SAN FRANCISCO -- The last out had been recorded. Fireworks streaked through the San Francisco night. The home team assembled for a hugfest in the center of the AT&T Park infield. And in the visiting dugout, the Washington Nationals lingered -- and watched.
Let's just say you didn't have to be a protégé of the Amazing Kreskin to imagine what the losers in this National League Division Series were thinking Tuesday night:
How the heck did we lose to these guys?
Ah, but how many teams have said that over the past few Octobers? How many teams have looked at the San Francisco Giants and thought exactly the same thing?
How do they win these games? How do they find so many goofy and innovative ways to score the runs that define their seasons and their postseasons? How come it's always the other teams that make the mistakes and find all the creative ways to lose?
How does this happen, year after year, October after October?
Because this is Giants baseball, friends. This is a team that has somehow turned that old expression, "winning ugly," into a compliment.
"Sure, why not?" said their center fielder, Gregor Blanco, with a laugh after the improbable 3-2 Game 4 win that finished off the Giants' latest October magic show. "I mean, why not a compliment, man? This is the game of baseball. Whatever you have to do to win a game is all that matters. Whatever it takes, we just win it. By eight runs. By one run. By an error. By a walk. Whatever it takes to win a game, man. That's what we do."
Yep, that's what they do, all right. Somehow or another. And never has there been a better example than the nutty way they found to win this game on Tuesday, a game that sent the Nationals home for the winter and sent these Giants on to another NLCS duel with the Cardinals.
Some teams score with thunder. Some teams score with wheels churning. And then there are the Giants. It almost seems as if they just will their runs to score. Even in games like this. Especially, actually, in games like this.
Here, for your amusement, is a rundown of how they scored the three runs Tuesday that propelled them to their latest miraculous October triumph:
On a bases-loaded walk. That was run No. 1.
On a ground ball to the first baseman. That was run No. 2.
And on a wild pitch by a rookie reliever who couldn't quite launch a fastball the required 60 feet, 6 inches. That was run No. 3.
You probably don't need a degree in analytics from Stanford to deduce that those three runs scored on a total of zero hits. But the scoreboard seemed to count them all the same. So there won't be any need to ship the videotape off to any baseball beauty pageants. All those runs count. So the judges have spoken. And the verdict is: Giants win. Again.
Asked to describe his team's latest offensive assault, Blanco couldn't help but laugh.
"Ugly," he said. "But it works."
And what better description of Giants baseball is there than that? If some marketing genius doesn't take those four words and slap them on about 600,000 T-shirts in the next 20 minutes, something has gone terribly amiss here.
Ugly. But It Works.
If you're sometimes amazed from afar by how this team conjures up ways to score and to win, you'll be gratified to know the manager, Bruce Bochy, admitted Tuesday he's often amazed himself. And never more than after a game like this one.
"Nobody's will is stronger than these guys'," he said. "And nobody's desire is deeper than these guys'. They were determined not to get back on that plane to Washington. And they found a way to get it done. It's in their DNA. They have a history of it."
This makes seven consecutive postseason series, plus a wild-card game, that the Giants have won under Bochy, all since 2010. Not to mention 11 wins in their past 12 postseason games. And 15 in their past 19. Is that enough history for you?
But those numbers imply that this has almost been easy. The truth is it's been just the opposite -- especially in a season like this one, in which the Giants made a 10-game lead disappear and were eight games under .500 in their final 98 games.
Then came this incredibly tense NL Division Series against the team that won the most games in the National League, featuring an 18-inning Game 2 epic in which the Giants once trailed with two outs and nobody on in the ninth. And then this game, in which they got eight outs from the finish line only to see Bryce Harper erase a 2-1 lead with a titanic, seventh-inning bomb into the kayak fleet.
But after all these months of playing nothing but tight, low-scoring games like these, why wouldn't they keep all those Bay Area cardiologists in business for yet one more night?
"You know what? It's a lot of stress, man," said reliever Jeremy Affeldt. "I'm sure Bochy's heart has to get checked every night after some of these games. Not to say I won't take some seven- or eight-run games. But we seem to make a habit of doing this. It seems to keep us locked in. It keeps us competitive. It keeps us focused on what we're doing. No one relaxes. And I think the way we play during the season actually gets us ready for the postseason. We don't exactly play blowouts during the season, either."
But even as the shock of Harper's third monstrous homer of this series was rattling through the park, the Giants were about to get the kind of break that always seems to happen to them at times like these.
Nationals manager Matt Williams, whose bullpen decisions in this series will hang over this team all winter, made another head-scratcher: bringing in rookie reliever Aaron Barrett to face the heart of the Giants' order with two runners on and one out in the bottom of the seventh with the score tied 2-2. And to add to the fun, Williams opted not to have anyone else warming up behind him in case of trouble.
So, naturally, Barrett quickly created some. No sooner had the strains of "Living On A Prayer" faded on the ballpark public address system than Barrett went 3-and-0 on the first hitter he faced, Hunter Pence, and eventually walked him.
Then Barrett fell behind Pablo Sandoval 2-and-1, tried to come back with a low-and-away fastball and skipped it off the dirt past catcher Wilson Ramos. Oops. Joe Panik breezed home from third base with the go-ahead run. AT&T Park exploded with its customary October jubilation. And that was that. Those "Ugly But It Works" Giants had done it again.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was only the fourth time in postseason history a team scored the go-ahead run in a series-clinching win on a wild pitch in the seventh inning or later. But if it was good enough for the '27 Yankees, the '72 Pirates and the 2004 Yankees, then it fit right into the panoply of the 2014 Giants -- now didn't it?
Oh, we'd be remiss not to mention there was some awesome moundwork in this game by starter Ryan Vogelsong, who took a no-hitter into the fifth. And there was a spectacular, fence-banging catch by Pence in right field, to rob Jayson Werth, that Bochy described as "one of the best catches I've ever seen, especially with what was at stake."
But throughout their postseason run over the past few Octobers, the pitching and defense have always been the Giants' constants. The way they score runs, on the other hand? That's the part of their formula that seems to defy all conventional wisdom about how modern run-scoring is supposed to work. But as we've mentioned, every madcap run they score seems to count just as much as the normal runs. So what the heck?
Asked Tuesday if he could sum up what he'd just seen, on the night the Giants sent the mighty Nationals packing, Pence could only shake his head. "I don't know, man. It was pretty bizarre," he said. "It was one of those full-moon-type deals."
Right. But what's the difference? You know what they say around McCovey Cove at times like this one. And you can even sing along at home if you'd like:
Ugly. But. It. Works.