseball in October. And it showed up again Wednesday along the shores of McCovey Cove, when the Giants found a way to do something the Rays and Yankees couldn't do -- beat the mighty Clifton P. Lee.

"The thing about our team is," Ross said, "we're a free-swinging team. And the Yankees take a lot of pitches. We're aggressive. And we knew we were going to be aggressive -- even when he had 0-2 counts, or 1-2. We knew he was going to come right at us. Rarely is he ever out of the zone. And it worked to our advantage, I think."

Well, here's what really works to their advantage. The last nine teams to win Game 1 of the World Series at home have gone on to win the whole shebang. And no team has lost after doing that since the 1992 Braves.

They aren't going to win this way every night. But who knew they'd EVER win a World Series game quite like this? Who knew they even had it in them?

"We've been playing a lot of one-run ballgames," said Brian Wilson. "And you ARE allowed to score 10 runs every once in a while."

Even, apparently, in games started by a fellow named Cliff Lee.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com