clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NLCS 2014 ends as Giants defeat both Cardinals, Joe Buck

The scrappy Giants defeated the Cardinals and conventional storytelling in an NLCS both dramatic and heartbreaking. Now on to the World Series against the Royals.

Thearon W. Henderson

SB Nation 2014 MLB Bracket

You will need to strain, maybe, but look in your heart and find some pity for Joe Buck. He is a professional and also he is a little cloying and maybe a little much at times, but the poor bastard never had a chance. Sure, Game 5 toyed with him for a little bit, but the outcome was clear from the jump, in the macro-level sense that the eventual outcome would humble Joe Buck and anyone else pretending to know how any of this would go, or what it even was.

The NLCS between the Giants and Cardinals was a series that devoured the familiar storylines, upended and mocked all the old virtues and big, branded baseball cliches that tend naturally to attach themselves to these teams and this time of year. This is a good thing, of course, a very good thing; the walk-off home run by veteran designee-for-assignment and Giants left fielder of convenience Travis Ishikawa which propelled to the Giants to both a 6-3 win and the World Series is a moment that will be talked about for a long time. It just didn't work out very well for Joe Buck.

"Adam Wainwright's trying to say here tonight 'Don't forget about me,'" Buck intoned in the second inning. Which, sure.

"This is a guy who's built for October," Buck added on Bumgarner an inning later, before a pair of walks, a bunt, and Ishikawa's grandiose duffing of a Jon Jay fly ball led to the game's first run.

The broadcasters had not finished glossing that run's significance and the importance of Getting To The Great Ones Early when Matt Adams tied the game with a vicious and extremely rapid home run that made impact a few dry feet shy of where Joe Panik's homer had splashed down in the previous half inning. They were still talking about Matt Adams when Tony Cruz launched a ball into the left-field seats. The Cardinals were up 3-2, at this point, and Wainwright was settling in. This appeared to be what was happening, anyway.

There was the sense, though, that the game was happening slightly too fast for, and slightly to the left of, all the too-flimsy narratives that threatened to impose themselves on it. The nonsense chatter of the commercial breaks -- "Invented by a dentist who snored..." and the reliably comic-poignant, "Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex" and the testosterone supplement whose ad was seemingly scored to the music from a porno DVD's menu screen -- heightened the absurdity. But it was already there, visible and very odd as it has been throughout this sloppy, tense, dunderheaded, and mostly thrilling string of games.

Some of this ambient silliness is just the natural result of Harold Reynolds being near an open microphone, but a lot of it was this game and this series. It is a familiar thing, at this point, to see teams in these specific uniforms playing baseball well at this time of year, but neither is doing it in quite the way to which we've become accustomed. The game that the professionals kept telling us we were watching kept not happening that way.

Wainwright was as brilliant here as he was un-brilliant in Game 1. He mostly abandoned his cut fastball, and threw a curveball that was occasionally in violation of basic physics precepts, almost always cruel, and reliably snug in the bottom half of the strike zone. As Wainwright grew more comfortable, a sense of play -- fiercely disciplined, glowering, jut-jawed play, admittedly -- emerged. While he crackled and seethed on the mound as pitchers do, Wainwright also got weird: moving left and right along the rubber, slyly introduced a kooky miniature hesitation into his delivery, all in the service of casting blooping, biting science-fiction breaking balls. In the sixth inning, Wainwright struck out Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence in order, making the Giants' best hitters look bad, worse, and totally abject, not necessarily in that order.

It was fun to watch, but fun to watch in large part because of the knife edge on which Wainwright was having such a good time. Wainwright issued Sharapovan grunts with every fastball, which bumped along in the low 90s. This was a different thing than a dominant ace being a dominating ace, which was the story the TV people told, and more fun than that.

The element of danger was what made it, a sense that all this dancing and happy crazy-eyed counterpunching was being done on the edge. His lead was a thin run, and one of those humped-up fastballs could at any moment have been quite deservingly sent back into space, much faster than it had come in. Wainwright retired the last ten batters he faced, and the last out he recorded involved him stretching to a near-split at first base after Matt Adams' sprawling panda-smother of a Brandon Crawford grounder.

That Bumgarner's start was just about equally great, and not really dissimilar -- Bumgarner, too, did not have the dazzling stuff he did in Game 1, and got much better as the game went on -- was not ignored, exactly. But it was not the story that the game appeared to be telling, or at any rate the one that Buck and company seemed inclined to tell. What this appeared to be was The Adam Wainwright Game, which is a thing that October generally has at least one of, and the broadcast team took big hungry bites at that story -- Buck sneaking drops of heroism into the flow of the game, Reynolds pounding away on Wainwright's guttiness, Tom Verducci hymning grace notes to beat the band.

But of course that is not the way it works, because that is never quite the way it works when the game is working right. The lead was just one run, the Cardinals bullpen is not perfect and has not been perfectly deployed, and the lead was just one run. The game was always close, much closer than it sounded or felt or seemed, and so Mike Morse vaporized a pitch from Pat Neshek to lead off the eighth and then it was 3-3, and could not have been any closer. So start it all over again.

Or maybe just go back a little bit, to one of the many moments of managerial bafflement authored by Mike Matheny. A flurry of purposeful-seeming administration late in the game led the Cardinals to begin the bottom of the ninth without either Matt Adams or Matt Holliday in the lineup, outfielders wrenched out of place, and Daniel Descalso at first base. Matheny chose this moment to exhume Michael Wacha, who hadn't pitched since September 26, then stayed with him as the Giants rapidly and loudly stripped both the rust and then the paint from him. Pablo Sandoval singled and Brandon Belt walked and Ishikawa sent a laser into the right field seats and that was that. The Giants won the pennant, as Russ Hodges was just saying.

Whatever this story was, wherever the Giants are going with it, we now have something of an ending, and another reminder that there is no percentage and no hope in trying to tell it before it's done revealing itself. All along, there's been the sense -- both in the Giants' furiously ugly and progressively more irresistible rise and in whatever the hell is happening in Kansas City -- of something bigger and weirder at work than the pre-approved storylines are built to contain. The professionals figure out how to tell us what's happening, and as they break out the gloss the thing just breaks free and runs off cackling to someplace stranger.

You're wrong, silly and wrong, if you think you know where any of this is going, and as doomed as the professionals that tried to tell us the story before it was done telling itself. You are partisan or psychic or Grant Brisbee if you believed a month ago, or even a week ago, that this series would end with the Giants where they are.

And that is all fine, by the way. This is all exactly right. We just keep forgetting our relationship to this thing. This was a reminder, which we apparently need, that this is all happening pretty well above our ability to predict at this point, and probably was all along. We are not just watching what's happening, here. We're chasing it.