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Bruce Bochy, Giants, shake off fugue state, keep Royals' best pitchers off field

Greg Holland et al are dominant -- but not if you never get a chance to use them. In Game 4, the Giants kept Ned Yost from using his best pitchers and overcame a shaky start for a come-from-behind win.

Jamie Squire

SB Nation 2014 MLB Bracket

Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been oddly passive and optimistic about his starting pitchers in this World Series, now tied with the Royals after an 11-4 win in Game 4 on Saturday night in San Francisco. In Game 2, Bochy pushed a struggling Jake Peavy into the sixth inning despite the presence of excellent long-man Yusmeiro Petit on the roster; Peavy didn't get an out, Petit didn't make his first World Series appearance until Game 4 -- in both cases after Mt. Jean Machi, ineffective throughout this postseason, was given the chance to bury the Giants in more Cricso and lava.

Game 4 requires even less description: Too much Ryan Vogelsong, too slow a hook, and the combination resulting in a 4-1 third-inning deficit against a team that has been religious about not giving back leads this October. The Royals had seven hits and a walk off of Vogelsong in just 2⅔ innings. They scored four runs and it's probably not unfair to say it could have been worse -- the Royals batted around in the third and nearly went further, Machi going to 3-2 on opposing pitcher Jason Vargas before finally striking him out to end the inning.

And yet, it all worked out for the Giants. They took Ned Yost's Amazing Bullpen TARP (Terrifyingly Awesome Reliever Posse) and stretched it further than it was designed to go.

As we've written after Game 2 and Game 3, Ned Yost might not be Tony La Russa, but he knows a few things, like when to press his team's advantages. Coming into the game, the Royals bullpen had thrown 48⅔ innings this postseason and allowed but nine runs. That's  nearly 50 innings in 11 games, a pace for well over 700 innings in a 162-game season.

What could get a manager fired in the summer makes him a hero in the fall: major league bullpens ranged from 422⅓ innings (Reds) to 540 innings (Angels). It's a killing pace, and like Daffy Duck's nitroglycerin/gasoline/gunpowder/Uranium-238 trick, chances are you can only do it once.

As the cliché goes, flags fly forever, and if a great bullpen is what you've got, you ride it until it drops. The Royals can worry about next year over the winter, and if arms fall off, well, it has been long enough between dogpiles for Kansas City that any tactic short of murder seems justified.

Yet, there is always risk even in pursuing a seemingly surefire strategy. "They say you can't do it," Casey Stengel once said, "but sometimes it doesn't always work." In this case, the wear may be starting to show on the Yostian relievers. Yost hasn't hesitated to go to the pen and his magic three of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland, as early as he's needed to, but as early goes, the fifth inning is the crack of dawn. Jason Vargas had pitched well this October, but he's on his third team in three seasons for a reason -- even though Dayton Moore signed him to a four-year deal, he's more or less just a guy who can give you league-average work at his best. When Joe Panik's double to open the fifth brought the tying run to the plate, Yost had seen enough.

But Herrera had thrown 27 pitches in Game 3 and although he didn't allow any runs, he wasn't sharp. The Royals have other good relievers, and Yost had to go to them -- Jason Frasor, 2.62 ERA in almost 100 innings the last two seasons; Danny Duffy, very effective as a starter in the second half; Brandon Finnegan, the hard-throwing rookie southpaw. They're good pitchers, but they're not those three guys, and in this particular game they proved to be gettable.

There's a good chance that, should this series go long enough (and this one is now going a minimum of six games), those three guys might prove to be gettable too -- in baseball, familiarity breeds contempt even if you throw 100 mph. That hypothetical occasion would not be Saturday night. Go back far enough and you can find games like Game 7 of the 1947 World Series, when Fireman Joe Page came out of the pen and threw five shutout innings to clinch the championship, or even regular-season games pitched by future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage like this one in 1978 when he entered in the sixth and remained for seven innings. Those days are gone. Yost has had the bullpen pedal to the floor as it is. On this night he had no choice but to wait, play his lesser cards, and the Royals bent, then broke.

Yet, let us not be guilty of the clear prejudices of the Fox World Series broadcast ("I don't think people realized how good the Royals were," Harold Reynolds said with the Royals trailing 11-4 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and two strikes on the batter) and make this too much about the Royals. Bochy shook himself out of his early coma and got Petit into the World Series, and he and four other relievers -- Hunter Strickland, even! -- pitched 6⅔ innings of scoreless relief. They gave the offense, and an underrated, very potent offense it is, time to take advantage of those aforementioned lesser relief cards. The Giants pounded out 16 hits, took six walks, and although they had just three doubles as far as power went, they were nonetheless relentless, knowing that the longer the Royals stayed in the game, the more likely the trio of gunslingers was to come shut them down.

The final score will forever look like a blowout in the annals of the World Series, but it was anything but that for most of the ride. It was a come-from-behind win against a team that doesn't blow leads, a slaughter compiled against a bullpen that has been invulnerable, a statement by an offense that couldn't do anything useful with the dare-you-to-put-it-in-play stuff of Jeremy Guthrie on Friday night.

Sunday, with a fully-rested Madison Bumgarner going against James Shields, would seem to favor the Giants, and if both pitchers are true to form the Royals could be looking at an elimination game at home on Tuesday night. Shields' "Big Game James" moniker was much-mocked after he was badly abused in his first World Series start, but now he must live up to the name. He needs to go farther, keep the Royals in the game longer, so that Yost can stick to his winning plan. He's both the road and the bridge.

It's not all up to him. The Giants will have something to say to him, the four Ps of Panik, Posey, Pence, and the Panda (oh my) will have something to say. The Royals don't have an answer there, none except the three relievers.  If Shields falters too early for them to take the game the rest of the way, well, it's going to turn out that they have less utility than it at first seemed -- a sword hung over the fireplace isn't a sword at all, it's just a decorative object.

The Giants have a good chance of keeping that sword on the wall, perhaps next to its shield.