SAN FRANCISCO -- Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick.
There's no clock in baseball. But when you find yourselves three runs down to the Kansas City Royals in a pivotal October baseball game, and their Royal Flush back end of the bullpen is lurking, there is a countdown.
So this was where the San Francisco Giants found themselves Saturday night in Game 4 of the World Series. Digging a ditch for themselves that just about no team has been able to climb out of this October.
Down by three runs (4-1) in the third inning. Down by two runs (4-2) as they came to bat in the fifth. Counting down the outs until America's most unhittable bullpen trio would come strutting in to take control of another postseason baseball game.
"Put it this way: You're aware of the situation that you're trying to stay out of," said the Giants' Jake Peavy. "We're not trying to get in situations where we have to beat those [three] guys."
But on this night, the wildest night of this World Series, the best bullpen on the field turned out not to be the bullpen we've spent the whole month of October talking about. And the Giants found a way to run off 10 unanswered runs before Herrera-Davis-Holland Time ever had a chance to arrive.
So whaddaya know -- we've got ourselves a fun little World Series going here.
"This went from a seven-game Series to a five-game Series," said Peavy, after the Giants' come-from-behind 11-4 thumping of the Royals had evened this World Series at two games apiece. "And now we're in a three-game Series."
Well, if the Giants were looking to draw up a formula for how to win that three-game Series, it would look a lot like the way they did it Saturday:
You want to beat the Royals? How about not letting The Big Three get into the game? Give that a try. It sure beats the alternative.
And how'd the Giants go about doing that? By scoring a bunch of runs off The Other Guys in that Kansas City bullpen. That's how. And by reminding the world it is, in fact, possible for somebody besides the Royals to win a battle of the bullpens in this World Series.
"To be honest, we knew it was going to come down to that," said Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, on a night when his team's bullpen gave up zero runs and the Royals' vaunted bullpen gave up eight. "When you're in a situation like this, and it's a battle of the bullpens, it feels good to win."
And it's supposed to feel good, for a bullpen that actually has a lower ERA in this postseason (1.80) than the Royals' bullpen has (2.90). But on this night, there wouldn't have been much of a battle if not for the Giants' secret October weapon, Yusmeiro Petit.
How important was he? Well, we could sum it up like this:
Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong was gone before he could get through the third inning of this game. That made him the 17th starter to get the hook that early over the past 20 World Series. The previous 16 teams to have that happen went a picturesque 2-14. And no team had won a World Series game in which its starter had made that early an exit in 12 years.
But in this game, Petit did what he's been doing all month. He marched into a game that was on the verge of reeling out of control, in this case to start the fourth inning. And all he did was fill up the scoreboard with bagels.
"Yusmeiro Petit, to me, is the most unsung hero of our team this whole season, especially in the postseason," said Hunter Pence, after Petit had ripped off three more scoreless innings. "What he's done is nothing short of amazing. I think that's what gives me chills right now, just to be a part of that."
Petit's three innings of two-hit, no-run relief gave him the kind of insane postseason numbers we keep heaping praise on the Royals' relievers for compiling. Check these out:
He has now faced 43 hitters this October. And allowed a hit to five of them. And struck out 12. And given up zero runs. In three critical games his team never could have won without him.
"I can't put into words what that guy has meant to us," said Peavy. "He threw six innings in that 18-inning game [in Washington] where you can't give up a run or that game is over. And tonight? Same thing. The St. Louis game [in the NLCS]? Same thing. This man has pitched in high-pressure situations when we needed him most and been able to execute his pitches and give us a chance to win."
San Francisco Giants
2014 POSTSEASON STATS
On a team with so many high-profile names on its pitching staff, Petit is about as unknown and unlikely a success story as you'll find. He's 29. The Giants are his fifth organization. He won a total of one game in the big leagues with three of them (Mets, Marlins, Mariners). His fastball putters along in the upper 80s. And he looks more like a nose tackle than an ace.
But he not only kept the Giants' rotation from falling apart this summer in the wake of Matt Cain's health issues and Tim Lincecum's self-destruction. He also went five weeks without allowing a hit, a walk or a baserunner of any kind, chewing through 46 hitters in a row over two starts and six relief appearances in July and August.
No pitcher in the history of baseball had ever done that. But what he's done in October, Petit said Saturday, was way better than that -- "because it's more important in the postseason than in the regular season."
Yeah, no kidding. And his manager, Bruce Bochy, told you exactly how important he was -- by actually sending this man up to hit in the fourth inning, with two outs and a runner on first in a game his team was trailing by two runs.
We're talking, you understand, about a guy who will never be mistaken for Giancarlo Stanton, a guy who was 5-for-103 (.049), with 44 strikeouts, before that at-bat. Which means he's the answer to the trivia question, "Who has the worst career batting average of any active player with 100 at-bats or more?"
But of course, Petit blooped a single to center. Of course. And that made him the first relief pitcher to get a hit in a World Series game since Al Leiter in 1993. Seriously. And it made him the first NL reliever to do it since Jesse Orosco in 1986. Amazing.
That hit never did lead to a run. But in the three innings he was out there on the mound, his offense scored five of them -- two in the fifth to tie this game at 4-4 and three more in the sixth to give the Giants a 7-4 lead and rewrite the bullpen narrative the world has been spinning all month.
Before this game, the Royals' world-famous bullpen had allowed precisely nine runs all month -- just five of them in the last three series combined. But on this night, Jason Frasor, Danny Duffy, Brandon Finnegan and Tim Collins got mugged for eight in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings alone.
And in the meantime, the Giants were rolling out five relievers who combined to allow five hits and no runs in 6 1/3 innings. And they did that without any of them hitting 101 mph on the radar gun. Who knew that was possible?
"We believe in our bullpen the way the world believes in Kansas City's bullpen," said Peavy. "I don't want to say we're tired of hearing about their bullpen, because they should be talked about. They're incredible. They're more fun to talk about, because they do it with a little more style points. ... We have a lot of guys in our bullpen that not a lot of people want to talk about. But like I said, we believe in that bunch."
If this battle of the bullpens had unfolded the way the outside world might have expected, the Giants would have been turning to Madison Bumgarner on Sunday to try to save their season in Game 5. Instead, by flipping the script, they gave Bumgarner a chance to send them off to Kansas City, for Games 6 and 7, with the lead in this Series.
But Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland are still lurking. And it's hard to believe the Giants can win this World Series without scoring off them late in one of these games. So ...
"If it comes to that," said Peavy, "we're going to have to figure out a way to beat Wade Davis and those guys. It's a whole lot easier said than done. But they've got to give up a run at some point. Right?"