Ross joins playoff greats by conquering Halladay in Game 1
Ross became the latest player to save his best self for exactly the right moment
Ross homered twice off Roy Halladay in the Giants' Game 1 win over the Phils
Many thought the Giants didn't even want Ross when they claimed him off waivers
PHILADELPHIA -- One of the beautiful things about the baseball postseason is that it can turn strangers into heroes, for a moment, and also forever.
Brian Doyle is not the utility infielder who hit .161 over a smattering of four seasons, no, he's the guy who hit .438 in the Yankees' World Series win in 1978. Dusty Rhodes is not the rather forgettable outfielder who hit .253 in the 1950s, no, he's the man who hit .341 in part-time duty in his charmed year of 1954 and then banged two home runs in six at-bats in the Giants' stunning sweep of Cleveland in that year's World Series.
Mark Lemke ... Rick Dempsey ... Larry Sherry ... Eddie Perez .... Don Larsen (of course) ... they happened upon their best selves at exactly the right moment.
And so, San Francisco's Cody Ross has found his best, too. He had another postseason moment Saturday night in Philadelphia -- a couple of them actually. You might remember that Ross already had his big moment in this postseason -- it was Ross who in the sixth inning of the NL Division Series Game 4 against Atlanta broke up Derek Lowe's no-hitter in the sixth inning with a home run. The homer tied the game, and perhaps just as much it changed the game. The thing about no-hitters -- obvious as it may sound -- is that they STAY no-hitters until someone breaks them up. And once that happens, they lose all magic. The Braves took the lead again the next inning. Ross' single in the seventh gave the Giants a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.
Move forward to Saturday night, Philadelphia, third inning of the Phillies-Giants NL Championship Series Game 1, and the air felt electrified. This game was about as hyped as any postseason game in memory because of the two pitchers, the Phillies' Roy Halladay (coming off a no-hitter) and the Giants' Tim Lincecum (coming off two-hit, 14-strikeout shutout). People at the park were joking about seeing double perfect games, but there was something behind the jokes, this sense of expectation that we would all see something that we had never seen before.
And, sure enough, Halladay retired the first seven batters and seemed to be in complete control. Lincecum seemed a bit shakier -- he allowed a couple of hard-hit balls and a double to Ryan Howard -- but he too made it through the first couple of innings without giving up a run. One of the things baseball fans do as they watch, I think, is try to gauge the atmosphere of a game -- and here the atmosphere felt choked. This was going to be a duel, a 1-0 duel maybe, every baserunner would be precious, every batter would feel overpowered ...
Then Ross stepped up. Halladay had thrown 11 hitless innings. He had gotten the first out of the third. He then threw Ross a 93-mph fastball on the inside part of the plate. And Ross turned on it, crushed it, knew it was gone just an instant after he had made contact. The ball sailed into the seats. And the whole complexion of the game, the night, the series changed.
"It's huge for the club," Giants manager Bruce Bochy would say.
"It was huge for us," Giants left fielder Pat Burrell would say.
"Obviously, it was huge," Bochy would reiterate.
Yes, the word of the night was "huge" -- well, the idea was to search for as big a word as possible. Ross came to the Giants just less than two months ago ... they had claimed him on waivers from Florida. There is some thought that the Giants did not particularly want Ross, that they only claimed him in an effort to keep their division rival San Diego Padres from getting him (this thought is so prominent that it is on Ross' Wikipedia page). Well, it is true that Ross had posted a subpar 89 OPS+ in Florida (after posting a similarly subpar 93 OPS+ last year), and he made more than $4 million this year, and Florida did waive him, and the Giants already had plenty of outfielders. So maybe they didn't particularly want him.
But they wanted him enough to make the claim. And though he didn't play every day -- the Giants seemed to prefer another castoff, Jose Guillen -- Ross did get himself some playing time, and he did show a little spark. When Guillen got hurt, he became a playoff starter. Then he hit the big home run off Lowe.
And then he hit that huge home run off Halladay.
The game opened up from there. Philadelphia's Carlos Ruiz tied the game up in the bottom of the third inning with a solo home run off Lincecum, and the Phillies put two runners on and sent Howard to the plate (Lincecum struck him out). The Giants put two on against Halladay in the fourth. It was still a pitcher's duel, but it wasn't two pitchers dominating -- instead it was two pitchers using everything they knew to hold off the storm. As both managers said, their pitchers "battled" Saturday. That's a different kind of description for Halladay and Lincecum.
In the fifth Ross came back up. Halladay -- being Halladay -- immediately backed him off the plate with a buzzing fastball. Halladay then tried to paint the outside corner, and just missed. With the count 2-0, Halladay once again challenged Ross with an inside fastball. And Ross once again turned on it, crushed it, knew it was gone an instant after he made contact.
"I've tried everything against that guy," said Ross after the game, his face still locked in disbelief. "I've tried to wait him out. I've tried to be aggressive. I guess I was in between tonight ..."
The game wasn't exactly decided on Ross' home runs. No, those home runs only shaped the game. As far as the baseball goes, Burrell's run-scoring double one pitch after Halladay thought he had a strikeout (the pitch was called a ball) was crucial. As far as the game goes, Jayson Werth's two run homer in the sixth that pulled Philadelphia within a run, 4-3, was crucial. As far as the game goes, San Francisco closer Brian Wilson's ability to get out of mini-jams in the eighth and ninth sealed the victory.
But those Ross home runs, especially the first one, well, as Burrell said: "Everybody's familiar with what (Halladay) did in the last game. We just needed to go out there and put something on the board, I think, more than anything, just to kind of calm down our offense. Because when you look at the last start (Halladay) had, there wasn't a whole lot to hit for those guys."
Now Ross is finding himself in the spotlight, finds himself repeating the charming story about how when he was a kid he really wanted to be a rodeo clown. His father had been in rodeo, and Ross was thrilled by the clowns and how they would put themselves in danger in order to protect the cowboys. That's what he wanted to do. And, of course, that never quite went away.
"I just try to take pride in going up there every single at-bat and try to get something going for my team, whether it's drawing a walk or hitting a home run," he said. "Anything that you can do to spark your club and get the emotions rolling."
The emotions roll now. The Giants landed a serious blow Saturday night -- they came to Philadelphia and beat Halladay. The Phillies are two-time NL champs, and they have a star-studded lineup with two former MVPs and five other All-Stars, while the Giants used a lineup Saturday that included just three players who started on Opening Day (and one of those was Lincecum). But the series is wide open now. The Giants have at least a split, they have a hot pitcher, Jonathan Sanchez, going Sunday night and then the series moves to San Francisco where the atmosphere has been wild and the Giants played .600 ball all year. The Phillies still have to be considered the favorite but ...
"I don't think it's a surprise at all," Bochy said when asked about Ross' success. "I mean, he's a nice player."