Baseball Gods rule in favor of San Francisco, Giants stumble into 4-0 victory over A's

Exhibit A: Photograph of a Giants player being hit by a pitch in last night's game

Sometimes, the ball just bounces your way. Sometimes you hit a ground ball which is so weak that no fielder can get to it in time, and you're credited with a hit. Sometimes, you foul a pitch off but the umpire rules that it hit you and you get a free base. Sometimes, you sign a bunch of veterans off of waivers and they all have career years and your entire starting rotation doesn't miss a single start for the entire season and the team leading your division goes on a 10-game losing streak in September and you win the division on Game 162 and the guy who you accidentally claimed on waivers in late August wins the NLCS MVP and you win the World Series even though not a single person on Earth even picked you to make the postseason. That happens every so often.

Today was one of those days...for the Giants. Tyson Ross and Ryan Vogelsong were locked into a...well, not a pitcher's duel exactly, but sort of a "terrible hitter's stand-off," for 6 innings. Then, divine intervention took over, the wheels came off, and San Francisco ran away with one of the worst baseball games that I've ever had the misfortune to watch.

On Thursday, I wrote about umpires and their responsibility to get calls right above all else. I also said that I am never mad about umps missing calls as long as they do their best and ask for help. I take that last part back. I am USUALLY not mad about umps missing calls. I am furious right now, though. Today's blown call was so egregious, so unforgivable, and so crucial to the outcome of the game, that no amount of proper protocol can rectify the mistake. Granted, the fact that the A's managed only 2 baserunners in the game certainly played a significant role in the contest, but it was home plate umpire James Hoye's unbelievable ruling that Ryan Vogelsong was hit by a pitch in the 7th which served as the turning point in a game that may otherwise have never ended. I promise that I will take this recap as seriously as this game deserves to be taken.

The game started with an excellent performance by Tyson Ross. The box score will tell you that Ross was okay-buy-not-great. I'm here to tell you that he was dominant, and absurdly unlucky. In 6+ innings, Ross allowed 7 "hits." Here is how the Giants got them:

  1. Ground ball single by Brandon Crawford
  2. Ground ball single by Melky Cabrera
  3. Bloop by Gregor Blanco which landed and came to rest in between the pitcher's mound and 2nd base
  4. Ground ball single by Melky Cabrera
  5. Soft bloop to left by Brandon Crawford
  6. Soft, broken-bat bloop to right by Angel Pagan
  7. Infield single to shortstop by Emmanuel Burriss

That's it. Seven hits, all singles, and not one came on truly solid contact. One of Cabrera's ground ball singles was sort of sharp, but it was still a grounder. Their outs weren't hit any harder; Ross allowed only two legitimate fly balls to the outfield, a short flyout by Brandon Belt and a deep flyout to center by Buster Posey. Posey's flyout was the one truly hard hit ball by the Giants off of Ross. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Ross pitched well enough to throw a complete game shutout today. He did walk 4 batters, but his 18 outs consisted of 7 grounders (3 of them double plays), 4 strikeouts, an infield popout, a foul-out, and the two aforementioned flyouts. That is a bunch of weak contact, a bunch of ground balls, and a bunch of amazingly good luck for the Giants.

Ross was great, and, at least after those first 6 innings, things were going pretty well for him. All of those hard-luck hits, and San Francisco had nothing to show for them, thanks to some timely double plays. The baseball gods were trying to make a point, but Babe Zeus decided that His message wasn't getting across, so he hurled a lightning bolt toward AT&T Park. The lightning bolt's name was James Hoye.

Ross had thrown 103 pitches after 6 innings, and I was a little bit surprised that Bob Melvin kept him in for the 7th. It made some sense, though, since the bullpen had been taxed for 6 innings the previous night, and the Giants' 8th and 9th hitters were coming up. Burriss led off the inning with his aforementioned infield single, which was just a routine grounder fortuitously placed several feet to the right of Cliff Pennington. That allowed pitcher Ryan Vogelsong to lay down a sacrifice bunt, which is exactly what he tried to do. Ross's first pitch ran inside, and Vogelsong pulled his bunt back. However, he didn't pull it back far enough, allowing the ball to hit off of his bat with an audible *crack* and carom sharply toward the dugout in a way that balls only carom after hitting solid wooden bats. "Foul ball," any umpire would have normally said.

But then, Babe Zeus stepped in.

"HALT!" said Zeus. "The Giants are to win this game, and they shalt never get a hit on their own accord. Therefore, I must provide. Mortal Hoye, I command thee to call that play a hit by pitch and award my adopted son, the Improbably Charmed Ryan Vogelsong, a free base."

"But Lord," argued Hoye, "The ball clearly hit his bat. I could hear it, as could the television audience. It also bounced off sharply, whereas it wouldn't have done so if it hit his chest or hand. He also appeared to be in no physical pain whatsoever despite a 91 MPH fastball slamming into either his solar plexus, or his pitching hand, which was wrapped tightly around the bat. For Your sake, the Giants didn't even send out a trainer to check on their All-Star starting pitcher! That's like an admission that even his own team doesn't think that the ball hit him!"

"It matters not," replied Zeus. "I have made my command, and thou shalt obey it."

And it was so.

To Hoye's credit, he did briefly confer with Jim Joyce, who in 2010 was named the best umpire in baseball by the players, but this was mostly for show. There was no way that Joyce could have seen anything, so this was just a conference to appease Melvin by appearing like Hoye was asking for help (much as I suggested that we used to do in Little League when a coach argued a call). Melvin would eventually get tossed for arguing this call later in the game, giving him two ejections in the last three games. Look out, Bobby Cox!

Ross was removed after the Vogelsong fiasco, and replaced by Grant Balfour. I'm not sure why Melvin thought that it was a good idea to summon a fly ball pitcher who hasn't been able to find the plate for the last three weeks to shut down a 2-on, no-out rally, but that was the decision he made. (Also available: Ryan Cook, possibly the best reliever in the AL right now). Predictably, Balfour walked the first hitter, Gregor Blanco, on four straight pitches. None of those pitches were even close. Thanks to the absurd hit-by-pitch call on Vogelsong, the Giants now had the bases loaded with zero outs, rather than 1st and 2nd with one out. Brandon Crawford was frozen on an admittedly filthy pitch by Balfour, resulting in the first out (which should have been the second out). The next batter, Melky Cabrera, lofted a routine fly ball to center for an easy sacrifice fly, plating the eventual winning run. Just for good measure, though, Balfour completely fell apart after that. He allowed Buster Posey to smoke a ground-rule double to center, and then served up a solid single to Pagan to push the score to 4-0.

That was pretty much the end of the game. There were still 10 more outs after that, but I wasn't really watching them. I was rewinding the broadcast over and over, trying to figure out what had just happened, screaming at the TV and Bud Selig and Babe Zeus and whoever would listen, "It's 2012! How in the world are we not using instant replay for game-changing calls like these?"

No response. Game, set, match. Oakland's hitters participated in this game as well, technically. I think that their performance can be summed up like this: After the game, CSNCA flashed up a graphic titled "Top A's Performers," or something similar. The list:

The team's 2nd best performer went hitless. Jeez. I'm all about internal locus of control, and I will absolutely admit that the team's lack of offense was a leading factor in this loss. However, it looked like all it was going to take was a single run to win this one, and having the umpires hand a 4-run rally to the opponent is just a crushing blow. Oakland was being 1-hit after 7 innings, but if not for those gift runs, there is no reason why they couldn't have turned things on and won this game in the 8th or 9th. All it would take would be a solo homer, or a key error by the Giants' awful defense, to squeeze out a victory. So, although the A's offense was pathetic, it's just really difficult to ignore the effect that the umpires had on this game.

It's ok, though. It's about time that things started going the Giants' way. They've had a really rough go of it these last few years.

Oakland tries to defy Babe Zeus's will one more time tomorrow, when Bartolo Colon faces the Curiously Ineffective Tim Lincecum. Game time is 1:05pm.

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