Lincecum Sails, Defense Fails in NLCS Game 5

The San Francisco Giants’ quest to confirm dugout seating reservations for the 2010 World Series took a hit in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series as they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 at AT&T Park. San Francisco keeps an overall 3-2 advantage in the seven game series, but the NLCS now moves back to the hitter friendly confines of Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park on Saturday October 23rd.

tim-lincecum-apIn deciding just who is awarded the uncoveted dead bird in this one, don’t blame Giants’ starter Tim Lincecum, who put up a sterling pitching line of 7 innings pitched, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts. But please feel free to point an accusing finger at the Giants shaky infield defense, which turned the top of the third inning into a festival of Philly run scoring.

The initial scoring was Giants-related, as San Francisco took the lead 1-0 in the first inning after catcher Buster Posey’s fielder’s choice ground ball scored Andres Torres.

Fast-forward to the nightmare top of the third. After Phils left fielder Raul Ibanez opened the inning with a single, catcher Carlos Ruiz decided not to move when an inside pitch headed his way and he got plunked– so runners at first and second, no outs. In the bizarre follow-up play, pitcher Roy Halladay attempted to sacrifice the runners over by way of a bunt. The ball died on the plate and Halladay didn’t run because he saw the ball was foul. But home plate umpire Jeff Nelson stood motionless, indicating a fair ball.

This was a critical moment in a critical game, and two players instantly reacted correctly; Ibanez bolted from second base, and Giants catcher Buster Posey pounced on the ball and rifled a throw to third base. The throw easily beat Ibanez, but third baseman Pablo Sandoval did not initially react and his attempt to back-peddle with the ball failed when his foot missed the third base bag. Ibanez was safe at third and Ruiz at second, while Sandoval stood at third with the ball in his hand until Posey yelled for him to throw Halladay out at first; which he managed to do.

The very next play was the defining moment of the ball game. Lead-off hitter Shane Victorino hit a low line drive at Giants’ first baseman Aubrey Huff. Huff later told reporters he thought the ball was going to be a short hop and his initial thought was to go to the plate with the throw and nail Ibanez at home. The ball might also have been caught in the air, in which case and Huff could have doubled Ruiz off at second. Whatever the scenarios, Huff appeared to give a look to the runners just as the ball got to him, and it bounced off his shoe or glove, and somehow ended up in shallow center field.

On Huff’s error, Ibanez scored, Ruiz scored, Victorino to second base. For Aubrey Huff, who has been central to the soul of this 2010 Giants team, it had to be a gut-wrenching moment. The next batter, third baseman Placido Polanco, singled to left center and plated Victorino, 3-1 Phillies.

An Aubrey Huff error at first base is as rare as the chef at a real banquet actually serving Coors beer. In a hundred games at first in 2010, a total of 813 chances, Huff committed only 3 errors. He has been, and will continue to be, a defensive rock at first base for the Giants. This is simply what the gods of baseball sometimes bring to the banquet, in this case a rare Huff miscue that ultimately cost three runs.

The only other scoring in the game would be a home run by Phillies’ slugger Jayson Werth in the 9th inning, his first of the 2010 postseason. In a night of rare events, a rare AT&T Park right field homerun by a right-handed batter.

With victory one game away, the Giants have to reboot and face the best team in the National League in their own home park. This we do know: there will be moments of unrelenting joy and crushing frustration as the amazing and gritty San Francisco Giants take flight to Philadelphia and a date with their 2010 baseball destiny.

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