“We don’t need no easy (expletive) road. We get to play an extra (expletive) game. It doesn’t matter how you get from A to B, our goal at the beginning of this (expletive) season is to win a (expletive) World Series. And guess what, boys! We’re going to the (expletive) dance!” — Hunter Pence
You can experience uncensored Pence by clicking that link if you haven’t seen the entire speech (CSN Bay Area cut away about halfway through last night). As I wrote at some point after 1 am, the players weren’t really all that surprised by Pence’s words or energy. It’s something they’ve seen before, just like the situation they’re up against on Wednesday.
The Giants will face either the Pirates or the Cardinals in a one-game elimination playoff to earn a spot in the NLDS, likely against the Nationals. In baseball, where the “better” team isn’t guaranteed anything on a game-to-game basis, this sounds terrifying. But it’s not just Pence who’s been through the elimination gauntlet of 2012.
“In 2012, we were down two games to nothing. And then in St. Louis we were lose or out,” Jeremy Affeldt said.
“I don’t make predictions, but I know what this team is. I know the Pirates, they’re going to be coming at us the same way we want to come at them. But we’ve been through this before. Do I feel like we’re 100% capable of doing it? Yes. I do believe in these guys. It’s not ideal, we want to take the division. But we have the guys to do it, we have the momentum, we have the mindsets to do it.”
These Giants are shorthanded, but they aren’t completely decimated. That’s because of a youth infusion that saved their season.
“No doubt in my mind, (Joe) Panik has been a huge part of putting us where we’re at … him coming up and doing what he’s done, not only batting average, moving runners, hitting the way he’s hitting, playing defense the way he’s playing defense, that was a huge piece to this puzzle that Sabes put into play that actually allowed us to get where we’re at right now,” said Affeldt.
“With (Hunter) Strickland coming up and doing what he’s doing in the pen, throwing gas and having the maturity level to come in and pick guys up — he picked me up today. That’s what these teams need a lot of times going into the playoffs is a couple young guys that come in and step in and be a guy. They’re not just here, they’re a guy, a big part of what we’ve been. I’m proud of them.”
Despite all that (unexpected) help from the farm system, they’re still missing a lot of key players. Tops on the list: leadoff hitter Angel Pagan. Gregor Blanco only hits first against right-handed starters, but he started every game of the 2012 postseason and said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to get back to “the dance,” as Pence called it.
“That’s what we play for, moments like this. I know we’re just playing this one game, but at the same time it’s awesome. When we play that kind of game, it’s really exciting for us,” said Blanco, whose son crawled behind the tarp over the lockers while we were talking. I have to give credit to Blanco for paying attention to my questions.
Then there’s the confidence that comes from youth (and I’m not referring to Blanco’s kid, who’s got some to spare). Maybe rising through the minor league system of an organization that won a championship just over a year after he signed out of Oregon State is what gives Andrew Susac a good feeling about what’s to come. Or, maybe that’s just the attitude that comes naturally after spending time in the Giants’ clubhouse.
“It’s like nothing ever, man. I can’t explain my feelings right now,” said Susac while clutching a bottle of Mumm Napa, Oakley goggles hanging around his neck.
“I’m just stoked to be a part of this team. Great group of guys. Great group of teammates. We have an opportunity to do this a few times more. I can’t wait. I think we’re going to do it. I have a good feeling about this team. We all love each other, we all root for each other. There’s a good mesh.”
Between the veterans and rookies are players like Brandon Belt. The Giants first baseman, who had two hits including a home run last night, had slightly more experience than Susac heading into the 2012 playoffs, but the difference in his demeanor is noticeable. Belt’s celebratory tactics were unfettered a couple years ago. Last night he smiled while spraying some champagne, but his tone as the clubhouse screaming softened to a dull roar was almost businesslike.
“(Celebrations) are all fun. This is no different,” said Belt. “We got in the playoffs. That’s what we wanted to do. We’ve got a good team. We’ve got to win some ballgames, so we’ve got to stay focused right now.”