Two stories stand out in what was quietly the most competitive game of the playoffs so far: Tim Lincecum’s dominance, and a crucial blown call.
As several people pointed out in the immediate aftermath, Tim Lincecum’s game score of 96 was actually higher than Roy Halladay’s 94 in his no-hitter against Reds on Wednesday. This isn’t an endorsement of game score, but does make one think. After all, is a complete game two-hitter really that much less impressive than a no-hitter for a pitcher, given all the variables (fielders, “bad bounces,” ballparks, weather conditions, etc.) that go into the destiny of batted balls? While Lincecum gave up two hits to Halladay’s zero, Lincecum also struck out 14 to Doc’s 8. Then again, 10 of Lincecum’s batted balls were flylballs while 12 of Halladay’s 19 were grounders. I’m not choosing a side, and it doesn’t really matter. Halladay’s game will justifiably go down as one of the greatest in playoff history, but Lincecum’s should get at least a footnote.
Lincecum’s dominance made it seem as if the Giants were running away with the game, but, of course, they only won 1-0. As noted in the preview, Derek Lowe is no slouch. While Halladay’s no-hitter led fans to dub the playoffs “Doctober,” (a meme that became irritating about 15 minutes after it began) Braves starter Derek Lowe made a reasonable case for OctLOWEber, striking out 6 and (more impressively) getting 11 ground balls on 13 balls in play before getting pulled after five-and-a-third. For all the helplessness the Braves offense displayed, the Giants weren’t exactly ripping the cover off of the ball. This should be troubling since, although Lowe is a good pitcher, he’s probably only Atlanta’s third-best starter. Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson aren’t going to make things any easier on the Giants hitters.
Unfortunately, the best game of the playoffs so far was marred by a blown call that set up the only (and thus deciding) run scored in the game. Leaving aside the larger discussion of officiating going on elsewhere, let’s focus on the sequence of the half-inning, since it features not only an officiating blunder, but some “interesting” tactical decisions. Buster Posey singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth. With one on and no outs, and Pat Burrell at the at the plate, either San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy (or perhaps Posey himself) decided it would be a good time to attempt a steal. Although Posey is probably faster than most other catchers, he’s no speed demon, and hasn’t successfully stolen a base in the majors this season. While Brian McCann isn’t Yadier Molina behind the plate, he’s not Ryan Doumit, either. Of course, it “worked” as Posey took the base, despite replays showing that he was tagged out. After Burrell struck out followed by a Juan Uribe whiff, Bobby Cox made a questionable decision to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval in order to get Lowe the platoon advantage against Cody Ross (the double play potential is irrelevant with two outs), and Ross singled to score Posey for what turned out to be the game’s deciding run.
It’s worth running through the sequence less to emphasize the blown call (which was undoubtedly the key event in the game given what came after) or the curious tactical choices (Bochy kept it up by sending Aubrey Huff, of all people, in the ninth inning; he got gunned down by McCann). Rather, it again reinforces the reality of just how close this game really was, despite Lincecum blowing the Braves away left and right. Giants fans will justifiably remember Lincecum’s awesome performance for a long time. But given San Francisco’s own offensive impotence against the Braves third-best starter, it shouldn’t make them feel overly confident heading into Games Two and Three.
Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.