For starters, Giants get clutch relief in clinch
Bumgarner, Lincecum join Affeldt, Lopez, Wilson in bullpen effort
PHILADELPHIA -- Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti was talking about Jeremy Affeldt. But he might as well have been referring to the relief staff San Francisco used as a whole in Saturday night's 3-2 Game 6 victory that clinched the National League Championship Series."Whatever superlatives you write ... to me, he was the game," Righetti said. With two shutout innings, Affeldt led a five-man effort that blanked Philadelphia on five hits through seven innings. It wasn't all that surprising a performance from the Giants, who posted the NL's second-best relief ERA (2.99) this season. Still, after starter Jonathan Sanchez lasted only two innings, Giants relievers had to work overtime, with starters Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum contributing. "We know that that lineup over there probably was licking their chops a little bit because they got a starter out [Sanchez] who's really pretty tough to hit," Affeldt said. "They had a pretty good scenario, but our bullpen's been so good all year."
Five batters into the game, Philadelphia already led, 2-0. Then came the third, which began with Sanchez walking Placido Polanco and hitting Chase Utley in the back with a pitch. Utley flipped the ball back to Sanchez, launching a war of words that emptied the benches and bullpens but prompted no punches.Once the fuss ended, the fact remained that the Giants were in a jam. In came Affeldt, who didn't pitch in the Division Series and made only two brief appearances in the NLCS. Polanco and Utley didn't budge as Affeldt struck out Ryan Howard, retired Jayson Werth on a fly ball and coaxed Shane Victorino's groundout. Affeldt then sailed through a perfect fourth inning. It might have helped that he continued to warm up in the bullpen while everybody else ran to the field to attend the Sanchez-Utley confrontation. "The fans were calling me some not-so-nice names for not going out there," Affeldt said. "But they can call me names all they want as long as we do our jobs." Reflecting the all-hands-on-deck conditions in which the Giants operated, Bumgarner, who started Game 4, relieved Affledt in the fifth and survived a shaky inning. Philadelphia loaded the bases with two outs before Bumgarner induced Victorino's comebacker. Bumgarner endured more duress in the sixth as Raul Ibanez lashed a leadoff double. Carlos Ruiz's sacrifice bunt advanced Ibanez to third before Bumgarner struck out pinch-hitter Ben Francisco looking and retired Jimmy Rollins on a fly to center. After Javier Lopez breezed through a 1-2-3 seventh and Juan Uribe lashed his tiebreaking homer in the top of the eighth, Lincecum, who won Game 1 and lost Game 5, entered the game to protect a 3-2 lead. He struck out Werth, but Victorino, after barely foul-tipping a two-strike pitch, singled to right, as did Ibanez. In came Brian Wilson, who led the Majors with 10 saves of four outs or more. Asked about the approach he took toward his outing, Wilson said, "My approach is to throw the ball forward. And don't ruin this." He didn't. Wilson recorded the first two outs he needed as Ruiz lined into a double play to end the eighth. Then came the pressure-packed ninth. With one out, Wilson walked Rollins, who was erased at second base on Polanco's fielder's-choice grounder. Utley walked, but Wilson secured his third save of the NLCS and fifth of the postseason by slipping a knee-high cutter past Howard. The hopeful screams of the sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park quickly ceased, as if they disappeared down a sinkhole. Meanwhile, the Giants rushed onto the field to celebrate, with many of them engulfing Wilson. He relished the experience. "I like pitching on the road," Wilson said. "I'm not going to lie. I like seeing the towels wave. I like the adrenaline. I like the biggest hitter to be up. I like the situation to be one pitch away from losing. That's what you want. You don't want to pitch in a 10-0 game. A lot of guys would have loved to have won 10-0, but that's not indicative of our season."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.