Sometime around midnight, well after the catastrophe, the Giants began the process of recovery. They’d been humiliated in Tuesday night’s game six of the World Series, rendered almost unrecognizable by the 10-0 loss, and it was a time for words.
There’s no way of telling how it all went down. A team meeting would be awkward and inconvenient at that hour. But you can bet Hunter Pence spoke his peace to somebody. Brian Sabean’s take was surely priceless. And here’s what everyone in the Giants organization needed to know:
Game seven is the greatest spectacle in sports. It doesn’t come around that often. Feel honored to be taking part.
“Tonight was tough, but we’re excited,” Buster Posey said in the postgame clubhouse. “Not a lot of people get to play in a game seven of the World Series. It’s a cool opportunity — for the Giants and the Royals. For fans, it doesn’t get much better.”
The last team to win a seventh game of the World Series was the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, and as a witness, I vividly recall their hauntingly beautiful display of professionalism. The scene was Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, a grand old yard, long-devoted fans assembled for a coronation doomed. There’s nothing quite like the sound of an exuberant home crowd being silenced, when even the most ardent optimists realize there is nothing left to say.
The Pirates silenced Baltimore that night, thanks to Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and the boys, and the Giants are in that position now. To say they’re in pretty good shape would be, quite simply, a lie. To feel pity or resignation, however, would be a disgrace.
Longstanding Giants fans know game seven. They are intimately familiar with the implications and the history. The 1962 World Series brought the likes of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey onto a soggy Candlestick Park field against the Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. In a single, unforgettable moment, the Giants won that series — McCovey hit a shot! — and then lost it. Caught by Bobby Richardson.
Forty years passed before the next (and last) World Series game seven in the San Francisco era. It seemed impossible that anything could match the heartbreak of ’62, but then came game six of the 2002 Series against the Angels in Anaheim, the night Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent hammered out an apparent victory soon to be dashed by ill fortune and a battered bullpen. game seven shouldn’t have been an afterthought, but it felt that way after the Giants went quietly, 4-1.
Be assured there are no evil forces at work here. The Giants have been blessed by two World Series titles in the Sabean-Bruce Bochy era, and they stand just 27 outs away from a third. Wednesday night in Kansas City won’t be about McCovey or Russ Ortiz but the pure spectacle of game seven and all that came before, from Bill Mazeroski and Sandy Koufax to Tug McGraw and Jack Morris, not to mention the A’s first of three straight titles in 1972.
Ned Yost, the Royals’ manager, has been way ahead of the game. He’s been fantasizing about game seven throughout this event, and after taking a brutal loss in game four at AT&T Park, he said, “Oh, man, somewhere inside of me, secretly, I had hoped that it would go seven — just for the excitement and the thrill of it.” Yost took some heat for that — come on, man, where’s your killer instinct — but I loved his stance. He’s managing the Royals in the World Series, and the full experience suits him just fine.
In truth, the Giants bore no resemblance to a World Series team Tuesday night. Buster Posey looked spent from the rigors of catching the entirety of this postseason, his bat nearly as weary as his gait. Jake Peavy’s outing was a grave disappointment. Peavy and first baseman Brandon Belt committed mental mistakes on costly play in the Royals’ seven-run second inning. It felt more like a blowout in May or June, manager Bruce Bochy using Jean Machi, Hunter Strickland and Ryan Vogelsong to get through the hopeless final innings and save the Giants’ prime-time relievers for game seven.
Still, the Giants have too much experience to fret over a loss, even one of this magnitude. The 2012 team bucked heavy odds to win road games in Cincinnati and St. Louis en route to the World Series, and those are comfortable memories just now. “It’s good to know we’ve done it before,” said Jeremy Affeldt. “I don’t know if you can say it’s ‘cool’ to be in a game seven, but we’re gonna be pumped, and I think it will be a fun night. By the end of the game, somebody will say it was a hard-fought battle, and it was earned.”
There has been only one game seven since the Giants’ 2002 debacle, St. Louis defeating Texas three years ago. An upbeat Pence called it a “wonderful” opportunity, saying, “I don’t think you could ask for anything more.” And as he spoke, a fully dressed Pablo Sandoval bopped by, wearing headphones, shouting “Love you, my Ninja” as he left the clubhouse. “Love you, buddy.”
There’s only one cure for the game six blues, and that is hope. I was staying at the Giants’ team hotel in 2002, and the bar was nearly vacant when I ventured in. The bartender might as well have been Scott Spiezio, or one of the Angels’ other heroes that night. Then Dusty Baker showed up, a bold and impressive move by the manager who had seen it all fall apart only hours earlier. He chatted up total strangers offering an encouraging word. Soon there was laughter, and the tinkling of glasses. One of my favorite sportswriters took to the piano, and by the end of the evening, people were singing and chanting and feeling just fine about one more game.
So here we are again. There’s no need to watch game seven in a crouch, peering from behind the sofa. A new day is upon us and history means nothing, beyond a reminder that it’s the pinnacle of professional sports. Greet this blessing with open arms.