The San Francisco Giants didn’t exactly take Game 4 in convincing fashion, but was able to capitalize on timely hitting on rare opportunities. When it looked like Derek Lowe was on a roll after five no-hit innings, unheralded Cody Ross (+28.9% WPA) swung at a first-pitch hanging slider, hitting a line drive to left field for a solo homerun. Lowe had been all over the Giants all day, inducing 14 swinging strikes over the first five no-hit innings, 10 of them being sliders by my count.
When Lowe struggled locating his sinker in the 7th inning after pitching two out of the last three starts on short rest, the Giants’ lineup exhibited rare patience. An Aubrey Huff (+4.9% WPA) walk followed by a Buster Posey single called for what turned out to be Bobby Cox‘s last mound visit. Lowe insisted that he could finish the inning, but still could not locate the sinker against Pat Burrell (+8.2% WPA), who kept his bat on his shoulders for five pitches, drawing a walk to load the bases. A possible double play groundball from Juan Uribe (+15.3% WPA) wasn’t converted by Alex Gonzalez, allowing Huff to score the tying run.
Cox then elected to bring in Jonny Venters, striking out Aaron Rowand for the second out. But Cody Ross had adjusted his approach to a more aggressive one, hitting a sharp grounder on the second pitch to score Posey. As a recap of the top of the 7th inning, the Giants waited for pitches to hit when Lowe was off-target for the first time all day, and responded to another Braves’ infield error by driving in the winning run, a sequence of classic playoff baseball.
The Braves’ offense was not ready to give up, however. Brian Wilson came to close out the bottom of the 9th with a 3-2 lead, but struggled to find the strike zone throwing multiple fastballs. Two good at-bats by Rick Ankiel and Eric Hinske led to back-to-back walks. But Wilson adjusted his approach against Omar Infante, throwing several outside sliders to get Infante to strike out swinging. And it was the slider that Melky Cabrera grounded out off of for the final out, thrusting the Giants into the NLCS against the Phillies.
For the series, the Giants’ starting pitching has been phenomenal. Madison Bumgarner‘s Game 4 start is not to be overlooked, as he struck out five and allowed two earned runs in an efficient six innings on 85 pitches. In hindsight, Bruce Bochy made a wise decision electing to go with Bumgarner instead of Tim Lincecum on short rest, setting the stage for the ultimate pitching matchup against Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLCS.
The Giants’ offense, for the most of the series, succeeded by taking advantage of rare opportunities. In Game 1, it was Ross who drove in a run after an intentional walk to Pablo Sandoval. In Game 3, it was several Brooks Conrad errors. In Game 4, it was Ross yet again with timely hits against Lowe and Venters. The Giants did not exhibit much power in the series, and credit goes to the Braves’ pitching staff for much of that. The lack of power will be a major problem against the Phillies in the NLCS this weekend, but for now, Giants’ fans will celebrate and take their first playoff win in eight years.