The San Francisco Giants won the National League Championship Series with the most intellectual game of baseball I've ever seen played by the Giants manager, Bruce Bochy. Can Bochy get a manager-of-the-year award for one game? He might deserve it. The Giants needed to win one game to win the championship with two games remaining against the Phillies, and Bochy made sure it was this game.
One thing Bochy did was replace third baseman Pablo "Big Panda" Sandoval, one of the team's most popular players, with multi-position player Juan Uribe. Sandoval is the reason why so many Giants fans could be seen wearing panda masks during home games this season, and Bochy stuck him on the bench during the team's most important game of the year so far. Why? Sandoval was in a slump. He was was hitting poorly and fielding poorly during the postseason.
With Uribe's usual place at shortstop filled by Edgar Renteria, the left side of the infield was packed with the Giants' top fielding talent. The TV announcers noted that batters would tend to hit pitches thrown by lefties to the left side of the field, and the Giants were starting with a left-handed pitcher and followed him with three left-handed backups. Their fielding may or may not have made a difference, but Uribe hit the game-winning solo home run in the eighth inning.
Bochy's decisions with the pitching rotation were splendidly quick and effective. The starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez had a bad game, and Bochy pulled him after two and a goof innings. Sanchez had a bad start in Game 2 but had thrown five solid innings after a disastrous first inning. This time Sanchez had another bad first inning and he never got better. He had an easier time finding the plate as a hitter, scoring a run in the top of the third, than with his pitches which were all over the place. One of his pitches officially went wild, several more were clearly not where catcher Buster Posey had expected them to be, and finally Sanchez hit Phillies hitter Chase Utley in the back. This led to an exchange of words and a bench-clearing eavesdropping as both teams rushed the field and stood around to try to overhear Sanchez and Utley discuss the weather. Bochy came to the mound once the traffic jam was cleared up, and it wasn't to talk to Sanchez. It was to pull him. Sanchez was replaced by Jeremy "Not Ben Affleck" Affeldt, who threw two perfect innings before Bochy decided to put in a fresh pitcher.
The fresh pitcher was a starter acting in relief, Madison Bumgarner, who started Game 4 and was also given two innings here. Bumgarner was relieved by Javier Lopez who tossed a perfect seventh inning, and for the eighth Bochy sent in another starting pitcher as relief, Tim Lincecum. The team's ace. The two-time Cy Young Award winner. Bochy pulled Lincecum after one out because he was doing poorly, and let the closer Brian Wilson finish the game. Wilson pitched out of the eighth and had enough favour with Bochy that he was the one guy Bochy did not pull the trigger on when he got into trouble in the ninth, giving up two walks before closing the inning, the game, and the series.
This finally put to an end a hard-played set of games against a very good team in the Phillies, who made every game difficult for the Giants with the possible exception of Matt Cain's 3-0 shutout in Game 3. The Phillies' fielding was amazing, with a couple of highlight-reel plays in every game. The Giants simply shut down their bats with superior pitching.
Even before the earlier wild-card series against the Atlanta Braves, Bochy had pulled highly paid on-and-off pitcher Barry Zito from the roster. Zito has yet to make a postseason appearance for the Giants and probably will not unless the team really needs another pitcher, and with the talent they have it's safe to say they don't.
So the Giants now get to go to the World Series to face the Texas Rangers, who were also underdogs going into the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. It should be interesting.