LEAD OFF

The Brewers were seeing Red yesterday afternoon. The comeback kids from 2010 picked up right where they left off last year as the Reds put together a four-run bottom of the ninth capped off by a three-run walkoff home run by catcher Ramon Hernandez for a 7-6 win and another improbable comeback. The Reds’ first six wins of 2010 were in their final at-bat and also won the NL Central title on a Jay Bruce walkoff shot late in the year.

A lot of experts have the Brewers stepping ahead of the Reds this year for the division title, but the defending NL champs apparently did not use up all of their magic on last season.

How bad was it for Brewers closer John Axford? He gave up four earned runs in 0.2 innings, easily his worst outing of his young career. The right-hander from Canada only gave up more than one run in a game once last year and that was only two runs on September 28 against the Mets. He gave up more than that yesterday in one pitch.

NOTABLE DEBUTS

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants:1-for-3, BB, K

Nate Adcock, RP, Royals: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0  BB, 0 K

WHAT AN ENCORE

Jason Heyward apparently loves Opening Day. He homered for the second straight year in his first at-bat of the season. The Braves second year phenom became just the second player in MLB history to homer in his first at-bat on his team’s opening game his rookie year and the following year. Kazuo Matsui was the other with the Mets in 2004 and ’05. Matsui never lived up to any kind of expectations, but Heyward should be on his way to a big year.

QUESTION:

Including his game-winning blast, Hermandez had four hits for the Reds. Who was the last Reds player to record four hits on Opening Day? Scroll down for answer.

PITCHING DUEL

In a game for the baseball purist, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum locked into a pitching duel in Dodger Stadium. Kershaw got the better of Timmy this time with 7.0 shutout innings, one walk and nine strikeouts while picking up the win in a 2-1 game. Could Kershaw be on his way to a Cy Young like I predicted? I know, it’s extremely early, but not a bad way to start the season.

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez hit back-to-back home runs for the Brewers to lead off the game, becoming the first team in 42 years to open the season with back-to-back long balls.

ANSWER:

Paul O’Neill went 4-for-4 with a double, home run and three RBIs on Opening Day 1989. O’Neill’s big day led the Reds to a 6-4 victory over the Dodgers at Riverfront Stadium.

World Series Game 5: Giants 3, Rangers 1  (Giants win WS 4-games-1)
Thanks to another stellar pitching performance by ace Tim Lincecum, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers 3-1 to win the series 4-games-to-1 for their first championship since arriving in the Bay Area. The Giants ace defeated Rangers ace Cliff Lee for the second time in the series and left no doubts about how much pitching dominated these playoffs.

It’s only fitting that in a year dubbed the “Year of the Pitcher” that the playoffs and, more importantly, the world series would be dominated by pitching.

In a game that was more of what people expected from the Game 1 Lee-Lincecum matchup, Lincecum fired 8.0 innings with just one run allowed on three hits while fanning 10. Lee matched Lincecum until the seventh inning when Edgar Renteria, who is developing a flair for the dramatic, ripped a three-run homer off Lee to give the Giants all the runs they would need to win it all. Cody Ross and Juan Uribe led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Aubrey Huff laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over, and Lee then struck out Pat Burrell for two outs bringing Renteria to the plate. Renteria had the walk-off game-winning hit for the Marlins in the ’97 World Series and made the final out of the 2004 World Series for the Cardinals. This time he delivered again with a three-run blast into the Texas night to deep center field. It was all the Giants needed.

Nelson Cruz hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, his sixth of the postseason, but that was all the Rangers would get off of Lincecum. Closer Brian Wilson came in for the ninth and shut down the Rangers middle of the order, striking out Josh Hamilton, getting Vlad to ground out and clinching the World Series for the Giants by striking out Cruz to end it.

Renteria was named series MVP thanks to a .412/.444/.765 slash line with two home runs, including the series-winning home run. You can definitely make a strong argument that Lincecum deserved the MVP award, but it really doesn’t matter because the Giants are champs and that’s all that matters to them and their fans.

World Series Game 1: Giants 11, Rangers 7
If you would have told me prior to Game 1 that the Rangers would score seven runs and lose with Cliff Lee on the mound, I would have committed you. In your insanity, if you would have also told me that a game where Lee faced Tim Lincecum would end up with 18 total runs, I may have given up on you altogether. Yet, that’s exactly the way the script went for Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night. So much for that once-in-a-lifetime pitching duel. That’s why they play the game I guess.

The Giants ripped Lee all around the ballpark on route to an 11-7 victory at AT&T Park to take a 1-0 lead in the series. Lee lasted just 4.1 innings with seven runs allowed (six earned) on eight hits, one walk, one HBP and seven strikeouts. Hey, he did have a double off Lincecum though in the second inning. It was his first ever loss in what was a remarkable postseason career up until last night. It wasn’t all his fault as the defense behind him fell apart as well as Texas recorded four errors in the game. Lee ran into major trouble in the fifth after Torres doubled with out. Freddy Sanchez ripped an RBI double, Posey struck and Burrell walked. Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff followed with back-to-back RBI singles to chase Lee from the outing. Juan Uribe welcome Rangers reliever Darren O’Day with a three-run blast deep into the San Francisco night for the big hit the Giants were looking for. It was Uribe’s second crucial home run in as many games as he hit the eventual game-winning homer in Game 6 of the NLCS in Philadelphia.

Sanchez didn’t have a bad game himself. He only doubled in his first three WS at-bats and finished with four hits and three RBI. Not bad for a former Bucco! (sorry, I had to add the Pirates plug in there). Three extra-base hits with no home runs in a WS game? It’s only happened a handful of times before.

The Giants actually trailed the game 2-0 early and got out of a jam after a horrendous brain fart by Lincecum. The Giants starter had Michael Young in a run down with one out in the first inning and decided to run him back to third base instead of flipping to third for the out. Lincecum had to of thought the other runner had moved up to third, so the lead runner would be out, but that was not the case. Inexplicable decision by Lincecum, but he got out of it against the next batter, enticing Ian Kinsler to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Even with an 8-2 lead, Lincecum wasn’t great either as he only made it 5.2 innings allowing four runs on eight hits, two walks with three strikeouts. The difference here was a big W in the win column.

For Texas, Vlad Guerrero and Nelson Cruz each had a hit and two RBI while Bengie Molina and Mitch Moreland each recorded two hits.

The Rangers will try to bounce back tonight with CJ Wilson taking the hill against Giants starter Matt Cain in Game 2. All Cain has done so far this postseason is allowed zero earned runs in 13.2 innings.

As for a random non-game thought from last night, I’m all for being patriotic, but can we lose “God Bless America” for the 7th inning stretch and go back to the old-fashioned “Take Me Out to the Ballgame?” The National Anthem is sung before every game, I don’t think we need another national TV performance of an American song. Let the Giants fans, who were having a good time at that point, sing and go crazy for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

NLCS Game 5: Phillies 4, Giants 2
Well it wasn’t pretty, but on a soggy, strange night in San Francisco, Roy Halladay out dueled Tim Lincecum in round 2 to defeat the Giants, 4-2, and send the series back to Philadelphia. The Giants lead the series 3 games to 2.

The Phillies took advantage of suspect defense and a missed foul call on a Halladay bunt to score three runs in the top of the third inning and never gave up that lead behind Halladay and stellar work for their bullpen. Despite giving up a run in the first inning and looking visibly angry at the umpire, Halladay settled down to go 6.0 innings with two runs allowed on six hits, two walks and five strikeouts for the win. Ryan Madson struck out the side in the eighth inning and Brad Lidge worked his first save of the series with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Phillies opened the third with a single and a hit by pitch with Halladay coming to the plate. He attempted a bunt that hit home plate and rolled back, but was ruled a fair ball by the umpire. Posey picked it up and fired to first to almost nab Ibanez at third, but Sandoval missed the bag with his foot. With runners on third and second with one out, Victorino hit a line drive to first where Aubrey Huff misplayed off his glove and caromed into right field as both runs scored. Polanco singled in the next at-bat to score Victorino to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead.

Jayson Werth added a solo home run, his second of the series, to provide an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning. The Phillies were actually out-hit in this one, 7-6.

Lincecum went 7.0 innings, but allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits, one walk and seven strikeouts to get tagged with the loss.

The teams will meet Saturday night back in Philadelphia for Game 6. Can the Giants win one game in Philly to clinch a spot in the Fall Classic? They will turn to Jonathan Sanchez to try in Game 6 against Roy Oswalt.

Game 2: Rangers 6, Rays 0
The Texas Rangers moved within one victory of winning their first postseason series in franchise history as they blanked the Rays 6-0 in Game 2 of the ALDS at Tropicana Field. For the second straight day, the Rangers shut down the Rays behind stellar pitching holding the Rays to just two hits in the game. C.J. Wilson tossed 6.1 scoreless frames with just two hits, two walks while fanning seven for the victory. Ian Kinsler launched a solo home run to give Texas a 2-0 advantage while Michael Young delivered the big blow, a three-run homer one pitch after the umpire said Young held up on a ball, but replays show the bat went too far and wasn’t called. Tampa manager Joe Maddon argued the call immediately following the home run and was ejected from the game. Not that it mattered much because the Rangers bullpen shut down the Rays the rest of the way with a 2.2 hit-less innings from Darren O’Day and Darren Oliver. James Shields was not effective for Tampa as he lasted just 4.1 innings after allowing four runs, four hits and one home run for the loss. The Rays have shown zero offense in two games at home and now are forced to travel to Texas and need to win three straight games to advance to the ALCS.

Game 2: Yankees 5, Twins 2
Once again the Twins held a lead at home, and once again the Yankees rallied to defeat the Twinkies to take a two games to none lead with the series shifting back to Yankee Stadium this weekend. Andy Pettitte was his usual boring playoff self…by boring I mean effective as hell, going 7.0 stellar innings with five hits, two runs allowed and four strikeouts for the win. Lance Berkman was the other story for the Yanks last night as he broke a tie twice, first with a solo home run in the fifth inning and then after Orlando Hudson tied the game for Minnesota with a solo blast, Berkman responded in the very next innings with an RBI double to give NY a 3-2 lead. Curtis Granderson had another strong game for the Yankees with three hits, one run and one RBI. Like the Rays, the Twins face the difficult scenario of having to win two on the road just to get back to Minnesota for a possible decisive Game 5. I have a feeling this was the last baseball game played in Target Field in 2010.

Game 1: Giants 1, Braves 0
Pitching is paramount in the playoffs, and the Giants showed that last night in a pitcher’s duel as starter Tim Lincecum was nearly unhittable in a 1-0 Giants victory in Game 1 at AT&T Park. Lincecum fooled the Braves all night with a complete game shutout on 119 pitches. “The Freak” allowed just two hits, one walk while striking out 14 batters. San Francisco’s rookie catcher Buster Posey scored the only run of the game on a single by Cody Ross in the bottom of the fourth inning. But it was all the Giants would need as Lincecum retired the final eight batters to leave no doubt in this game. Derek Lowe took the loss for Atlanta with just one run allowed in 5.1 innings. Brian McCann and Omar Infante each picked up one double, the only hits on the night for the Braves. Atlanta will turn to the young phenom Tommy Hanson tonight in Game 2 against another solid Giants starter in Matt Cain.

As I settled down onto my couch last night to watch the Dodgers-Giants game, I expected a classic pitching duel featuring two of the game’s youngest star pitchers—Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. Instead, I saw a wild 7-5 Giants win that featured three ejections, hit batters, bench warnings and the 8.06 rule.

In case you are not familiar with the rule, 8.06 (b) regarding the manager’s trips to his pitcher states: “A second trip to the same pitcher in the same inning will cause this pitcher’s automatic removal.” It also clarifies in the rule that the manager or coach is considered to have concluded his visit to the mound when he leaves the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber.

Well after Joe Torre and bench coach Bob Schaefer were ejected earlier in the game, hitting coach Don Mattingly took over as the acting manager. With the bases loaded in the top of the ninth and the Dodgers clinging to a 5-4 lead, Mattingly went out to talk with closer Jonathan Broxton. Mattingly started walking back to the dugout, took a couple of steps off the mound before turning around to say something else. Giants manager Bruce Bochy was all over it. He appealed to the umps that it was two separate visits. The rule does state that, and Broxton was forced out of the game for reliever George Sherrill, who by the way promptly gave up the go-ahead two-run single to Andres Torres. Bochy also got this call against the Dodgers when he was managing the Padres in 2006.

Whoops.

Mattingly admitted that he knew the rule, but didn’t think he moved off the dirt when he turned back. The Dodgers were probably still done because Broxton did not seem to have it last night anyway after giving up a single and a walk to lead off the inning.

The great pitching duel was foiled early when an ineffective Lincecum was hit around early and failed to go at least five innings. He finished with five runs allowed on seven hits in just 4.2 innings of work. Not very Timmy-like. Kershaw, on the other hand, was more effective but did not have brilliant stuff himself as he allowed four runs (two earned) through 6.0 innings and was ejected after hitting Aaron Rowand with a pitch to lead off the seventh. Kershaw also hit Torres to lead off the game in the first. Lincecum retaliated by brushing Matt Kemp back in the fifth and then hit him on the very next pitch.

Like I said, so much for that 1-0 pitching duel. It was still a great game, just not the type of game I was expecting. I’m only disappointed in MLB Extra Innings package for not having the Dodgers broadcast with Vin Scully available…I have no idea why that was either. Would have  been a great contest to listen to Vin. I  The Giants go for the road sweep of the Dodgers tonight.