The 2012 National League Division Series between the Giants and the Reds will be remembered as one of the most exciting and super-charged MLB playoff match-ups in years. Cincinnati's initial two game sweep at AT&T Park was answered by San Francisco at Great American Ball Park with overwhelming spirit and drive that lasted right up to the last out of Game Five.
The Giants out-scored the Reds 16-8 in the three final games as they made National League history by being the first team to ever come back from being down 2-0.
In the process, Giants' franchise history got richer with Buster Posey's extensive resume quickly turning into a multi-page document, and the emergence of Hunter Pence as the team's newly designated inspirational speaker.
Posey's 5th inning grand slam added to his MVP credentials and performance-based prowess as the team's leader. He also killed a two on, no outs Cincinnati rally in the 6th, completing a strike out-caught stealing double play by nailing the Reds' Jay Bruce trying to steal third base.
Pence delivered an inspirational speech
to his teammates before Game 3 that reliever Jeremy Affeldt later called "moving", and "like poetry". Reporters heard the sounds of cheering and yelling coming from the Giants clubhouse when Pence was finished.
Pence gave a second energy-charging stump speech in the dugout before the start of the final game of the series that also had Giants players buzzing. In the visiting clubhouse after the Game 5 victory, a circle of Giants formed around Pence amid the chaos and spraying liquids as he railed and gestured like a Baptist preacher.
San Francisco's NLDS win was a full team effort, fueled by virtually every player on the roster. And virtually every contribution turned out to be critical-- the Reds had the tying runs on base in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, and the winning run on base in the 9th.
Gregor Blanco, who had a roller-coaster season first as the Giants right fielder then platooned with Xavier Nady in left field, had a tremendous series. (Which is yet another reason why Bruce Bochy is the NL Manager of the Year, and I am an enthusiastic, although highly knowledgeable, writer.)
Blanco ended the series hitting .286 with a .946 OPS, with 3 runs scored and 2 RBI. He also made two outstanding catches in the field to help shut down the Reds' offense.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford, center fielder Angel Pagan, and right fielder Pence also made run-saving plays in critical situations that denied the Reds run-scoring opportunities.
Reliever George Kontos appeared in four games with 3.2 IP, giving up 2 hits, 0 runs, and striking out 2. Closer Sergio Romo had and epic bottom of the 9th in Game 5, at one point throwing 12 pitches to Cincy slugger Jay Bruce with one out and two runners on base in a tension-filled 6-4 game. Buster Posey called Bruce's at-bat "one of the most intense I have ever experienced [as a catcher]".
Two sights will always stand out for me in this amazing Division Series win by the Giants. First, Tim Lincecum coming in from the bullpen in Game 4 to pitch 4.1 innings, giving up 1 run, no walks, and striking out 6 in a desperately critical situation. After not being named a playoff starter, Lincecum's attitude and spirit was the ultimate example of a player giving his all for the team and the franchise.
Two Cy Young Awards and dominating performances in the 2010 Championship series would have had some ball players grumbling to the media or complaining to their teammates about being iced out of the starting rotation. But not Lincecum.
And the second standout moment? Watching Barry Zito celebrating with his teammates in the visiting clubhouse in Cincinnati after the clinching Game 5 victory. Zito was not on the 2010 postseason roster and watched the entire proceedings as a non-participant from the dugout. To see Zito splashing champagne and yelling at the top of his lungs as a member of this postseason squad was gratifying and poignant.
Cincy starter Mat Latos has dominated San Francisco hitters for years, first as a San Diego Padre, then as a Red. He had never given up a grand slam in his four year career. But the Giants plated 6 runs against Latos in the 6th inning and drove him out of the game.
The San Francisco Giants hit a collective .126 in the first three playoff games against the Reds; they hit .286 in the last two games. When the Giants arrived at the Reds' hitter-friendly ballpark their bats came alive, out-scoring one of the best teams in baseball 2 to 1.
It is a story that will help further define this team's unique identity, and finally and completely separate them from the World Series team of two years ago.