Looks like things have not changed much since last year.
The San Francisco Giants continued their victorious but torturous ways, as a sellout crowd at AT&T Park witnessed one of the greatest, yet weirdest games baseball fans will ever see.
The game featured two dramatic ninth-inning rallies with two outs and nobody on, a strike zone the size of a golf ball at one time and an SUV at another, an unlikely hero two home openers in a row, and an extra-inning dogfight where the Giants stranded a runner at third with nobody out in the bottom of the 11th inning. If you thought that was weird, the St. Louis Cardinals moved their left fielder and put five men in the infield in that bottom of the 11th inning -- and it worked when Aaron Rowand lined a smash right to third base, which was manned by left fielder Allen Craig.
The Giants achieved their 5-4 victory and broke the 4-4 tie in the bottom of the 12th inning when Rowand roped a game-winning single off the left-center-field wall with the bases loaded. Coincidentally, it was just last year on the Giants' 2010 home opener when Rowand hit an RBI infield hit in the 13th inning to beat the Braves also 5-4.
"This one was a lot easier than the last one trying to leg it out," Rowand said.
The 12th inning rally began off Cardinals lefty Brian Tallet (0-1) when Miguel Tejada hit a one-out single to left. With two outs, Andres Torres reached on a catching error by first baseman Albert Pujols.
Cardinals manger Tony La Russa elected to walk Freddy Sanchez to load the bases for an unlikely hero. Rowand promptly silenced the naysayers by coming through in the clutch for the second home opener in a row.
"It was a lefty in that situation, so I hope they got to me," Rowand said.
The ecstasy at AT&T Park by the end of the 12th inning was nothing of the sort back in the top of the ninth inning. With the Giants up 3-2 and Brian Wilson looking for his first save of the year, Wilson lost the 12-pitch marathon battle with Ryan Theriot, as he singled in the tying and lead runs with the bases loaded. The inning started with two quick outs.
Wilson was angry, as he walked off the mound in the top of the ninth inning. He seemed to disagree with home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman's strike zone and began shouting at him while he was leaving the field.
"I was a little pissed," Wilson said. "Emotions are flying. It's opening day. Ow well, that's what happens."
It appeared that the Giants' opening day party, which included their championship flag being hoisted and set atop a pole forever at AT&T Park, was ruined by the Cardinals' ninth-inning rally. However, the Giants returned the favor and started a two-out rally of their own, which concluded with a game-tying single to right by Pablo Sandoval.
It appeared the first baseman Pujols was out of position when Sandoval hit his hard ground ball to the right side, as he broke toward the bag as the pitch was being thrown by closer Ryan Franklin. Nonetheless, the Giants enjoyed every minute of it.
"The game was an emotional roller coaster, a great game," said Bruce Bochy, Giants manager. "These guys fought hard. It was quite a ball game for a home opener."
Lost in all the hoopla was a fine starting pitching performance by Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez. Although he threw a lot of pitches early, he battled through a first-inning jam and allowed just one run, while striking out seven, in five innings of work.
The Cardinals scored first on a Tyler Greene single in the top of the second inning. The Giants would tie the game on a third-inning home run by Miguel Tejada, his first as a Giant.
The Giants grabbed the lead on a Freddy Sanchez double in the second inning. They would tack on another run in the sixth inning on Pat Burrell's third home run of the year, making the score 3-1.
For the most part, the Giants kept Pujols in check. The Cardinals' slugger went just 1-for-6, with an RBI single in the eighth inning that cut the Giants' lead to 3-2. Pujols' average fell to .179 for the year.
Dan Runzler (1-0) pitched a perfect 12th inning to earn the win in relief. He was one of eight pitchers used by the Giants in the game.
Although the torture called Giants baseball continued, like last year, torture still never felt so good.
This was just a great baseball game.
The Giants did something that all good teams need to do to be successful. That is to not quit, even when all seems lost.
When the Giants blew their 3-2 lead in the ninth inning, many teams might have felt so deflated and just rolled over -- not the Giants. They roared back with a two-out rally. Rowand (2-for-3) got things started with a two-out single, and would eventually come in to score on Sandoval's game-tying single.
Another instance where the Giants showed resiliency was after the bottom of the 11th inning. After Torres doubled and advanced on a wild pitch with nobody out, the Giants suffered a crushing blow. Victory was within reach, but the Giants stumbled.
Freddy Sanchez struck out, and then, Aaron Rowand hit a hard, low liner that the left fielder dove for and trapped at third base. Tony La Russa moved the left fielder to third base, and it actually worked, as Torres was nailed in a rundown on the play. Mark DeRosa then struck out on some questionable pitches for the third out of the inning.
Again, the Giants could have rolled over and let the failure get into their heads. Fortunately for the Giants, this did not happen, as Runzler came out and pitched a scoreless top of the 12th, setting up the Giants' walk-off win at the bottom of the inning.
Another thing to note. Bruce Dreckman's strike zone was awful today. The one thing players ask for in a home plate umpire is consistency, no matter if his strike zone is high, low, or wide. It seemed that early in the game, Dreckman's zone was very tight when Sanchez was on the mound. Later on in the game, his strike zone widened, especially during DeRosa's 11th-inning at bat.
If the Giants are going to do this torture bit on their fans again, it should be another fun season in the wacky world of San Francisco Giants baseball.
The Giants are now 3-4 and have won three home openers in a row. With home runs from Burrell and Tejada, they now lead the National League in home runs with 9 (tied with the Reds and Brewers). Rowand got his second-straight, walk-off hit in a Giants home opener. Cardinals' outfielder Matt Holliday says he may play this weekend after having his appendix removed just five days ago. Pujols has hit into five double plays in seven games so far this year. Tomorrow, Matt Cain will look for his second win of the year against the Cardinals' Jaime Garcia. The game will start at 7:05 p.m. to accommodate the Giants' ring ceremony.
W: D. Runzler (1-1)
L: B. Tallet (0-1)
L: B. Tallet (0-1)
Vinnie Cestone is a Baseball/San Francisco Giants Featured Columnist for The Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
Stats and other information came from ESPN.com and MLB.com.
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