When we last saw the San Francisco Giants regularly contending for the playoffs, late-inning deficits were nothing to fear, as Barry Bonds and/or some other Giants slugger would come through with a dramatic hit to lift the Giants to victory.
In 2006, Shea Hillenbrand might be that man opposite Bonds.
After Bonds tied the game with a 2-run home run in the top of the eighth, Hillenbrand deposited a line drive into the left field bleachers in the tenth inning, and the Giants defeated the Cincinnati Reds 5-4 at Great American Ballpark.
The victory vaulted the Giants ahead of the Reds in the NL wild card standings, and the Giants now sit just two games behind the leading San Diego Padres and 4 ½ games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have lost two in a row.
Today’s chase for the wild card and a postseason berth initially seemed like a wild goose chase, thanks in large to wildness by starting pitcher Brad Hennessey. The young righthander was not sharp from the beginning, issuing five walks, and lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He allowed all four Reds runs in the game, but only two of them were earned due to a fielding error by Ray Durham in the 2-run bottom of the fifth.
Perhaps a few months ago, an inning like the fifth might have done the Giants in. However, Giants relievers and fielders shut down the Reds the remainder of the way, and set things up for the offensive dramatics in the eighth. Cincinnati starter Aaron Harang had been in command for most of the game, walking only one batter while striking out eight Giants batters. However, he led off the top of the eighth by hitting leadoff hitter Randy Winn. Winn was erased on the bases by a fielder’s choice, but with two outs, Harang threw a pitch down the middle that Bonds did not miss for a game-tying 2-run home run that just evaded the reach of outfielders Ken Griffey Jr. and Ryan Freel. Griffey injured himself on the play and had to be taken out of the game.
Shutout Giants relief pitching, begun by Jamie Wright (though he did allow two inherited baserunners to score), finished by Mike Stanton, and with contributions and appearances in between by Jack Taschner, Brian Wilson, Steve Kline, and Kevin Correija (1-0) kept the Giants tied until the top of the tenth. With two outs, Hillenbrand clubbed a line drive home run off of David Weathers (4-4) for the go-ahead run a lead that, thanks to a 1-2-3 bottom of the tenth by Stanton, held up.
The Giants initially led the game twice, both times thanks to Moises Alou. The veteran right fielder put the Giants on the board with an RBI double that scored Durham in the second, and homered to make it 2-1 Giants in the fourth. In both instances, the Reds tied the ballgame in the bottom of the inning, with solo home runs by old friend Rich Aurilia and Reds catcher Jason LaRue.
Old friends or not, this afternoon was not to be for the Reds. Cincinnati adjusted its rotation to match their best starters against the Giants in this series, and now they are 0-1. Playoff fever catch it, in San Francisco.
SFDugout’s Player of the Game: Hillenbrand. Initially, Brian Sabean’s trade for Hillenbrand and Stanton for blue chipper Jeremy Accardo seemed like a bust, as Hillenbrand struggled out of the gates as a Giant. But the Giant’s new number three hitter is now showing everyone why he was a 2-time AL All Star with some clutch hitting of late. Huge props also to Correija, who pitched hitless relief and got out of a jam in the eighth, and Stanton, whose pitching has probably allowed Felipe Alou to sleep a bit easier lately.
Don Shin eats, breathes, thinks, and bleeds in Orange and Black. Pac Bell Park officially opened on his 25th birthday (the one year he decided to move out of the Bay Area!!!). For the 2000 playoff drive, he dyed his hair orange while studying in Korea. He watched Game 6 of the '02 World Series at a restaurant in LA, and couldn't finish his meal afterwards. Feel free to write him at firstname.lastname@example.org to commiserate, cheer, and complain.
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