I hit the triple and I said, “They’re done.’
In game 162, playing against the division rival for the right to go the playoffs, it wasn’t Jonathan Sanchez’s job to hit. It was his job to pitch. Nobody would argue that Sanchez was transcendental on the mound, but he did what he had to do, throwing five shutout innings despite three hits and five walks. He certainly received some defensive help from some unlikely candidates in Pablo Sandoval and Juan Uribe.
Instead, it was Sanchez’s bat which became a story. In the bottom of the third inning, Sanchez hit a triple deep to right center field off young Padres starter Mat Latos. He would eventually score the first run of the game for the Giants, which would turn out to be enough as the bullpen managed to shut the door with four scoreless innings behind Sanchez.
The hit was the third most important play for the Giants on offense – behind the Freddy Sanchez RBI single which scored the pitching Sanchez and the Aubrey Huff RBI double which scored the second baseman Sanchez. Jonathan’s triple had a WPA of +0.083, which seems underwhelming. Somewhat surprisingly, accounting for his role as pitcher only increases the WPA of the at-bat to +.091 (according to calculations from the WPA Inquirer), but it is worth pointing out that Sanchez’s triple was only the 4th by a pitcher all season and only the 20th extra base hit of more than a double. There’s also something to be said for the fact that Sanchez set up the top of the lineup with a runner on third and nobody out – the better hitters at the top of the order aren’t accounted for in WPA.
Perhaps it was a bit much for Sanchez to claim that the Padres were “done” after that hit, but maybe he had so much confidence in the top of his order that he knew he would come around to score. As he indeed scored on the next plate appearance, the Giants win probability rose to 65.4%; by the end of the inning the Giants had a 74.5% win expectancy. Sanchez’s triple wasn’t even the most important play of the inning, much less the game – the two run scoring plays in the inning had WPAs above +.100. But the triple kick-started the rally which gave the Giants the lead, and it seems to represent the turning point of what was formerly a 0-0 tie.
In the end, Sanchez was right: his triple and the ensuing runs buried the Padres. The most prominent threat to the Giants’ chances came immediately after Sanchez was pulled in the sixth inning. His replacement, Santiago Casilla, immediately induced a 5-4 double play from Yorvit Torrealba. The next inning, the Padres managed two baserunners, but Miguel Tejada struck out to end the inning. Those would be the last two baserunners stranded by a Padre in 2010, as Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson took down the Padres in order in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
Over 162 games, things tend to even out, but sometimes, it takes only one to decide a season, and in one game, anything can happen. Nobody would’ve guessed before the game that it would be Johnathan Sanchez who would ignite the rally to vault the Giants into the postseason. What happened on Sunday night was simply part of the magic of the game, and now that magic brings the Giants into October with a chance to win it all.
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