Here is a link to my column on the Giants’ wild-card win. The full text runs below:
PITTSBURGH — The Giants players were wearing those goggles. You know, the champagne goggles.
The Giants frolicked in the visiting clubhouse spraying champagne after they eliminated the Pirates 8-0, and they wore big, yellow-tinted plastic goggles to protect their eyes from the burning champagne — Pablo Sandoval and Jeremy Affeldt and Jean Machi and the rest.
They looked like enormous insects from a sci-fi movie or over-amped welders. They looked weird and happy while Hunter Pence called everyone together and gave a victory speech — “Great work tonight.” And his teammates chanted in response, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” Pence’s speech was G-rated, without a single F-bomb in case you’re wondering.
The Giants had earned the right to those goggles and the champagne and the speech and, mostly, the Giants had earned the right to life.
The wild-card game is not life. It is the doorstep of life. It is the netherworld and it is purgatory. You have to burst through it to join the living.
Be clear about this. For the Giants, 2014 was an almost-dead season, a near-death experience. Almost.
Consider this excerpt from the Giants game notes for the wild-card game. It gives you the feel for their brush with death:
“Nearly blew a chance at even making the postseason with a two-and-a-half month stint in which they were 15 games under .500. SF had the best record in baseball through June 8, then had a two-month swoon from June 9-Aug. 25 in which they had a season-high 10-game lead in the NL West, then lost that lead in just 25 days in June-July.”
That reads like an obituary. Except the Giants aren’t dead. They breathe oxygen and eat food.
They owe their hold on life to Madison Bumgarner who threw a four-hit, 10-strikeout, complete-game shutout. As he watched him defeat Pittsburgh, Bruce Bochy said to himself, “We got the right guy out there.”
The Pirates never stood a chance against Bumgarner, never earned their goggles. It’s like the Pittsburgh batters — the great Andrew McCutchen included — were cardboard cutouts standing there without the ability to swing or think. That’s how overwhelmed they were against Bumgarner, the living, breathing definition of ace.
Afterward, his hair drenched with champagne, he compared this wild-card game to his initial Giants’ postseason in 2010. “My first season, I didn’t know what I was doing.” He grinned. “I didn’t have a plan.”
Because of him, it doesn’t matter that this season hovered at the brink of doom. And it doesn’t matter that the Giants blew a big lead in their division and had to suffer the peril, the sheer fright of the wild-card game.
Everything is new. Everything is in front of them. Everything is possible. If you want to be honest, that includes a championship — the possibility of one. The Giants are now on the same footing as every division winner. It all starts anew. Life starts anew.
And now comes the next big thing for the Giants. The next serious question. Do the Giants have enough to win the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals?
They sure had enough for the Pirates, weren’t at all cowed by that frenzied sellout crowd vibrating the stands and cheering on Edinson Volquez, “Eddie! Eddie!”
The Giants handled Eddie, no sweat. But they’re not always going to face the Eddies of the world and, more to the point, Bumgarner won’t start every game for them.
So, were the Giants dominating, fearless, potent for one game, as in one-game wonders, or can they compete in a whole series, actually win a series against a top team? Specifically, do they have enough pitching and do they have enough hitting?
I’m just asking.
I can tell you, until they almost ran the Pirates into the Allegheny River, the Giants weren’t hitting like champs. That includes Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford, who hit a grand slam in the fourth inning – making the largest crowd in PNC Park history go dead silent. And that includes Pablo Sandoval who, to a collective gasp by the crowd, propelled himself toward the stands in the bottom of the seventh and caught a Russell Martin pop-up and hit the belt-high barrier and rolled over the barrier and almost did a header.
So, yes, the Giants hit like crazy against the Pirates. Will that continue starting Friday in the Nationals’ ballpark?
Before the game, Bochy seemed contemplative. You never would call him nervous. He never shows nerves. He’s so composed he could have been a psychiatrist.
He was talking about starting Travis Ishikawa in left field. Ishikawa is a feel-good story, but the fact remains he started the season with the Pirates, got designated for assignment and became a minor-league free agent. The Giants picked him up out of necessity, and there he was starting the wild-card game. It’s something you read in a storybook.
“I think he’s our best choice,” Bochy admitted. “Sometimes, you do things that may be out of the norm because of your injury situation. With (Angel) Pagan down and the struggles of (Juan) Perez, this kind of forced this.”
Bochy also spoke wistfully about Michael Morse, who wasn’t even active for the wild-card game — bad oblique muscle. “If this thing goes on (the postseason), he will be activated at some point,” Bochy said, voice grim. “He’s just not ready today. I wish he was. It would be nice to have him come off the bench. Hey, it’s not what we don’t have. We have to focus on what we have right now. And that’s this 25-man roster.”
Bochy is a wise man. He spoke one of life’s essential truths: You don’t focus on what you lack. You focus on what you have.
So, do the Giants have enough assets, enough good stuff, enough weapons to focus on in the postseason? It is not an impertinent question or a rude question or even a doubting question. It is the essential question.
The Giants want to prove — need to prove — the answer is yes.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.