Patience a virtue before Giants pounce on Lee
Batters drive up left-hander's pitch count, then drive extra-base hits
So we all saw this coming, right? Everybody knew the Giants would hang 11 runs on Cliff Lee and the Rangers bullpen. Of course.
San Francisco banged out its biggest offensive output in five weeks against arguably the best pitcher in the game, and it did so emphatically. The Giants hit "only" one home run, but they amassed seven extra-base hits among their 14 base knocks. The nutshell assessment of the Giants has been good-pitch, no-hit, but they put the lie to that viewpoint in their 11-7 thrashing of the Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night.
What's odd is how they did it. The Giants worked tremendous at-bats against Lee. They got into deep counts, fouled pitches off and ran Lee's pitch count way up even before they started hitting him around. He finished with 104 pitches over 4 2/3 innings.
"We have some hitters now with our new additions. ... These guys are patient hitters," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "You may not get a hit, but it's the at-bat that can help out. ... Those are big and they add up. Especially when you're facing a good pitcher. That's what you're hoping to do, make him work a little bit harder. Our hitters did a great job of it tonight."
The irony is, that approach shouldn't work against Lee. The Giants' usual modus operandi, a swing-away mentality rather than take-and-rake, is typically the way to go when you face Lee. He's so rarely out of the strike zone that if you take too many pitches, you're going to get carved up in 0-2 counts.
On Wednesday, though, it worked beautifully. Lee's command was clearly off, although his stuff was strong, and the Giants made him pay for it. They laid off pitches out of the zone, fouled off pitches at the edges and finally got the 2008 American League Cy Young winner to come over the plate. When he did, they pounced.
A little something extra
It was a masterful hitting job -- and frankly somewhat out of character for an offense that saw the second-fewest pitches per plate appearance in the National League this year. Not to mention out of character for Lee, whose command is as good as anyone's in baseball.
"It just goes to show you that great pitchers sometimes, they're a little bit off," Bochy said. "Hopefully when they are, you take advantage of mistakes, and we did it tonight. It's quality at-bats. They mount up. Pitch count, things like that."
One thing about what the Giants did, though, was right out of their usual playbook. This is not a small-ball team. They hit for power. When they hit the ball a long way, they win. And seven extra-base hits certainly counts as hitting the ball a long way. The Giants are not likely to beat you with singles and walks. It will be doubles, triples and home runs -- just like they did on Wednesday.
The question now is whether and how they can repeat it. If they can maintain the approach they had against Lee when they face C.J. Wilson in Game 2, they should be in outstanding shape. Unlike Lee, Wilson's biggest issue is command. He can lose the strike zone.
Ordinarily, that would be a problem for the Giants. It's pitchers such as Wilson, pitchers who get hitters to chase out of the strike zone, that give them fits. But if they can maintain their Wednesday approach on Thursday, they should thrive. If they go back to their old ways, Wilson could have his way with them.
Still, it's a fine line. Even on Wednesday, the Giants weren't being passive or overly patient. They weren't sitting around waiting. They were being smart, and swinging at strikes.
"This is a pretty free-swinging club, and we went out and swung the bats," first baseman Aubrey Huff told reporters after the game. "We were aggressive -- aggressive in the zone. We didn't swing at too many bad pitches tonight."
That's an approach that will work against any pitcher.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.