Defense made big plays for Giants in Game 4

Posted Nov. 01, 2010, at 12:10 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 01, 2010, at 7:28 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Madison Bumgarner looked even better with Freddy Sanchez flipping and twisting behind him.

Sanchez shined at second base, catcher Buster Posey showed off his strong arm, and Bumgarner got into the act by deftly deflecting Josh Hamilton’s liner and turning it into an out.

How about this dazzling defense for a San Francisco Giants team best known for its pitching? That fielding might help them win a World Series.

“A lot of great plays,” Bumgarner said. “I needed them tonight.”

Sanchez started a pair of double plays and made a leaping stop of a line drive that put him on his back. Posey threw out Josh Hamilton stealing. And Cody Ross slid after making a shoestring catch in Sunday night’s 4-0 win over the Rangers in Game 4.

The Giants’ handiwork behind Bumgarner moved them within one victory of the city’s elusive World Series crown.

San Francisco’s dependable D has been second all season to its standout pitching staff. Not in this one, even if Bumgarner was at his best on his biggest stage yet.

“When we thought we might get something done, he gets the ball down on the ground and they get a double play,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Bumgarner.

San Francisco made one mistake all night, when third baseman Juan Uribe misplayed Hamilton’s seventh-inning chopper for a fielding error.

Sanchez set the tone from the start. The postseason first-timer finishing up his ninth big league season followed up his big day with the bat in Game 1 with an equally impressive outing at second base.

If the Giants go on to capture the franchise’s first championship in 56 years, and first since the club moved West from New York in 1958, Sanchez’s defense will be a big reason.

“That was all Freddy,” first baseman Travis Ishikawa said. “He was tremendous over there, going left, going right. He definitely made a lot of key plays for us tonight.”

Sanchez’s gutsy grab on Jeff Francoeur’s sharp liner ended the second inning with a Rangers runner on first base. Sanchez wound up on his back making the play, holding his glove in the air with half the ball showing.

“When you have good pitching like Bumgarner today, you have to play good defense,” Renteria said. “We talked about that. We knew we had to play good defense and we did it.”

Manager Bruce Bochy benched slumping left fielder Pat Burrell and went with Ross in his place, while Nate Schierholtz earned his first postseason start in right, and Ishikawa made his first start in these playoffs at first base. Huff was the designated hitter, and he connected for his first homer of the postseason in 51 at-bats with a two-run drive in the third.

“That was a big part of it, defense,” Bochy said of writing out his lineup.

Ross caught Ian Kinsler’s liner for the second out of the fifth.

“I just sold out. As soon as it came off the bat — he had some topspin on it — I said I’m going to go for it, and luckily it held up for a little while,” Ross said. “As soon as he hit it, I just went for it.”

For the 32-year-old Sanchez, this deep run and his solid play is a huge relief. He was a disappointment after joining the Giants in a 2009 trade deadline deal from Pittsburgh.

A three-time All-Star and the 2006 NL batting champion for the Pirates, he was limited to 25 games for San Francisco because of injuries after the trade.

He had left knee surgery late last season, then underwent a procedure on his non-throwing left shoulder Dec. 23 that landed him on the disabled list to start the year.

Still, the Giants had faith Sanchez would recover, giving him a $12 million, two-year contract after the 2009 season.

Sanchez said he was embarrassed not to be able to help the Giants down the stretch last year, and San Francisco missed the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

Now, no one will argue he has made good.

Sanchez had four hits with three doubles and drove in three runs in the World Series opener last Wednesday. This time, his defense was spot on.

Aside from that catch on Francoeur’s ball, he started inning-ending double plays in the first and sixth and nearly took a hit away from Michael Young leading off the fourth. Sanchez lunged to his left to field the grounder but couldn’t quite control the ball and barely missed throwing out Young for what became Texas’ first hit off Bumgarner.

“It’s nothing new,” Schierholtz said of Sanchez. “It seems like it’s been pretty common all year. Snagging that line drive, from right field it looked pretty good.”

World Series notebook

Aubrey Huff remembers going to about 100 Texas Rangers game at this ballpark and its predecessor, rooting for Nolan Ryan to strike everyone out and for Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro to launch homers into the cheap seats.

Thousands of guys who grew up around here could say the same thing.

But Huff’s story has quite the twist. On Sunday night, the Fort Worth-area native hit a two-run home run that helped the San Francisco Giants take an early lead on the way to a 4-0 victory and a 3-1 Series lead.

“It’s pretty surreal right now,” Huff said.

Huff’s homer was his first in 51 at-bats this postseason — his first playoff appearance after 11 years in the majors. Giants manager Bruce Bochy tweaked his lineup Sunday and used Huff as the designated hitter instead of at his usual spot at first base, so all Huff had to focus on was hitting.

Rounding the bases, Huff might have caught a glimpse of some old high school teammates and other faces in the crowd he recognized. They were probably among those chanting “Aubrey! Aubrey!”

Huff, however, has tried to avoid strolling down memory lane this week. He said no to pretty much anyone who asked for tickets — “I’m not going to spend 100 grand on tickets” — and had to skip a lunch reunion with some buddies planned for Sunday afternoon.

“My two kids and my wife got a little sick this morning, so I wasn’t going to be able to connect with those guys,” he said. “You see so many faces you recognize in the stands during stretching and stuff. But once the game starts, you don’t even really realize how many people are out there probably that I went to high school with or what have you.”

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UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Umpire Jeff Kellogg appeared to have a rough night at first base.

He had two tough calls to make and replays indicated he went 0 for 2. Both went against the Rangers.

In the top of the second inning, he ruled San Francisco’s Travis Ishikawa safe on the back end of a double-play attempt. It would’ve ended the inning.

In the bottom of the sixth, Kellogg ruled Texas’ Elvis Andrus out on a double play that ended the inning.

Had either or both been called differently …

“You never know what would have happened after that, but that’s the human nature of calling a ballgame,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I thought he missed both of them, but there wasn’t much you can do about it.”

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TWIN BILL: With a beer in one hand and a fajita in the other, Baron Atkins enthusiastically explained how he and three pals pulled off the doubleheader of attending a World Series game and an NFL game on the same day.

“It was a pipe dream,” he said.

Atkins is among four guys who own season tickets together for the Cowboys, so he already knew he would be spending his Halloween afternoon watching Dallas play the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Then, two weeks ago, one of the other guys snagged four tickets behind home plate for Game 4 of the Series, which also was Oct. 31. The rub, of course, was that the Rangers had to make it.

They did, and the foursome headed out for a sports dude’s dream day — and a wife’s nightmare.

“Three of us left nine kids at home with our wives trick-or-treating,” said Peter Naus, also part of Atkins’ group.

Luckily, the ladies were understanding.

“They were behind us all the way, knowing this probably will never happen again,” Naus said.

It has happened before, though. And, in every instance, the stadiums were within walking distance of each other.

In 1985, it even happened twice in Kansas City. Games 2 and 7 of the Series between the Royals and St. Louis Cardinals were on the same days as Kansas City Chiefs home games.

Last year, it was even a New York-Philadelphia doubleheader. The Eagles and Giants played, followed by the Phillies and Yankees.

Atkins, Naus and their pals Joseph Whelan and Jeff Chandler arrived at Cowboys Stadium at 7:45 a.m. and began tailgating under a tent, grilling food and sipping beverages. With the Cowboys well on their way to a 35-17 loss, the group headed back to their tent during the third quarter, swapping blue Cowboys gear for red Rangers gear.

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LINCECUM’S NEW ROUTINE: Giants ace Tim Lincecum still feels strong this late in the season thanks in part to his new routine between starts.

The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner tried just about everything during a career-worst five-start losing streak in August, and he has stuck with what worked to get him back on track. The hard-throwing righty tossed 212 1-3 innings in the regular season on the way to 16 wins and has gone 29 more innings this postseason heading into his start in Game 5 of the World Series on Monday night against Texas. It will be the second matchup of Lincecum and Rangers ace Cliff Lee.

Lincecum credits his work between starts to avoiding fatigue so late in the year — the deepest Lincecum has ever pitched as a postseason first-timer. These days, he spends more time maintaining his leg strength and on core work.

“It’s been one that’s stuck and worked for me,” Lincecum said. “Just being that it’s new, it’s not as tedious and it’s exciting. Obviously the nature of the games that we’re playing help that. That stuff kind of helped me just ease my mechanics, and it becomes more second nature for me.”

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DETOUR: Peter Magowan, the Giants former controlling owner, attended the Dallas Cowboys’ game against Jacksonville on Sunday before heading across the parking lot to Game 4.

Magowan said he originally was supposed to be on a safari in South Africa this weekend, but because the Giants were in the World Series, he stayed behind while his wife went.

“I was there the last time we won — in 1954, Game 2, at the Polo Grounds,” he said.

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HAMMERIN’ LIKE HANK: Toronto’s Jose Bautista and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto received the Hank Aaron Award in a pregame ceremony that featured the Hall of Famer.

The award honors the most outstanding offensive player in each league. Voting was done by fans and, for the first time, Aaron’s fellow Hall of Famers. The award began in 1999, the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers.

“I was voted into the All-Star game by the fans, and this is another fan award, so that means a tremendous amount to me,” Votto said.

Said Bautista: “It’s a great honor to sit here and to be put among the list of recipients of this award.”

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AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley, AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum and Stephen Hawkins, and AP freelancers Charles Durrenberger and David Jimenez contributed.

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