Part 5: The Slide, #RallyZito, and Rain

Part 1 - Perfect Timing
Part 2 - Melkmen and All Stars
Part 3 - Streaking to a Division Championship
Part 4 - Off The Mat 
Part 6 - The Cherry On Top

San Francisco Giants (Since 1979)

Playoff Appearances - 8 (87,89,97,00,02,03,10,12)
NLCS - 4-1 (87,89,02,10,12)
World Series - 2-2 (89,02,10,12)

2012 San Francisco Giants (94-68, Won World Series)

Part 5: The Slide, #RallyZito, and Rain

     It was only fitting that the Giants opponent for the 2012 NLCS was the St. Louis Cardinals. In the history of the National League the franchises that have stood above the rest are the Cardinals, Dodgers, and the Giants. The oldest franchise belongs to the Reds. Surpassing the Dodgers and then beating the Reds should lead to a meeting with St. Louis. It's they way things should be done. Baseball is about history and roots, and the Giants were about to leave their mark forever.

     The series started in San Francisco as the Giants had home field advantage. The Cards were the final playoff team in the NL. They had to go to Atlanta and win a one game playoff then play a full 5 game series with Washington. They were battle tested. Coming off a comeback against the Nats and a World Series win the year before, the Cardinals were a confident bunch.

     Game 1 of this series looked just like the other two games that had been in AT&T that postseason. The crowd was unusually quiet, and the Offense didn't get going. Game 1 starter Madison Bumgarner looked like the MadBum that finished the regular season. He didn't even last 4 innings. Two run HR's by Freese in the 2nd and Beltran in the 4th were part of the 6 runs he let up. The bottom of the order got to Lance Lynn a bit in the bottom of the 4th but the damage had been done. The only thing good to come out of the game was the chance for the hitters to see the vaunted Cardinals bullpen.

     The tone of the series changed with Game 2. The magic man of the second half, Marco Scutaro, was right in the middle of it. In the top of the 1st inning Matt Holliday barrel rolled in to Marco at 2nd base on an attempted double play. It looked painful. Our spark plug lay on the ground writhing. The whole season flashed before Giants fans eyes. What would we do without the catalyst at the top? But Marco's tough. He got up, brushed himself off, and the Giants seemed to wake up.

     Angel Pagan lead off the bottom of the 1st with a HR. Marco followed with a single just to show he was ok. The fans were in to it better than any game yet. Ryan Vogelsong went out and pitched his ass off. He got in trouble in the 2nd and gave up a run on a hit to the opposing pitcher, but otherwise he was lights out. His ball was heavy and through the zone all night. He kept the Giants in it until Marco Scutaro stroked a single to LF that went under the glove on Holliday and allowed 3 runs to score. The Giants were in the driver's seat and the baseball gods had spoken. This series was going to St. Louis tied.

     The Giants were road warriors in the first round, this time they fell flat on their face. Game 3 was just ugly baseball. Cain kept it close by only allowing 3 runs, but no one wanted to drive any runners in. The Giants left 11 men on base. Game 4 was equally shitty. We all hoped for Timmy to have a redemption start, didn't happen. He allowed 4 runs on 6 hits in just 4.2 innings. Once again the hitting was not there and the Giants lost 8-3. The lone bright spot was a Pablo Sandoval 2 run HR in the 9th.

     After the horrible way the Giants lost Game 4 I joined a movement. I watched every game with other Giants fans on Twitter. Suddenly the hash tag #RallyZito was popping up in everyones feed. With the Giants down 3-1 there was nothing left to lose. A whole fan base got active and threw their love behind Barry Zito. The man who had been left off the roster in 2010 was the last hope of 2012. His contract always looming large, but his production mediocre, was Barry Zito. We went all in with a soft tossing lefty, and crossed our fingers.

     Friday October 19, 2012 was the night of Barry Zito's life. He not only went out and matched any expectations, he exceeded them. When it was needed most, he stepped up in the biggest way. Bruce Bochy showed his faith and got 7.2 innings, 6 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, and 0 runs from the unlikeliest of pitchers. As a bonus, Zito was part of the 4 run 4th inning that changed the series. Lance Lynn made an error that lead to the onslaught and Zito finished off the scoring with a bunt single that surprised everyone and scored Blanco. The close up shot of Zito on 1st and the big sigh just go through his body was forever priceless. Casilla and Romo finished the shutout off and the Giants were in business heading back home. For the 4th time in the 2012 playoffs the Giants had faced elimination and won. 

     With a fan base re energized by the #RallyZtio phenomenon, there was new life at AT&T for Game 6. The Giants were back to playing baseball they way they knew best. Score runs early and let the pitchers do work. This time around it was Ryan Vogelsong. The Giants scored 1run in the 1st and 3 in the 2nd to give Vogey an early 4-0 lead. The rest was cruise control. The Cardinal hitters were dominated to the tune of 7 IP, 4H, 9K, 1BB, 1R. Marco Scutaro continued his hot streak by always being on base and driving in runs. The bullpen had 2 more scoreless innings. There was more anticipation than distress over Game 7.

     Monday night October 22 was the night for Game 7. My football team, the Chicago Bears, were playing on Monday Night Football the same night. They were relegated to a smaller, off to the side, screen. The San Francisco Giants were front and center in a winner take all game. The Giants had never won a Game 7 in my lifetime. Since I was already happy to see them make it this far, I would have been ok with a loss. I was prepared for it. This time felt different though. Crazy as it sounds, I felt like my dad was helping me get behind this Giants team. They did the next right thing, and it always got reflected in the final results.

     Matt Cain got to take the ball for a winner take all game again. He didn't have to be great, just keep the Giants in a position to win. But this team decided to take all the guess work out of it early. Pagan and Scutaro led off with base hits. The Giants came out firing. A run on a ground out by Panda in the 1st, and another on Matt Cain helping his cause with a 2 out RBI single in the 2nd. The 3rd inning was historic. Marco Scutaro lead off with a walk, Pablo then doubled to left and Buster walked. The bases were loaded for Hunter Pence. He had been scuffling all series and looked horrible at the plate.

     On the first pitch from Joe Kelly the Giants ticket to the World Series was punched. Hunter Pence swung and connected just under the barrel of the bat. The bat shattered on impact, but the force of the swing kept it moving. Slow motion cameras would show during replays that the ball and bat connected at three different times. It looked as if the ball spun one way, then took a turn. The Cardinal shortstop was frozen and the line drive went through. The ball rolled to the outfield and all 3 runs came home to score. The Giants had a 5-0 lead after 3 innings of Game 7 with Matt Cain on the mound, at home. It was over.

     Late in the game, as the Giants lead grew to 9-0, it began to rain. Not hard at first, but consistent. But then, in the bottom of the 9th, the heavens opened up. It began to pour. To me, it felt like my dad was giving this team their blessing. When the camera zoomed in and showed us Marco Scutaro exalting in joy, it was time to lose it. The final out was appropriately enough a pop up by Matt Holliday that was caught by Scutaro. My dad taught me how things can even out in baseball, this team was living proof. I cried and cried that night. I felt as if I was sharing every moment with my father. Now we had one last chance to see a champion together.

Eric Nathanson