By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 1:53 AM
SAN FRANCISCO - There were plenty of things the San Francisco Giants could have done Wednesday evening in their charming home city, besides come to AT&T Park and be led to slaughter at the hands of Cliff Lee in Game 1 of the World Series. It was a lovely night, overcast but mild, perfect for a stroll on Baker Beach beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Live music wafted from the bars of North Beach, the smell of anise from the restaurants of Chinatown.
But since the Giants were already in town, they figured they might as well show up, despite the fact all the evidence, and most of the national opinion, suggested they had a better chance of pushing a boulder up Nob Hill than of defeating the unbeatable Lee.
And once they showed up, the Giants figured they might as well stand in the batter's box and see how long they could survive. It was a bloodbath, to be sure, but one that turned expectation - and the entire World Series - on its head. The Giants crushed Lee, knocking the great lefty from the game in the fifth inning and surging to an 11-7 victory in front of 43,601 enraptured fans.
Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez, a former NL batting champ, doubled three times off Lee - including the one that put the Giants ahead for good during the pivotal fifth inning - equaling on his own the number of extra-base hits Lee had given up in this entire postseason to that point, spanning 24 innings.
"It's just baseball. That's the only thing you can say. It's a crazy game," Sanchez said. "One day you do great things, the next day you can't do anything
For Giants fans, the win confirmed, at least for the moment, the belief around these parts that theirs is a charmed and blessed cast of characters - castoffs and misfits, in the words of their manager - that somehow always finds a way to win, even against a pitcher who ranked, at least statistically, as the best October ace the game had seen since the days of Koufax and Gibson.
"We faced a great pitcher tonight, and he wasn't quite at the top of his game," said Giants Manager Bruce Bochy. "It was not quite the game we thought it would be."
For the Rangers, who made a season-high four errors (two by regular DH Vladimir Guerrero, pressed into duty as right fielder) and numerous mistakes on the base paths, the ugly loss leaves them in a perilous spot, as they must wait five days to get their ace back on the mound again, and hope he turns back into Cliff Lee.
"It's not acceptable to me," Lee said of his performance. "We scored seven runs. That should be enough to win the game."
Game 2 will be Thursday night, with San Francisco's Matt Cain facing Texas left-hander C.J. Wilson - who, like all the Rangers, probably never contemplated the possibility of trailing 1-0 in the series when he takes the mound.
A game billed as one of the great World Series pitching matchups in recent history - Lee and his Giants counterpart, Tim Lincecum, own three Cy Young Awards between them in the past two years - turned slugfest in the middle innings, as neither pitcher made it past the sixth, giving up a combined 12 runs (11 of them earned). The gaudy final score reflected bullpen meltdowns on both sides, with the Giants' victory not locked down until closer Brian Wilson got Ian Kinsler to fly to right to end the game.
Lee, who owned a spotless 7-0 postseason record and microscopic 1.26 ERA entering Wednesday, was peppered with jabs for four innings, then bashed beyond recognition during a remarkable fifth inning that saw the Giants score more runs - six - than they had in all nine innings in nine of their 10 previous games this postseason.
"They're in the World Series, so obviously they're doing something right," Lee said of the Giants' offense. "When you think about the Giants, you think about their rotation and their bullpen. But they've still got a lot of pretty good hitters, too. Give credit to their guys."
A World Series in San Francisco is just a little different. Fans in the stands wore panda costumes, shoulder-length brunette wigs and black-dyed beards - nods to some of the idiosyncrasies of the hometown nine. Minutes before first pitch, an enormous American flag, spanning from one foul line to the other, was marched onto the field to the strains of the Doors' "Riders On the Storm."
The early innings left the unmistakable impression the Giants were playing tense and tight, the Rangers loose and confident. The Giants made two critical mental errors in the first - with Lincecum botching a rundown by inexplicably holding the ball as he approached the cornered base runner, and Sanchez getting doubled off second base on a shallow fly to right.
By the second inning, Lincecum trailed, 2-0, with the Rangers' second run constructed around a double in the gap by Lee. The Rangers were rolling, and as Lee pulled into second, the Rangers' dugout exploded, motioning towards Lee with their ubiquitous "claw" gesture. But Lee would not reciprocate, instead shrugging his shoulders and grinning as if to say, "What, are you surprised?"
These days, a two-run lead with Lee on the mound is like a 10-run lead with anyone else. How far can Lee stretch two runs? He had given up exactly that many in his previous 33 postseason innings. Two runs of support, in fact, would have been enough to have won six of Lee's previous eight career postseason starts.
But things started to happen. This wasn't the Lee we had come to know the past two Octobers. In the third inning, a laborious 32-pitch affair, he hit a batter for only the second time all year - a mistake that cost him when Sanchez and Buster Posey followed with back-to-back run-scoring hits. The two-run lead had lasted all of five batters.
"Just not his night, that's all," said Rangers catcher Bengie Molina.
In the pivotal fifth, Lee walked a batter for only the second time all postseason. The Giants' six-run barrage began with back-to-back, one-out doubles from Torres and Sanchez, and continued with back-to-back two-out, RBI singles from Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff - the latter of which ended Lee's night. But the onslaught wasn't over, as Juan Uribe greeted sidearming right-hander Darren O'Day with a three-run homer to left.
"I threw a ton of pitches," Lee said. "I threw a lot of balls, and I left a lot of balls over the middle of the plate."
Lincecum wasn't exactly himself, either. The NL's leader in strikeouts for three years running, he struck out only one batter of his first five innings. He opened the sixth with back-to-back strikeouts, but couldn't close out the inning, failing to retire four straight batters and suddenly getting the hook.
"When you get here, to the playoffs, you start to realize it's not so much about your stats," Lincecum said. "It's about who comes out on top at the end of the day. Obviously, things kind of nipped away at us, but we came out on top and shut them down."
When Lincecum, or any Giants pitcher, gives up four runs, he can typically expect to be tagged with an L. When the Rangers score four runs for Lee, they can typically take a W to the bank. But as the grizzled old coaches say, and as the Giants take to heart, that's why you play the games.