Giants banking on advantage of playing at home
San Francisco needs to win two at AT&T Park to reach Fall Classic
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants had just lost Game 4 of the National League Championship Series to the Cardinals. And afterward, the scene was pretty much what might be expected from a team that was only one loss from postseason elimination and needed three wins to advance to the World Series.
It was quiet and somber. There was an unspoken determination and a spoken reminder that they had been in a similar situation less than two weeks earlier against the Reds and had rallied to win.
What was really remarkable, though, was that from every corner of the clubhouse, players made the same observation over and over until it began to sound like a mantra.
If we can just win the next game, if we can just get the series back to AT&T Park, we think we'll be just fine.
In so many words, that's what Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Crawford, Angel Pagan, manager Bruce Bochy and almost every player who paused long enough to have his thoughts recorded said on Thursday night.
"That was kind of the theme," Crawford, the shortstop, noted after the Giants did just that with a win in Game 5, which ensured that play would resume Sunday night (4:30 p.m. PT on FOX) against the Cardinals back at AT&T Park.
"Just get back home. Get one more day. Keep battling. We love playing at home. I feel good. That was the goal -- to go back home -- so I'm glad we got to do that."
The Giants radiate the confidence of a team that believes it has regained the upper hand, even though the math still favors the Cardinals. And even though, interestingly, the single factor that they all held up as their driving goal -- to get back home -- isn't backed up by numbers, either.
So far this postseason, the Giants are 1-3 at home and 4-2 on the road. During the regular season, they won only two more games at home than they did on the road, although they did go 9-2 in their last 11 home games. They averaged 3.8 runs at AT&T Park this year, the sixth-lowest average in the big leagues, and hit just 31 homers, third fewest at home since the franchise relocated to San Francisco in 1958. On the road, they averaged 5.06 runs, second highest in all of baseball.
But this isn't about numbers. This is about intangibles. This is about confidence. This is about belief. The Giants really believe they will have an edge now that the action has shifted to their own park. And in baseball, a strong enough belief often trumps mere stats.
NL MVP candidate Buster Posey seemed surprised when asked why he and his teammates were putting such a premium on getting the action back to San Francisco.
"I mean, we like playing at home. We've got great fans. They're going to be rocking from the first pitch on, so it's going to be a lot of fun," the catcher said.
|"[The fans are] going to be rocking from the first pitch on, so it's going to be a lot of fun."|
|-- Buster Posey|
"The fans," he said, "they support us every day. We're going to play our game. And when you've got that mindset and you've got that faith, you know you're going to play hard. We feel comfortable there. We've been in this situation before, so we're going to do our thing."
Earlier in the series, Bochy was asked about the differential between his team's home and road record in the postseason, and his answers amounted to a verbal shrug.
"Does it bother me?" Bochy said. "I mean, we certainly don't like losing ... here at home. We have tremendous support here. You hear the fans out there. ... But some things you can't control. It happens.
"Some things are hard to explain. That's one of them. I couldn't explain why we lost two games to Cincinnati at home. It's hard to explain how we won three there. .... Why? That's hard to explain."
There are reasons other than geography why the Giants like their chances, of course. Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain were their two most consistent starting pitchers this season and they're lined up to pitch Sunday night and, if necessary, in a decisive Game 7 on Monday night. "We always like our chances with those two pitching," Crawford said. "I'm sure they'll be great."
There's one more factor that can't be ignored. The Giants have been playing out of the rough for most of the postseason. They've played 10 games so far, and four of them were potential elimination contests. Winning them breeds confidence that they can do it again.
Crawford said there's no real explanation for why they've played their best when their situation was most dire.
"I don't know," Crawford said. "That's a good question. We just kind of have a good attitude. We go in and we battle. We want to compete. We've done that all year. We did that in Cincinnati. We know we can keep doing it, and we get to go home now. If we think about it too much, we put too much pressure on ourselves. So we just go out there and battle. That's what we've done all year."
Added Pence: "I don't know if you really can explain it. Our backs are against the wall. There's no tomorrow. So we're not here to fall or fold. We got here because we did fight. I hope [people] enjoy those games because we love to play them."
People in San Francisco have certainly enjoyed the Giants' success in win-or-else games this October. Now they'll have the chance to express that approval in person. And that, the players say, can only be to their advantage.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.