Bruce Bochy told Jeremy Affeldt to get ready early, which in Affeldt’s world means putting on a knee brace before the middle innings. One wouldn’t think Affeldt would need to be reminded to wear that brace, but he does. It wasn’t surrounding his knee when he sprained it on March 22, which led to a stint on the disabled list to start the 2014 season. Why did he go brace-free during that particular exhibition game?
“I … didn’t have an answer for them there,” Affeldt said. “So it’s kind of a pie in my face on that one.”
It’s that part of Affeldt’s personality that makes him an easy target for Bochy (who enjoys needling Affeldt), the rest of the team, and Giants fans. But when the Giants needed a reliever in the most important game of the season, Bochy knew Affeldt was the guy. Affeldt, ahead of a two-time Cy Young winner and several other accomplished hurlers in that bullpen. One look at the numbers and it’s pretty clear why.
After pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings last night in relief of Tim Hudson, who inexplicably lost his release point in the second inning, Affeldt’s postseason statistics are staggering. His ERA is 0.86 over 31 1/3 innings. He gave up a home run in his first playoff appearance, against the Phillies in 2007 as a member of the Rockies. No homers since in 32 appearances. He ran his scoreless innings streak to 23.1 innings last night, and last night’s outing was his longest in October.
He teared up after the game. Why? Only he could tell you all the reasons, but he voiced one in particular. Affeldt pitched the game of his life in the city where his career began and was nearly derailed. He was both a starter and a closer as a young Kansas City Royal, and his numbers got progressively worse in his third, fourth and fifth seasons, until he was dealt to the Colorado Rockies midway through year five. He turned things around in his one full season with the Rockies. A solid season in Cincinnati followed, then he signed with the Giants in 2009.
“This is a really, really big deal for me,” he told Fox’s Ken Rosenthal while choking up, more than a little bit. “This is probably my favorite because I started with the Royals and it was a tough time for me. So to come back here and to feel this, and all three of my boys have championship rings. That means a lot to me.”
It wouldn’t have been possible without Madison Bumgarner’s historic five-inning outing to get the save, but Affeldt was awarded the win after some deliberation. It was the second postseason win of his career. The first came in Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS and took just one out, a comebacker from Oscar Taveras.
Last night’s performance was just what the Giants needed, and it was as drama-packed as this team’s season and Affeldt’s off-the-field adventures. He kept the ball in the park as usual, but he also got a ton of help from his infielders. He ended the second inning on a force out at second, a great play by Brandon Crawford to beat Alcides Escobar after fielding Nori Aoki’s high chopper off that rock-hard Kauffman Stadium infield. Joe Panik helped erase Lorenzo Cain’s single to lead off the third with a glove assist to start one of the best double plays in franchise history. Affelt started the fourth by hitting Alex Gordon in the back with a wayward curveball, a moment that sent Tim Lincecum to the bullpen mound (after Hunter Strickland reminded Lincecum to take off the ridiculous beanie sitting on top of his cap). Affeldt only needed one pitch to induce another 4-6-3 double play. After a grounder to Pablo Sandoval off the bat of Mike Moustakas, Affeldt handed the baton to Bumgarner.
“In 2012 we won it with a pretty good staff, and today had to win it with Bum,” said Affeldt. “That’s the best performance I’ve ever seen in playoff … ever.”
Bumgarner and Christy Mathewson are the best postseason pitchers in franchise history. But if we’re ranking the best full-time relievers based on their playoff efforts in a Giants uniform, Affeldt is at the top.