When the Fox Sports cameraman panned over the Giants bullpen during a 2-2 tie in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, it wouldn’t have taken a Giants fan, or even a baseball fan, to know you were looking at some Bay Area athletes. With that single shot, the image of black-clad Giants’ closer Brian Wilson, and setup man Sergio Romo, both sporting black Giants hoodies and thick black beards (hoods in place as they would be in the thick S.F. fog at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, looking like some fans, really), reminded America who the Giants really are: a bunch of scruffy misfits who torture their fans in the quest for victory. It’s come to feel as if bearing the torture and staying at our seats is us fans’ role in this magical October run.
Everyone has a role on a championship team.
Like a beat girlfriend who can’t get enough of her dominant, rude, criminal boyfriend’s abuse while her friends wonder why, we come back for more while others look on and ask that same question. But seriously, who wouldn’t? San Francisco has proved to the country that it can play fall-ball; and to the fans go the wins. Any Giants fan will tell you, the nerve-wracking torture makes the win that much sweeter. Anyways, at this point in the season, if Brian Wilson doesn’t walk a hitter at some point during the 9th inning, then I worry. It has become that routine. That’s why it’s called a “save”, because it’s dangerous. That’s what Brian Wilson would say.
Just over 7 hours ago, when “the Giants [won] the pennant!!!”, the situation was slightly different from the reg. Don’t get me wrong, the torture was definitely making its presence felt as All-Star second baseman Chase Utley walked, pushing Placido Polanco to 2nd. There was a moment of about 30 seconds where I felt a decent sized rush of classic torture, thinking how the tying run is in scoring position, and the winning run is on 1st. You know, the usual. What followed the worry, was a sense of utter mystical baseball shock. Up to the plate stepped the 2005 Rookie of the Year, 2006 MVP, and 2008 World Series Champ. Up to the plate stepped Ryan Howard…
It wasn’t the stats that were running through my mind, or even the size or significance of the moment we were witnessing. It was what we baseball fans love so much about the POSTSEASON but can never put our finger on or describe to our foreign friends. I’m talking about the staredown.
And like Ali vs. Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila“, the matchup completely lived up to its hype. We were watching two actors play their parts perfectly. They say the closer has a “look”. Well, if that’s true, then Brian Wilson has it ten-fold. The beard completes the manliness and the eyes paint the target. On the flip-side, which player would Phillies fans rather have up there to face him than Ryan Howard. The 30 year-old slugger from St. Louis, Missouri who possesses UNGODLY power and could give Philadelphia a game seven with one half-swing of the bat.
But back to the stare. The stare happened before each of seven pitches. It really wasn’t about baseball, this stare. It was simply language. A special language between Ryan Howard and Brian Wilson which, unlike most languages, only covered one topic: Balls.
It happened to the tune of strike swinging, ball, ball, strike looking, ball, foul, strike LOOKING. Oh no you didn’t. Oh yes he did. Oh my God he did. He got him looking. Before he really knew what happened and how bad it would suck to think about later, Ryan Howard was left stunned and clueless by that one cut fastball, staring at catcher Buster Posey‘s glove. Surely, at this very moment, the big guy is unable to sleep, asking himself questions like “Why didn’t I swing?” or “Why didn’t he throw the slider?” or “Should I drink a second cup of Nyquil?”.
There is only one answer that I can come up with to all of Ryan Howard’s questions: FEAR THE BEARD.
Bring on Texas.