As the hours pass after Mondays shocking 3-2 victory by the San Francisco Giants over the (for now) division leading San Diego Padres, the realization sets in that the work isnt even close to done. To have any realistic chance, the Giants still must take 3 more games in San Diego, and then do more over the weekend.
But boy, do things feel better. That is what momentum does for you.
The Giants didnt just win a must-win game on Monday. They didnt just defeat a team that threw out perhaps the two best pitchers in the NL West. They gut-punched San Diego.
If Giants fans need to be reminded of what a gut-punch feels like, I have two words for you.
Of the 2002 World Series, that is. The Giants were cruising towards a world title, and everything looked great for them. But somehow, unbelievably, the Anaheim Angels came back to win.
Giant fans were left shocked. They avoided eye contact with each other. Their drives home from wherever they were watching the game at were silent affairs. No one wanted to talk about it. Those that did said what we were all afraid to think: the Giants were going to lose it all. There was still one game to play, but the feeling was there. That feeling, of course, proved correct.
Right now, San Diego fans and players are feeling that.
The significance of this game cant be stated enough. Sure, it was just the first of four must-win games, but it was so much more. It was a game where the Giants faced the Padres ace Jake Peavy, by far and away their best pitcher. The Giants had pitched an inconsistent rookie. It was a game that the Padres felt they had won, going into the 9th with a lead and putting out Trevor Hoffman, who had a streak of 38 straight converted saves. It was a game in which the Giants proved that the Padres are vulnerable, even when they only put their two best guys on the mound. Sure, the Giants have 3 more games to play and win against them, but they wont have to face Peavy again. And if they face Hoffman again, everyone on the field, including Hoffman, will have Mondays events very much in mind.
Hoffman understated it after the game, saying "Unfortunately, it provided a little bit of momentum for these guys going into tomorrow."
This game should also be heartening for fans because they saw the Giants prove themselves and their mettle on the field. J.T. Snow literally took one on the chin, falling over a railing and giving a steel camera the worst of a collision, all on a foul ball that he couldn't reach. Omar Vizquel, who hasnt had a day off since August, continued to play gold glove defense, showing his range in all directions in the 9th inning. Mike Matheny, whose overall numbers look terrible, again came up with a clutch single to start the winning rally. Ray Durham continues to play on his hamstrung legs. Moises Alous groin has him looking like Verbal from The Usual Suspects when he runs, and yet hes still stealing bases. And hes not even close to being the gimpiest runner on the team.
That, of course, is Barry Bonds.
Last week, ESPNs Eric Neel published a wonderfully written story about Robb Nen, about how he ended his career by playing hurt, pitching himself and those 2002 Giants into the World Series, where they came so tantalizing close to a championship. Make no mistake, that is what Bonds is doing. Watching him hobble in the outfield after sprinting to make a double-saving catch, or just down the line after hitting a ball, and you know how much that leg is hurting. He is truly putting his career, and his chances of breaking that coveted home run record, at serious risk to try and get this team into the playoffs, where anything can happen.
Question his character if you want, but if you're watching this series, you cannot question his guts and desire to win at all costs.
So this is the 2005 Giants. Young kids pitching like grizzled veterans. Old players pushing the limits of age and their bodies to win. And the amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity to make the playoffs despite a losing record. More than one sports commentator has joked about the NL West and the disgrace it would be to have a sub .500 playoff team.
Well, if the Giants make it, there is no disgrace. They'll have earned this. They'll have paid for it in blood, sweat, and tears (and pulls and strains and other assorted leg injuries). We're just now seeing who this team is, as opposed to the 25 guys that were on the Opening Day roster.
There are still three games left against the Padres, all must wins. And if they pull off that unthinkable feat, theres still a Diamondbacks series to play while the Padres face the increasingly punchless Dodgers. And perhaps one more tiebreaking game with San Diego after that.
More than ever, however, you get the feeling the Giants can really do it.
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