Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were downright giddy sitting while sitting at the dais to answer questions after Saturday night’s first game of the NLCS. It was no wonder considering Burrell and Ross were the big hitting heroes in Game 1, which made the actual conversing with media types a slight bit tolerable.
At least for Burrell.
There was more to it than that, of course, and it had little to do with the fact that both Burrell and Ross were players that we let go by the teams they began the season with. Burrell, of course, was not re-signed by the Phillies after he led the World Series parade down Broad St. and then was waived by Tampa Bay in May.
Ross was claimed off waivers by the Giants from the Marlins in late August not because he was wanted, but to stop the outfielder from going to divisional foe San Diego. The Giants were 5 ½ games behind the Padres when Ross joined them and didn’t even a need a month to slip into first place. Were Ross and his .286 average for the Giants the difference? Probably not, but the home run in the clincher in Game 4 of the NLDS along with the two bombs in Game 1 against the Phillies made the Giants’ prevent defense against the Padres look pretty good.
No, Burrell’s RBI double and Ross’s homers were most responsible for ruining the expected pitching duel between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum. In fact, Halladay looked like he was on his way to another epic performance in his first start since his no-hitter against the Reds in his playoff debut.
Halladay retired the side in order on eight pitches in the first and 11 pitches in the second. He got an out on three pitches in the third until Ross swung at a 2-0 pitch, did a little crow hop and watched the ball sail into the left-field seats. They seal had been broken.
Starting with Ross’s homer, the Giants rapped out eight hits over the next 22 hitters covering 4 2/3 innings. Still, there was the two-strike pitch with two outs to Burrell that Halladay thought was good he began his first steps back to the first-base dugout. Inexplicably to Halladay, home-plate umpire Derryl Cousins called it a ball. One pitch later, Burrell bashed his double off Raul Ibanez’s glove and the left-field wall.
Some duel, huh?
“I made some bad pitches at times. The first pitch to Ross I didn’t think was that bad, but the second one I left a ball over the plate. And then in the sixth a couple pitches there cost me,” Halladay said. “At this point you make a couple mistakes and they end up costing you.”
Ah, but maybe there was a pitching duel after all. You see, after Halladay gave up the homer to Ross, Lincecum served up one to Carlos Ruiz. He also gave up a homer to Jayson Werth to help the Phillies crawl back to within a run. That’s exactly where Lincecum was better than Halladay because he was able to recover from the initial home run.
That, obviously, was the difference.
Lincecum held the Phillies to an 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-11 with runners on base. Better yet, Lincecum held the Phillies to a 2-for-11 with two outs, which made sure to kill any hope for a late rally.
“It wasn’t about the numbers. It was about giving us a chance to win,” Lincecum said after the game. “I put those home runs behind me. You could squash yourself on that, make some more bad pitches, but I just took it on to the next batter after that, man. It was just enough to squeak by for us.”
Now here’s the really crazy part…
With 22 strikeouts (14 vs. the Braves in the NLDS, 8 vs. the Phillies) in his first two playoff games, Lincecum is tied with the great Bob Gibson for the most Ks in the first two games pitched.  Yes, Lincecum and Bob Gibson.
Now what’s the first thing a person thinks about when Bob Gibson’s name is mentioned? If it isn’t intimidation, brush back pitches, a nasty fastball and intensity. His teammates were afraid to talk to him and opponents were just afraid of him. Jim Ray Hart, a slugging third baseman for the Giants in the 1960s and early ‘70s, tells the classic Bob Gibson story:
“Between games, Mays came over to me and said, ‘Now, in the second game, you’re going up against Bob Gibson.’ I only half-listened to what he was saying, figuring it didn't make much difference. So I walked up to the plate the first time and started digging a little hole with my back foot... No sooner did I start digging that hole than I hear Willie screaming from the dugout: ‘Noooooo!’ Well, the first pitch came inside. No harm done, though. So I dug in again. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crack and my left shoulder was broken. I should have listened to Willie.”
Hart should have called time out and filled up the hole the way it was.
Now compare Gibson with Lincecum, the floppy-haired 26-year-old right-ahnder from the Seattle suburbs. He kind of blends in with the kids hanging out in the Haight or Mitch Kramer in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, than the typical ballplayer sent from central casting.
But here’s the thing about that—like Gibson, Lincecum can pitch. He has a fastball he’s not afraid to challenge hitters with and has added a changeup to go with it. And like it was with Gibson, sometimes it’s just not fair when Lincecum takes the mound.
Of course there are also other times when Lincecum can be gotten to, like Game 1 at the Bank. The problem for the Phillies was Lincecum gave the Phillies a few chances and opened the door ever-so slightly before slamming it closed before it was too late.
Will Halladay and Lincecum get after each other again?
 Gibson struck out nine in a loss to the Yankees in Game 2 of the 1964 World Series, then came back to get 13 in 10 innings in Game 5. For good measure, Gibson went the distance in Game 7 and got nine more strikeouts to lead the Cardinals to the title.