Giants challenge lies ahead for Phillies in NLCS

Braves starter Derek Lowe reacts after being pulled from game.
Braves starter Derek Lowe reacts after being pulled from game.
Posted: October 12, 2010


That would be the San Francisco Giants, winners of the National League West on the last day of the regular season and winners of that "other" National League Division Series last night at Turner Field.

There were several empty sections at the ballpark just south of downtown, the fans apparently believing the end was near and not really feeling it necessary to see the end of Braves manager Bobby Cox's career after 29 years (25 with the Braves) and 2,504 wins. Cox was one of the great regular-season managers in history. He finishes 66-68 in the postseason.

The end came with the Giants' 3-2 win, giving them the NLDS, 3-1, and setting up Saturday's Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies will trot out Roy Halladay, the perfect, no-hit man, and the Giants will counter with the high school body and world-class arm of Tim Lincecum, the first of what promises to be some legendary duels.

"These might be some of the best pitching matchups the world's ever seen," Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff said.

The Braves and Giants were some seriously impotent lineups. Cincinnati, the best hitting team in the National League, took on H2O, got no-hit once, shut out once and shut down by the Phillies' bullpen once.

"Going into Philly is going to be a real tough climate," Huff understated.

The Giants' offense won't scare anybody. And neither Barry Bonds nor Willie Mays is coming out of the on-deck circle. San Francisco scored only 697 runs, ninth in the National League. The Giants scored two runs or fewer 58 times, fourth most in the majors.

Every game in this series was decided by one run, which could indicate good baseball or mutual mediocrity.

The Braves got no-hit for 5 1/3 innings Sunday night. The Giants went 5 1/3 before getting their first hit last night, a home run by Cody Ross that tied the game, 1-1.

The Braves scored their first run on consecutive third-inning singles, followed by a pair of fly balls to right, an offensive explosion for a team that had struck out 37 times in the first three games of the series and scored one earned run off Giants starters in 23 innings. That was an inherited runner on first who scored on Eric Hinske's Game 3 home run that was an inch out and an inch fair.

All-Star Game MVP Brian McCann (the Phils thank him for that World Series homefield edge) drove in the Braves' two runs, first on that sacrifice fly and then with a homer on the first pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Atlanta starter Derek Lowe, no stranger to big games, was terrific. When the Giants weren't striking out, they were grounding out. And they were doing a lot of both until Lowe, pitching on short rest, hit the wall in the seventh, sandwiching two walks around a swinging bunt single. Lowe was gone and a parade of relievers began to wander in from the bullpen.

The Giants' slow-motion "rally" tied the game on a fielder's choice/high throw to second by Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez. They took the winning lead on Ross' two-out, bases-loaded single. Pat Burrell was out at home on a perfect throw from leftfielder Matt Diaz for the third out. (Wouldn't you like to see Burrell in a 90-foot dash-off with Braves third baseman Troy Glaus? Might be no winner.)

Giants rookie Madison Bumgarner, 21, was solid for six innings. A succession of Giants relievers put the Braves to sleep over the final three innings, finishing off what the Phillies started a month ago when they passed Atlanta like Secretariat looping the field on the first turn of the 1973 Preakness.

Giants closer Brian Wilson made it more interesting than necessary by walking two in the ninth. The final strike went off the bat of Melky Cabrera to third baseman Juan Uribe. His throw across the diamond gave the Phillies an opponent.

"It's no surprise why we're here," Wilson said. "We know what we have. We've got a great team. We have played and beaten Philly before. Baseball says anything can happen."

The Giants were clearly the more dangerous of these teams because of their great pitching. Their 3.36 ERA led the majors. So did their 1,331 strikeouts and .236 batting average against. Their September 1.78 ERA was the best ever for the month. Now, they will try the Phillies.

"They've won two NLCS in a row, right," said the Giants' terrific rookie catcher, Buster Posey. "They're a very good team. They've got veteran players. They know what it's like to be there."

Runs will be at a premium.

"I'd buy a ticket for all of these [pitching matchups]," Huff said.

For what it's worth, the Phils and Giants split six games during the regular season. The Phillies, however, have been in postseason mode for 10 weeks. The Giants are on deck.

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