AT&T PARK — Four seasons ago, the Giants took their first World Series title as a San Francisco team.
Since then, they’ve walked-off, pitched and lucked their way into the Fall Classic every other year.
With manager Bruce Bochy at the helm, the World Series has been smooth sailing. In 2010, they won it in five against the Texas Rangers without losing the series lead. The 2012 series was a clean sweep over the Detroit Tigers.
For the first time, Bochy and the Giants face a bumpy road to the crown, as the Kansas City Royals toppled San Francisco 3-2 Friday night to take a 2-1 World Series lead.
The Giants lost two in a row for the first time this postseason as the American League champions bested the San Francisco lineup and veteran Tim Hudson in his first World Series appearance.
Hudson’s very first pitch on the big stage was ugly: a high fastball in leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar’s wheelhouse for a quick double off the left field wall.
Escobar found his way home off two soft groundouts by Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain to give the Royals the early 1-0 lead. Escobar and Gordon struck again in the deadly sixth inning with a single and RBI double to give the Royals a little 3-0 breathing room.
Hudson (L, 0-1, 4.76 ERA) settled into his pitches around the third inning, specifically, around his first strikeout of the game, a four-pitch see-ya-later to Alex Gordon. The big one: a swinging strike on an 82 splitter marking Huddy’s true arrival to the Series. He incurred 12 ground outs and four hits.
Bochy spoke highly of Hudson’s performance:
“I thought he threw the ball well, very well. The first pitch got away from him. He got ambushed there. But, no, I thought he had great stuff and was keeping the ball down, good movement on his pitches. I thought he did a really nice job.”
With little happening on the other side of the ball, Hudson put together a rally of his own. He lowered his sinker and, after the first inning, contained the hungry Royals bats to two more runs through 5-2/3 innings.
Kansas City’s offense was silent, but effective due mostly to manager Ned Yost’s lineup changes, not Hudson’s pitching. Alex Gordon, who was rocking an 0-17 slump stretching back to Game 1 of the ALCS, got the nod in the two hole and notched an RBI double and a productive out.
The Giants got Yost-ed on the offensive side of the ball as well. Royals started Jeremy Guthrie stunted a Giants lineup that couldn’t break beyond an infallible defense that seemed to appear wherever the ball flew.
Yost crafted that defensive brick wall expertly to start the three game series in San Francisco. He benched Nori Aoki — who struggled in the outfield back in Kansas City — and placed Lorenzo Cain in right and Jarrod Dyson in center.
Yost said the changes weren’t drastic, simply necessary:
“Our focus here in this park, because it’s a unique park, it’s a big outfield, where we’re going to put our best defensive outfield out there. That’s Gordon in left, Dyson in center, Cain in right…They just cover all kinds of ground out there.”
The switch paid off, Cain robbed a hit from Buster Posey in the first inning and snagged a line drive from Travis Ishikawa in the following inning.
Guthrie kept the Giants’ bats on a tight leash. He didn’t strike out any batters, but allowed them just one productive inning.
Guthrie, who notched his first World Series win after 10 seasons in the game, said he was trying to go for the strikeout:
“I thought I made a couple of good pitches with two strikes. A few of them were reached for, and they did a good job to get their bat on it, which is what they’re supposed to do. On the flip side, I probably could have punched out twice, but I hit a couple week balls myself.”
The Giants could only claw their way back into the game, grasping firmly onto a leadoff single from Brandon Crawford in the sixth inning with a Michael Morse RBI double down the third base line, the only extra-base hit of the game.
Yost followed the Royals’ post-sixth game plan and unleashed the heralded bulls from the pen. Kelvin Herrera pushed back the top of the Giants’ lineup just enough. Joe Panik and Buster Posey could only ground out one more run before Herrera shut down the inning, the Royals up 3-2.
The last few innings turned into a bullpen dual, and the score froze. The bullpens on either side didn’t give up a single earned run and just two hits collectively.
The Royals needed just one of those — a single from Eric Hosmer off Javier Lopez, who inherited a runner on second — for the game winner.
Bochy said the Royals’ bullpen is one of the toughest to face:
“It’s the reason why they’re here. … I don’t know if there’s a better bullpen, because that 7th, 8th and 9th inning, and you get a tough go when you’re facing those guys.”
The Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong faces Jason Vargas tomorrow at 5:07 p.m. for Game 4.