Heard this: Rick Ankiel prolly made himself another $5-$7 million dollars last night. This jibes with what anonymous scouts are saying — the energy and competitiveness of this series has to be largely credited to Ankiel and the other former Royals prominently involved.
That probably makes about as much sense as anything else after last night’s 5-4, extra-inning victory by the Braves over the Giants. Going into the game, Matt Cain and Tommy Hanson seemed to be quite evenly matched when looking at their current season stats and their recent CHONE projections (3.88 projected nERA for Cain, 3.86 for Hanson). The game didn’t play out that way. Pat Burrell opened the scoring with a three-run shot off of Hanson in the first that was good for about a 25 percent jump in win expectancy. Given the way Cain was dealing, it looked like that homer was going to be more than enough even without the additional run driven in by Cain himself in the second. Other than the home run, Hanson wasn’t horrible, although he wasn’t impressive either, and understandably got pulled for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth. Cain finally gave up a run in the sixth inning, but for the most part had the Braves easily in hand when he was pulled with two outs in the seventh. Up to that point, the Braves looked mostly helpless at the plate, and the Giants’ Win Expectancy was up at around 95% despite being shut down by an impressive stream of Atlanta relievers for the second straight game.
The game began to unravel for the Giants in the eighth. It is difficult to blame it on their tactics, however. Sergio Romo came in to pitch in the top of the eighth and promptly gave up singles to Derek Lee and McCann. Romo was still a good choice, as he is a dominating strikeout pitcher, avoids walks well, and his flyball tendencies are offset by the nature of the park. Bruce Bochy also made the right call to bring in closer Brian Wilson for a two-inning save at this point. The leverage index (LI) was as higher than it had been all game to that point — Wilson’s pLI for the game ended up being 2.59 — and that is the best way to maximize a relief ace’s outings. It didn’t work out, but it was the right decision. The Giants’ infield didn’t do Wilson any favors, as a throwing error by third baseman Pablo Sandoval allowed Melky Cabrera, one-third (along with Nate McLouth and Rick Ankiel [more on him in a minute…]) of the Braves’ Disaster Trio to reach first, scoring Lee. After a sacrifice bunt, the Braves tied the game on an Alex Gonzalez double that drove in two more runs. Wilson finished the inning and retired the side in the ninth, as well.
The extra innings were bizarrely dramatic. Former Royal and personal favorite Ramon Ramirez dispatched the Braves in the top of the 10th, and in the bottom half, San Francisco again looked poised to put the game away. It was potentially (and still may turn out to be) a disastrous inning for the Braves, as Billy Wagner injured his oblique after successfully fielding Andres Torres‘ sacrifice bunt that moved Edgar Renteria to second base, forcing the Braves to bring in everyone’s favorite high leverage reliever: Kyle Farnsworth. Good news, everyone! Professor Farnsworth did not disappoint, drilling Freddy Sanchez and then walking Aubrey Huff to load the bases with one out and Buster Posey coming to the plate. What happened next upped the SI (Surrealism Index) considerably, with Posey hitting a grounder to nominal third baseman Troy Glaus (yes, he’s still alive), who, rather than getting the runner at home, made the daring decision to start the double play… and it worked to the tune of a 33 percent shift in win expectancy.
It would be hard to top that, but Rick Ankiel’s game-winning shot off of Ramon Ramirez managed to do so. One could make criticisms of Bochy’s leaving Ramirez in the game, at least for that plate appearance, but none of them are devastating. Ankiel does have a pretty large platoon split, so maybe bringing in, say, Jeremy Affeldt in to face Ankiel might have been the right move, but Ramirez himself doesn’t have a huge platoon split for his career. Moreover, Affeldt hasn’t been that great this season, and even with the platoon advantage Rick Ankiel is still Rick Ankiel. Perhaps more worrisome would be that Ramirez gives up a lot of fly balls, and power is probably Ankiel’s only skill (albeit one mostly hidden the last two seasons) at the plate, but there was a much greater chance of Ankiel making an out than hitting it out, and the park deflates home run/fly ball rates. Still, the bullpen was rested from not having to work the previous night, and had the next game off — so there was no reason to be stingy with reliever usage. In any case, things obviously didn’t work out for the Giants, and Ankiel sent one into the water. Even The Professor adding a bit of drama by allowing a baserunner in the bottom of the 11th couldn’t top that drama. The only thing keeping this game from aesthetic perfection was that Jose Guillen wasn’t available to ground into a game-ending double play.
The Giants have good reason to think they should be up two games after one great and one good performance from their starting pitchers against a decimated Braves lineup. Thanks in large part to a contingent of former Kansas City Royals on both sides, they’ll be heading to Atlanta with the series tied.