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Lack of patience at plate pays off for Giants


SAN FRANCISCO -- About that insider information catcher Bengie Molina was supposed to bring Texas in the opener of this World Series?

Never mind.

The Rangers came to San Francisco with neither flowers in their hair nor Molina's secrets in their ear. Antlers and claws, yes. No flowers. And no chance in Game 1 despite hoisting ace Cliff Lee onto the mound as they stepped into their first World Series.

To the Giants, 11-7 winners, he was just another Ryan Dempster. They treated Lee nearly as badly as the Cubs' right-hander during a 13-0 pasting of Chicago in Wrigley Field back on Sept. 23. That was the last time these once offensively challenged Giants scored 11 or more runs.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean swore this was a different team than the club Molina left in that July 1 trade. Different hitters (Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross). Different ways of pitching. And for one night, man, was he ever right.

Seemed like that team couldn't score even when it strung four consecutive hits together.

This team blistered Lee every which way but loose in as stunning a World Series opener as you could imagine.

"Nobody expected this tonight," Ross, the Giants' October hero, said just before breaking into uncontrollable laughter for such a prolonged period he had to be hauled away.

OK, so that's not what happened. Actually, Ross, like the rest of the Giants, was drop-dead serious despite the relative ease of winning. But after seven of San Francisco's first 10 playoff games this month were taut one-run decisions, the Giants at least were able to take a few breaths.

"It was nice to get on Cliff early," Ross said. "Get him out early.

"If he goes past the fifth, chances are he's probably going to be in there for awhile.

It sure looked that way at the beginning as the Giants started their fourth World Series since moving to San Francisco in 1958 with some highly unusual sloppiness.

In Texas' one-run first, Tim Lincecum fielded Nelson Cruz's dribbler to the right side of the mound and easily had Michael Young trapped in no-man's land between third and home. But when the Giants ace ran Young back to third, Lincecum failed to apply the tag because he thought he saw two Rangers on the bag and that one would be called out. Wrong.

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In the bottom of the first, Freddy Sanchez cracked the first of his three doubles against Lee but was doubled off of second a batter later when Posey popped to the second baseman.

When Texas scored a second run in the second, there was every reason to believe that Lee would enter Operation Shutdown mode and that would be that.

Instead, the Giants did everything but leave Lee bound and gagged on a Union Square street corner in delivering his worst postseason mugging.

"We know as a club we need to execute," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We hate to give away extra outs. We got away with it tonight. We know it. But you know what, you move on. That's what's important."

Lee had been 7-0 lifetime in the postseason with a 1.26 ERA -- third-lowest behind Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson among starters with at least five postseason starts.

"The thing about our team is, it's a free-swinging team," Ross said. "The Yankees [who were throttled by Lee in Game 3 of the ALCS] take a lot of pitches. We're aggressive. We knew he was going to be aggressive, even in 0-2 counts. We knew he was going to come at us.

"And rarely is he ever out of the strike zone."

So what the Giants did was concentrate on Lee's fastball and cut fastball. While it appeared as if Lee was having difficulty spinning his curve over the plate, that mattered about as much to the Giants as what kind of beard dye closer Brian Wilson uses.

"We weren't worried about the curve," Ross said. "That's the last thing you're worried about with him.

"He throws so many fastballs and cutters, and he locates them as well as anybody I've ever seen. You can't worry about the curve or changeup. Otherwise, you're going to find yourself back on the bench."

Instead, a stunning number of Giants found themselves on the bases. A grand total of 11 of the 24 batters Lee faced, to be exact.

Behind an error, a hit batter, Sanchez's second double and Posey's single, the Giants pushed two across in the third to tie it at 2.

Behind two doubles (including Sanchez's third), a walk and two singles, they chased Lee en route to a six-run fifth. When Juan Uribe deposited reliever Darren O'Day's third pitch into the left-field seats for a three-run blast -- picking up where he left off in Game 6 of the NLCS in Philadelphia -- the Giants had scored more runs in one inning (six) than they had in nine of their 10 postseason games.

"We had a plan, to stay on his fastball," San Francisco hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "We know he has a good curve ... [but] we want to get his fastball."

Statistics show that Lee throws his fastball about 70 percent of the time. The Giants figured they'd block out his other pitches and take those odds.

That alone wouldn't have been enough, of course, because it's no secret that Lee's chief weapon is his fastball. Many teams still don't hit it.

What the Giants did was refuse to get suckered into looking for (or swinging at) anything else. From there, they took their chances that Lee wouldn't be living on the black with his heater, that some of them would catch more of the plate than he wanted.


The secret, Meulens said, was a combination of taking to heart reports filed by the Giants' advance scouts as well as using what they saw of Lee on video.

"We haven't faced him this season, so we relied heavily on scouting reports," Meulens said. "We had a conference call a couple of days ago where everybody came together [scouts and coaches]. And the players themselves know him from his pitching."

Ironically, Meulens also presided over a hitters' meeting in the Wrigley Field batting cage immediately before that 13-0 game on Sept. 23.

"The previous three weeks we were hitting .212 as a team," he recalled. "We have guys who are .280, .290, .300 career hitters."

Meulens' point: The Giants were way better than .212. At-bats needed to be more professional. Guys needed to stop swinging for the fences.

Not that San Francisco suddenly turned into Murderers' Row (though the Giants did for that one night in Chicago). But the at-bats improved, and hits began to drop in key moments a little more frequently. Sometimes, even major leaguers need reminding and refocusing.

By that time, Molina was long gone.

And now, look at who the Giants have beaten in four of their past five playoff wins: Lee. Roy Oswalt. Cole Hamels. Roy Halladay.

"We have a resilient group of guys, man," Meulens said. "The spirit is unbelievable. They complement each other really well."

You know the old bromide that a pitcher's best pitch is strike one?

Well, listen to Meulens: "Halladay, Oswalt, they're going to get in trouble when they start throwing strike one to our guys all the time."

In the end, even Molina, as well as he knows some (not all) of the Giants' hitters, couldn't help bail Lee out of this mess. Though Molina did receive a very warm greeting from the AT&T park capacity crowd of 43,601 during pregame introductions.

"It was very touching and emotional," Molina said. "It touched my heart. I almost cried."

By evening's end, so did Lee.


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