Commentary

The 'pen is mightier than the Phillies

When Jonathan Sanchez falters early, relief corps carries Giants the rest of the way

Updated: October 24, 2010, 11:21 AM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- While the champagne was flying and Eminem was blasting in the room next door, San Francisco reliever Jeremy Affeldt knelt on the soaking wet clubhouse carpet and answered his cell phone.

He didn't say "Hello," "Hi" or "How are you?" The left-handed reliever instead held the phone to his ear and greeted the caller with a far more fitting salutation: "Unbelievable." He could have been referring to Juan Uribe's go-ahead home run in the eighth inning. Or the called third strike on Ryan Howard that ended the game. Or the simple fact that his team -- the San Francisco Giants -- was heading to the World Series.

But more than likely, the "unbelievable" was reserved for Affeldt and teammates Madison Bumgarner, Javier Lopez, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson. On a night when the Phillies' offense and a touch of wildness chased San Francisco starter Jonathan Sanchez in the third inning, it was these five Giants who combined to throw seven innings of five-hit, no-run baseball, sending the defending National League champs home while bringing the World Series back to the Bay Area with a 3-2 victory.

"You know that lineup over there was licking their chops because they got rid of a starting pitcher who can be pretty tough to hit," Affeldt said. "You know they were thinking they were in a good scenario getting to the bullpen that early. But our group has been good all year, and we get some outs in critical situations."

Perhaps none more important than the three outs Affeldt got when he came into the game in the third inning. After surrendering a pair of runs on three hits in the first inning, Sanchez walked Placido Polanco and drilled Chase Utley in the back to begin the second, prompting an exchange between the two that cleared both benches and nearly started a brawl.

Sanchez took exception to the fact that Utley picked up the ball and tossed it to the Giants pitcher as he headed to first base. Afterward, replays showed Sanchez yelling at Utley that what he did was "bulls---." Utley yelled back to Sanchez, "What's bulls---?" -- and, in a matter of seconds, both benches and bullpens emptied and the teams stood toe to toe on the infield.

[+] EnlargeJavier Lopez
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJavier Lopez got the victory, pitching a perfect seventh inning in which he once again retired Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

"You don't throw the ball back to the pitcher," Sanchez said afterward. "You're a professional. You don't do that. And when he did it, he had this smile on his face, this look that said, 'You're nothing.' And I didn't like that at all. So I told him."

It was at this moment -- with two on and nobody out and the Philly faithful whipped into a fevered frenzy -- that Affeldt came into the game. He was the only Giant who didn't run onto the field during the dustup, if only because bullpen coach Mark Gardner pleaded for him to stay behind because Gardner knew he was heading into the game.

"I stayed back," Affeldt said. "and just tried to keep my focus and think about the types of pitches I was going to have to make."

He started by getting Howard to swing and miss and strike out on a 93-mph fastball. He thought it was his biggest out because it sapped a bit of the energy from the crowd and recorded an out without allowing the runners to advance. The move was proved even more important when the next batter, Jayson Werth, flied out to right and no one was on third base to tag and score.

Affeldt got Shane Victorino to ground out to first, and the Giants escaped the wild inning without giving up any runs. Affeldt then added a 1-2-3 fourth inning. Afterward, pitching coach Dave Righetti bragged that Affeldt was the perfect man for the job.

"He works best in that atmosphere. That's his atmosphere," Righetti said. "He's a very passionate player. So he's used to that sort of a situation."

Affeldt gave much of the credit to rookie catcher Buster Posey, whom he said he didn't shake off one time in his two innings.

After the left-hander, it was Bumgarner's turn to shut down the Phillies. In both innings, the 21-year-old rookie surrendered hits to the leadoff man and allowed a runner to reach third base. But the Phillies never scored. In the fifth inning, Victorino grounded out to leave the bases loaded. And in the sixth, Jimmy Rollins flew out to center to strand Raul Ibanez at third.

"That kid makes some absolutely enormous pitches," Lopez said. "I mean, 21 years old? I'm not even sure he knows where he is right now, nevertheless how important he was to us tonight."

After Bumgarner, Lopez came in and did what he has done the entire series -- dominate Utley and Howard. The two left-handers were 1-for-12 against Lopez in the series and were two of the three outs in Philly's 1-2-3 seventh.

[+] EnlargeBrian Wilson
Al Bello/Getty ImagesBrian Wilson made it interesting, but he delivered what the Giants needed -- a five-out save.

Bochy planned to use Lopez to throw another inning until Uribe's solo homer in the eighth gave the Giants a 3-2 lead. At that point, he decided to turn to his ace, Tim Lincecum, in the bottom half of the inning. After striking out Werth, Lincecum surrendered back-to-back singles to Victorino and Ibanez, and Bochy went to closer Wilson for a five-out save.

On Wilson's third pitch, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz laced a line drive to first that Aubrey Huff caught and threw to second, doubling off Victorino and ending the inning.

Then, in the ninth, Wilson walked a pair of hitters before striking out Howard on a backdoor slider to end the game. Just like that, the bullpen's perfect night was complete. And in a series in which all anyone wanted to talk about was the starting pitching, it was the Giants' bullpen that helped send them to the World Series.

It shouldn't have been that much of a surprise that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the most innings pitched without allowing a run by the winning team's relievers in a postseason series-clinching game that did not go to extra innings since Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS, when the Padres' bullpen combined for 7 2/3 run-less innings against the Cubs. The San Francisco 'pen, after all, had the second-lowest ERA in the NL in the regular season (2.99) and allowed the lowest percentage of inherited runners to score. The .236 opponents' batting average was the fourth-lowest in the league.

"We know what we're capable of doing," Wilson said. "Look, everybody can go out there and throw an inning. We've done it in spring training. A lot. Guys go out there, give it their all, get their inning of work and then pass it on to the next guy. And that's what we did tonight."

And in doing so, they took Sanchez's worst nightmare and turned it into a soaking wet, champagne-filled celebration.

"Those guys took care of me," he said. "I've had their back before, but tonight I knew they would get it done for me. And they did."

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com.