|Do not go gentle into that good night|
Rage, RAGE against the dying of the light
So the series moved to Cincinnati for what everyone expected to be a brief stay. The baseball writers liked to harp on how no team had ever come back from 2-0 in a five-game series on the road, but I think that is looking at it backwards. The reason no team ever did it is that it cannot be done. Three games, all of them win-or-go-home affairs, against an arguably better team. Your best pitchers already used, your best hitters ineffective and demoralized, your field leadership casting about, looking for answers where there were only questions.
Then came that moment. If something historically impossible is going to actually happen, something unusual, even bizarre, has to occur in order to break the momentum and shatter the methodical march to victory. The Reds could afford almost anything to happen in Game 3 - they only had to win ONE GAME at home and, even with their ace, Johnny Cuetto, out of the lineup with injuries, they'd still have Giant killer Mat Latos to pitch in a deciding Game 5. But out of an infinite set of possibilities, the ONE thing the Reds could not allow was what happened in Game 3. They won that game in every way but one - the final score was Giants 2, Reds 1. The Reds could call it a fluke, they held the Giants to one hit while striking out SIXTEEN over 9 innings. But to the Giants, it was anything but a fluke. It was proof of a belief that was rapidly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Giants didn't HAVE to be better - they just had to play together, as a unit, every man selflessly fighting for the man next to him.
Before the game, quirky mid-season acquisition Hunter Pence did something that isn't done in professional baseball. He gathered the team together, and he gave a little speech. As it turned out, it was a stemwinder, a barn-burner, a war cry of unity and determination. He said he was having the time of his life playing with these guys, and he just wasn't ready to go home quite yet. He implored the team to win once more so they could play together again tomorrow. And something funny happened - even though Homer Baily flirted with another no hitter, they stood up and traded blow for blow. The Giants pitching and defense kept the score tied, and when Scott Rolen made an uncharacteristic error in the 10th, they pushed the winning run across.
The Reds could have survived a blowout. They could have survived a slugfest. What they could not overcome was the incredible display of determination, a team that, because they absolutely refused to lose, had no option but to find some way to win. And by winning that way, not with star pitchers and power hitters, but by something less easy to measure, something that can't be found in the box scores, the Giants altered the basic calculation of the series. Still down 2 games to 1, at the end of Game 3 the experts knew the Giants still didn't have a chance. But the Reds knew there was something like a force of nature in the opposing clubhouse, and the Giants knew they had something more than talent, something more than luck, something more, ultimately, than the Reds had. They had love.
In the end, it really wasn't even close. The series was over, it just remained to play it out. In Game 4, Pence was back with another motivational oration. Barry Zito, the Giants most dependable pitcher down the stretch, was ineffective, but it didn't matter. The Giants bats came to life, and the woeful, struggling Tim Lincecum came on and pitched six innings of electric relief. He never seemed to doubt, he never wavered. The Reds never got close. In Game 5, the Giants took the lead in the fifth and fought throughout the rest of the game to hold it. The Reds challenged and threatened every inning, but the Giants did everything they needed to do to hold on and win.
The comparisons to the 2010 team are inevitable. That was a bunch of castoffs and misfits, a team that came together at the end and were simply better than everybody else. The similarities are noteworthy, but the differences are more important. The 2010 team was better, mostly due to their starting pitching. That year, it was simply a fact - if the Giants scored three runs, they won. This year, the team has much better hitting from top to bottom, a bullet-proof bullpen and terrific defense. And they have a secret weapon the older, more jaded Cardinals don't have a counter for - they are simply having too much fun to go home.