Flash Point: Giants light a fire on July 3
Skid-breaking rally in Denver turns San Francisco around
(Part of a continuing series recalling the "It" moment for teams clinching postseason berths, the episode which filled everyone with the same thought: "Hey, we can do this.")July 3, Denver: Is there such a thing as a Rocky Mountain High and Dry? Can you possibly have an avalanche in the middle of summer? If so, the Giants seem capable of somehow winding up at the bottom of it. They have already spent two nights in the Coors Field humidor, and appear primed to be smoked right out of the NL West race. Losses against the back end of the Rockies' rotation extended San Francisco's losing streak to seven and the Giants are only two games closer to first place (6 1/2) than to last. And today, they would get Ubaldo Jimenez, who for three months has been turning the pitcher-batter duel into a joke. The temptation exists to revert all the way to 2009 for the Giants' "make" moment of 2010, because a strong finish, including six wins in their last seven games, had been the catapult for expectations and optimism. And nothing about the getaway spoiled those feelings, as the Giants won their first four and eight of their first 11 to take an early lead in the National League West. But then June Swoon -- an undesirable team trademark in the mid-'60s -- arrived a little early, and the Giants had already been playing well below the .500 level for 10 weeks when they arrived in Colorado. It gets ugly, early. The Rockies begin with a four-hit flurry against Barry Zito, lucky to escape that first inning with only one run. Jimenez naturally has yet to allow a hit entering the third. No. 8 hitter Aaron Rowand leads off with a double, then Zito drops the obligatory bunt that sends him to third. The Giants turn over their lineup -- right atop Jimenez. Andrew Torres walks. Freddy Sanchez singles for a run. When Aubrey Huff bounces into a force, Jimenez is one out away from an escape. But Pablo Sandoval singles, giving the Giants the lead. Ball four to Jose Uribe is wild, escorting home another run. Another walk to Buster Posey loads the bases. Then Travis Ishikawa unloads, his grand slam enhancing the one-inning damage against Jimenez to seven runs -- about equal to his monthly toll. But that isn't the "It" moment because, amazingly, they don't beat Jimenez, only beat him up. This is, after all, Coors Field, and by the sixth Zito is long gone and the Rockies lead, 8-7. This is potentially a disheartening, crushing predicament. The Giants don't let it consume them. Colorado had to sacrifice Jimenez to a pinch-hitter in its latest rally, and now the Giants roll up their sleeves against his relief. Torres singles to drive in Nate Schierholtz with the tying run, and later scores the go-ahead run on Sandoval's sacrifice fly. Huff's two-run homer in the ninth lets everyone relax. The Giants relax right to 10 wins in their next 12 games, 16 in 20, 22 in 28. The Padres are also running a good race and they aren't easy to catch, but the Giants do not relent and finally move into first place on Sept. 16. From there, the two teams treat the division lead like a tug-of-war rope, but the final yank belongs to the Giants.