Giants, Royals amp up the drama

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 2014 postseason has provided an abundance of memorable moments and late-inning heroics from the likes of Matt Adams, Salvador Perez, Travis Ishikawa and Brandon Belt, to name just a few. We've seen Clayton Kershaw come up short on the big stage, Matt Williams and Don Mattingly scrutinized ad nauseam for their dugout decisions and a crazy quilt of baseball unpredictability that has stretched from one week to another ... and yet another.

The only quibble, for a true baseball fan, is the matchups have all been hit-and-run jobs. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the inventory consisted of three sweeps in the American League and three series that went one game beyond the minimum allotment in the National.

Now, at last, we have a postseason series with a chance to endure in the consciousness -- if not a classic, at least a bona fide war of attrition. Four games into the World Series, the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals are tied at two games each. And it won't surprise anyone if this one goes the distance.

With a come-from-behind, 11-4 victory Saturday night, the Giants regained the initiative and the feel-good clubhouse vibe du jour. They'll send Madison Bumgarner, the pre-eminent starter on the October stage, to the mound against James Shields on Sunday at AT&T Park with a chance to take it back to Kauffman Stadium up 3-2.

A best-of-seven series has boiled down to a best-two-out-of-three, with the emotional investment and the entertainment quotient rising by the day.

"You see how hard it is for a starter to get deep into the games because the bullpens are so stinking good," San Francisco starter Jake Peavy said. "It's gritty, blue-collar baseball. That's what I love about it. We have a little more experience, maybe, and they might have a little more talent. But at the end of the day, it's two teams playing extremely hard with a lot of emotion and passion. Both ballparks are going crazy. This is exciting. It's what you live for as a player."

Remember 24 hours ago, when the Royals were the upstart team with the swagger, the defensive wizardry and the lockdown late-inning bullpen, and the Giants seemed ever-so-slightly adrift by their lofty standards? The Giants resorted to some old-fashioned gamesmanship by watering down the AT&T Park infield to neutralize Kansas City's speed, only to have the ploy backfire on them when Hunter Pence was thrown out on an attempted steal in a big spot Friday night.

And of course, there was the mini-drama surrounding manager Bruce Bochy and his choice of whether to pitch Ryan Vogelsong in Game 4 or go with Bumgarner on three days' rest, with an eye to possibly bringing him back in Game 7. Bochy took the solid, stoic route and refused to alter his original plans, and he's back in the saddle in his accustomed postseason-genius role, even if the Giants had to take a winding road to get him there.

Saturday's win featured the type of teamwide contribution that galvanizes a roster. Yusmeiro Petit bailed out Vogelsong and the Giants with three scoreless innings to extend his postseason shutout streak to 12 innings. Matt Duffy and Joaquin Arias provided big hits off the bench. Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik scored five runs in the 1-2 spots in the batting order. And Pablo Sandoval, who hit .199 right-handed this season, came through with two big RBI hits from the right side. More than anything, the Giants thrived from the shared experience of having been here before and knowing they can surmount any obstacle in their path.

"As soon as we got to the ballpark, everybody was like, 'OK, Let's do this tonight.' This is a huge game for us," Blanco said. "We always have that mentality. Whenever we face a tough situation or great pitching, we always say to ourselves, 'Let's keep battling and have great at-bats.' We were able to do that tonight."

Some facets of the Series aren't playing out quite as expected. Kansas City was supposed to have a monopoly on speed, but through four games, the Royals have one stolen base (Alex Gordon) and the Giants also have one (Blanco). Although the Royals' bullpen throws harder and gets the bulk of the hype, San Francisco's pen has compiled a 1.80 ERA this postseason, with 10 earned runs allowed in 50 innings of work.

Royals manager Ned Yost gleaned a smidge of positive news from Saturday's game by playing nine innings without adding a pitch to the ponderous workload that relievers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland have logged this season. The Nasty Boys redux sat out Game 4 and likely will be ready to divvy up the final four innings if the Royals can find a way to take a lead against Bumgarner through five. Regardless of who combines for the 27 outs it will take to win Game 5, the Royals will have to navigate a Giants lineup that's resourceful and prides itself on putting the ball in play.

"I thought before the Series started that every game would be 2-1 or 3-2 or 4-3," Kansas City reliever Jason Frasor said. "It hasn't quite worked out that way, but I like the way they play. They put together good at-bats, and they're tough to strike out. They obviously catch the ball, and they obviously pitch well. I feel like they're a lot like us. Pitching against them, they're tough outs, you know? They make you work."

During the Kansas City leg of the Series, the Royals drew sustenance from a fan base trying to will its team to victory while bundled in blue. The fervor is equally apparent in San Francisco, where Mo'ne Davis threw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday night, Bryan Stow got things started with the "Play ball!" call, Carlos Santana handled the national anthem and Steve Perry -- eye black and all -- ratcheted up the enthusiasm with an eighth-inning rendition of "Lights." Not that it took much effort to enhance the partylike atmosphere at AT&T.

"The Royals' fan base is unbelievable," Duffy said. "They're hungry, and they're loud. And our fans are so consistent. They're always here. It makes it easy to kind of relax in the postseason because our fans are so awesome. We're always sold out, and they're always loud."

Of course, postseason baseball can seem like a grind when the managers for both teams are playing bench-and-bullpen chess in the fourth and fifth innings. Saturday's running time of four hours couldn't have been much of a boon to wall-to-wall TV viewership.

As Frasor observed, "It's draining, and it's great at the same time, but it wears you out."

But as the Giants and Royals get to know each other better and knock heads on a nightly basis, the Series is building the kind of suspense and anticipation that gooses TV ratings and makes for a compelling narrative. Can these two wild-card survivors transcend regional ties and prompt sports fans in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and other big markets to take a break from the NFL and start paying attention?

Maybe not. But those folks are missing a heck of a show.