The Amazing Pitching Duel We Never Got

The setup was perfect. Probably too perfect, as it turned out: all we had was an opening game showdown between the two-time defending National League Cy Young Award winner against the former American League Cy Young Award winner, who's finished in the top five for AL CYA voting each of the past four years and will almost certainly take this season's National League Cy Young Award.

Not good enough? Well, then how about the fact that each was coming off a lights-out brilliant performance in the opening game of the preceding series, a two-hit, one-walk, 14-strikeout shutout on the one hand, and a one-walk-away-of-a-perfect-game on the other. Thus we can all be excused for looking forward to the Pitchers' Duel of the Century.

But one might say that nothing in baseball is that easy, or at least that predictable. Neither Tim Lincecum nor Roy Halladay turned out to be quite at the top of his game last night, as each was touched for a couple of dingers and neither reached the eighth inning. Yet perhaps the true measure of an ace is how he handles the situation when he doesn't have his best stuff, and both of these aces met that test wonderfully, as both battled gallantly, bending but never breaking, each keeping his team right in the tight ballgame through seven.

To be fair to both, they had to contend with a major squeeze job from home plate umpire Derryl Cousins, whose strike zone generally seemed to assume that every batter was Eddie Gaedel. Both pitchers demonstrated some visible frustration with this circumstance, especially (and perhaps surprisingly) the 33-year-old veteran Halladay.

Maybe the most interesting wrinkle to the entirely well-played and richly entertaining game was the fact that both of the long balls surrendered by Halladay came off the bat off the knockabout 29-year-old journeyman Cody Ross. The Giants are the fifth major league team for Ross, and when they unceremoniously acquired him as a waiver-wire spare part in late August they surely had no expectation he'd be playing this sort of role. In fact, the Giants picked up Ross not because they felt they had a need for him, but only to prevent the San Diego Padres, whom San Francisco was then trailing in the NL West Division, from grabbing him.

Giants' manager Bruce Bochy made scant use of Ross in his first few weeks with the team, deploying him as little more than a defensive replacement. But when Andres Torres went down with appendicitis in mid-September, Ross got the opportunity to make a few starts in center field, and his bat started to heat up. In the postseason, Bochy has finally decided to make Ross his primary right fielder, and both against Atlanta and so far now against Philadelphia, this unassuming role player appears to be the one Giant swinging the bat consistently well.

So it goes in this most unpredictable of sports. Tonight's starting pitcher matchup is between Roy Oswalt, whose ERA over the final month of the regular season was 1.31, and Jonathan Sanchez, whose mark over that span was 1.01. Therefore we should apparently anticipate a 10-9 slugfest.

Read more great baseball stuff at The Hardball Times.


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