Tragedy Then Triumph for the Giants in Game 5
During the 2014 World Series, Bloomberg View columnists Jonathan Bernstein and Kavitha A. Davidson will discuss, debate and dissect the happenings on and off the diamond.
Jonathan Bernstein: I could talk about how well the Giants played, or especially the amazing pitching performance by Madison Bumgarner. Or that we finally got a whopper from Ned Yost, who brutally botched a double-switch when the game was still close.
But I have to start with Juan Perez, smashing a ball high off the center-field wall off of Wade Davis to knock in two runs in the eighth inning. It’s something that simply cannot happen. It defies all statistics, all probability, all common sense. Davis is unhittable: he gave up two extra-base hits to right-handed batters, both doubles, all year. And Perez? He’s sitting there with a .307 lifetime SLG, not counting the 20 at-bats he had had during the postseason -- three singles, no extra base hits. It just can’t happen. I still can’t believe it happened.
Meanwhile … Travis Ishikawa misplayed one ball in left field, getting a slow jump and then diving for no good reason, giving the Royals a double. Other than that? I can’t think of anything the Giants did wrong all night. Fielding, hitting, baserunning and obviously pitching ... yeah, this team barely edged into the postseason, but the National League could be proud of their pennant winners in Game 5. Just one reminder: Brandon Belt, who as far as I can remember had never tried anything like it before, reached on a beautiful shift-destroying bunt single as a central part of their first run-scoring rally. Wonderful.
Of course, anything can happen, so the Series is hardly over, and the Giants don’t get any more Bumgarner starts. But they sure played like champions Sunday night.
Kavitha A. Davidson: Obviously, the star of Game 5 was Bumgarner, who at just 25 is putting together the kind of postseason resume that legends are made of. But as you said, any discussion of last night needs to begin with Perez, who sealed the game for the Giants with a bases-clearing double off Davis that was all the more unlikely given the tragedy he was dealing with.
The baseball world was rocked last night by news of St. Louis Cardinals rookie Oscar Tavares' death in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. As Giants fans continued to cheer their team, largely unaware of what had happened, the news stunned reporters in the press box and eventually reached Perez, who had formed a strong friendship with Tavares when the two were teammates in winter ball. In the fifth inning, Perez retreated to the clubhouse, where he was found in tears by his hitting coach.
Baseball history is rife with tales of tragedy. In moments like these, perspective is often lost; the emphasis on "playing through pain," emotional or otherwise, supplants what's really important. Nobody could fault Perez for breaking down in these circumstances.
And yet, the game can serve as an outlet for fans and players alike to work through grief. I'm reminded immediately of New York Yankees rightfielder Paul O'Neill playing in Game 4 of the 1999 World Series just a day after his father died. He went 0-3 as the Yankees swept the Atlanta Braves, but showing up was heroic enough.
Whether it's the ability to control one's emotions, to channel grief into one's work, or to compartmentalize the personal and the professional -- the desire to "get back out there" displayed by Perez and O'Neill is so emblematic of the athlete mentality. It's not exactly normal, and who knows if it's healthy, but it's quite something to witness.
JB: Those are great points about a terribly sad story, Kavitha. As far as Perez: I think it’s important for us, as fans and as analysts, to appreciate the incredible things that these athletes do without turning their successes and failures into character studies. What Perez did was incredible, but his grief and loss would have been just as real, and we would have no reason to think differently of him, had he struck out or even if he hadn’t been able to play after hearing the news.
Back on the field, I do want to elaborate a bit about Yost’s disastrous double switch. But first, a word from baseball analyst (and die-hard Royals fan) Rany Jazayerli: “Jayson Nix had 2 at-bats under NL rules in Games 3, 4 and 5. Kelvin Herrera had 1. Billy Butler had 1. Josh Willingham had 0.”
The Royals brought in Herrera to pitch the bottom of the seventh after the 7 spot in the lineup made the last out. Yost double-switched, removing second baseman Omar Infante and inserting Jayson Nix into the 9 hole. The result was that Nix batted in the eighth inning, with Willingham (a much better hitter) rotting on the bench. The supposed benefit from this was that Herrera was able to stay in to pitch the eighth, but given that Wade Davis was rested and gets another day off today, that was an odd choice -- and it backfired badly, as Davis wound up replacing Herrera anyway after the first two batters in the inning singled.
Granted: Last night, it’s fairly likely that once the Giants plated a single run, the game was over no matter what Yost (or Bruce Bochy for that matter) did. Bumgarner made sure of that. But still, it was a terrible move, and you never know; if Willingham reaches in the eighth, maybe things work out differently after all. At any rate, it’s the manager’s job to put his team in the best position to win, and Yost didn’t come close to that last night.
Last note: The Giants have now outscored the Royals 27 to 15 through five games. They only outscored the Tigers by 10 runs in their 2012 sweep.
KAD: You're absolutely right -- all series we've been examining Yost in the context of how closely he's been able to stick to his game-plan (dictated by the performances he gets from his starting pitching) and last night, he deviated from the formula for seemingly no reason at all. One of the few benefits of sacrificing his weaker relievers in Game 4's blowout was having the luxury of deploying his bullpen exactly as he needed. The only thing I can think of is that Yost might have been reticent to use Holland in the ninth if the Royals had managed to tie it at 2-2, but it's silly to manage on hypotheticals.
If you're a glass-half-full Royals fan, than knowing that Kansas City is 2-1 this series in games not started by Bumgarner might be comforting. That is until you realize that Bumgarner will be on-hand for potential long-relief in Game 7, meaning the team would have to jump on starter Tim Hudson early.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Royals need another solid start from hard-throwing rookie Yordano Ventura in tomorrow's Game 6. The team should also be looking forward to heading home and reinserting designated hitter Billy Butler into the tepid lineup, as well as Nori Aoki, whose bat was replaced by Jarrod Dyson's defense in right field in San Francisco.
The Giants, however, definitely have the psychological upper hand, having shut out the Royals in the last 15 innings, and could very well put this series away tomorrow. I'm looking forward to a great night of baseball.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.
To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at email@example.com