So here we are. Game 7. It hasn't happened often enough in recent years -- just twice since that classic game in 2001, when the Diamondbacks rallied in the bottom of the ninth off the invincible Mariano Rivera and solidified the legends of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.
Who will win? I don't know.
Will Madison Bumgarner make an important appearance? I don't know, although it seems likely.
Who will be the hero? Will there be a goat? Will we see a game-winning home run or a game-winning blooper over a drawn-in infield? Anything can happen. In baseball, the possibilities are always endless, and in a Game 7, we dream of the improbable and the implausible. Giants and Royals fans just want one more win.
The Giants' Tim Hudson and the Royals' Jeremy Guthrie are the starting pitchers. Hudson is the 16-year veteran who had never reached the World Series -- never even won a playoff series -- until this year, even though he had played on many excellent teams in Oakland and Atlanta. No active pitcher has won more games. He's had a great career, a borderline Hall of Fame type of career. He's a guy who has overcome Tommy John surgery in his early 30s to compile a wonderful second act.
Guthrie is a journeyman right-hander with a career record of 83-100. He pitched on some bad Baltimore teams early in his career and twice led the league in losses.
When we think of Game 7s, we think of pitchers like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, or a young gun like Bret Saberhagen in 1985 or an old warhorse like Jack Morris in 1991, spinning shutouts. Maybe we think of Schilling and Roger Clemens dueling in the Arizona desert in 2001.
But Game 7s are often about pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie. Don Larsen, who is remembered most for his perfect game, was 81-91 in his career and yet started two Game 7s. Matt Harrison, Joe Magrane, Jim Bibby, Blue Moon Odom ... all Game 7 starters. Johnny Kucks started Game 7 for the Yankees in 1956 and pitched a three-hit shutout; he'd go 28-40 the rest of his career and finish with just 54 wins. The Brooklyn Dodgers started a rookie named Joe Black in 1952. He'd started two games all season and then started three times in the World Series. He pitched well in Game 7, but not well enough; the Yankees won 4-2. Three years later, the Dodgers started a young left-hander named Johnny Podres. He'd gone 9-10 with a 3.95 ERA that year. He scattered eight hits, won 2-0 and the Dodgers had finally knocked off the mighty Yankees.
So yes, anything can happen.
Hudson has just about every pitch, but his two-seam sinker has always been his signature pitch. When he's on, he gets ground ball after ground ball. In his early days with the A's, he's was mostly two-seamer and splitter with an occasional slider. Now he throws a four-seam fastball, cutter, curveball, splitter and changeup. That's six pitches plus whatever else he invents while he's out there.
The sinker is still the pitch he throws most often, however. As you can see from the heat map, it's not a pitch he has to throw at the knees, which is where you usually envision a sinker ending up:
He throws it for strikes and hopes the movement on the pitches induces ground balls. Of course, what makes him tough is he'll mix and match eye levels and location with his other pitches -- the cutter on the corners, the splitter below the knees, the curveball to add a different look. He's thrown his sinker 47 percent of the time during the regular season, but that percentage has been higher in his three playoff starts -- 62, 66 and (in his Game 3 start) 55 percent. He has largely ditched the curveball in the postseason, which makes sense as it was statistically his worst pitch.
For what it's worth, in the regular season he had a 2.98 ERA when starting on four days of rest (14 starts) and 4.52 on five days of rest (13 starts). He'll be starting this game on four days of rest.
Guthrie throws harder than Hudson but induces even fewer strikeouts. In fact, in this age of the strikeout, it's fascinating that our two Game 7 starters ranked 77th and 84th among 88 qualified starters in strikeout rate.
Guthrie is fastball-changeup-slider-curveball. His curveball was statistically his worst pitch during the season, and the pitch he usually throws the least. But he threw it 18 percent of the time in Game 3 -- his highest percentage of any start this season. It will be interesting to see if he throws that pitch as often in this game. Guthrie has had a big platoon split -- .602 OPS allowed versus righties, .812 versus lefties -- so that makes the changeup an important pitch Wednesday night, his best weapon against left-handers.
Of course, since it's Game 7, we might not see either guy for long. Bumgarner will be in the bullpen, available for an indeterminate number of pitches. All core members of each bullpen are rested. Considering the Giants' lineup leans left-handed, it makes sense to get Guthrie out as soon as possible, give some outs to Brandon Finnegan or Danny Duffy and then turn the final four or five innings -- there's no reason they can't go five -- over to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
On Tuesday night, Hudson mentioned how he was recovering from an Achilles injury a year ago.
"It's unbelievable how things happen," he said. "Last year this time, I was walking around Auburn, Alabama, in a walking boot wondering where is my career going to be heading. It's amazing. ... You know, I signed with a team I thought would have a pretty good chance to get here. ... Not only are we here, but I'm pitching Game 7 of the World Series. So it's pretty cool."