Put in position to succeed, Arroyo overachieves
Right-hander stifles Giants, thanks in part to dimensions of AT&T Park
SAN FRANCISCO -- Right off the bat -- and this phrase is meant in the most literal sense imaginable -- the decision to start Bronson Arroyo on Sunday night in Game 2 of this National League Division Series proved prudent.Because right off the bat, there went the ball, hammered in the realm of right field.
Now, had this been right field in Great American Ball Park, where that particular part of the dimensions was tailored to Ken Griffey Jr.'s expected jaunt toward Hank Aaron's home run record, the ball would have been bound for those red seats. But this was right field in AT&T Park, where lefty lumber goes to die. So Angel Pagan saw his would-be shot settle instead into the black glove of Jay Bruce on the warning track. "This," Reds manager Dusty Baker said, "is a very forgiving ballpark." And forgiveness, in this case, equated to one out. The first of many for Arroyo, each more convincing than the one before. Arroyo was awesome. Seven innings. Zero runs. One hit, one walk, four strikeouts. If he's ever been better, it was only in the machinations of his mind in his childhood backyard. And if this column is 1,000 words, 998 of them could wax poetic about Arroyo's dazzling array of arm angles and sneaky sinkers and confounding curves. Toss in a "The End" -- and boy, this sure feels like the end for these 2012 Giants after the 9-0 loss (in 21 tries, no NL team has come back from an 0-2 deficit in the Division Series to win it) -- and there's your story of the night. "He threw a little bit of everything," Giants right fielder Hunter Pence said. "That's what he does. He looked like the same he always is. He's always throwing sinker, slider, curveball, changing arm angles. That's what he is." The story, though, extends to the decision before the dealing. Mat Latos was the Reds' best starter of the second half. Better than the guy in the Cy Young conversation (Johnny Cueto), better than the guy who tossed the no-hitter (Homer Bailey) and, yes, better than Arroyo. But the Reds -- before Cueto's back spasms sent him swiftly to the showers in Game 1 -- opted to save Latos for Game 3, a bit of a brazen move in a best-of-five, especially one that opened in a park seemingly ill-suited for the Reds' offensive strengths and especially when you note Arroyo's 6.04 career postseason ERA coming into 2012. Well, any butterflies about the bats were resolved quite quickly -- first against the previously infallible-in-October Matt Cain and then against Madison Bumgarner, who was singled into submission here in Game 2. But just as Latos did in his rousing relief stint in Game 1, Arroyo gave the Reds poise, presence and peace of mind on the mound. Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price figured Arroyo's long-ball tendencies made him a better fit for AT&T than Great American, but nobody could have seen this outstanding an outing coming. And Arroyo made the most of the opportunity initially by making the most of the elements. This was evident immediately. The three outs recorded by Arroyo in the first inning must have averaged about 330 feet. But they were flies that died in the Northern California night, and Arroyo was off and running. "The first few hitters," Arroyo said, "you're trying to throw strikes, and a couple of those pitches were fatter than I would normally want. But they hit 'em hard right at some of our outfielders, and it's something that allows you to get deep in the ballgame. ... If those balls go in the gap, it's a totally different ballgame." Instead, this was Arroyo's ballgame. He was perfect through 4 2/3, and Brandon Belt's line-drive single to break it up was the Giants' only hit against him. The only other baserunner he let aboard with Buster Posey via base on balls in the seventh. Arroyo changed speeds, and, well, that's an understatement, for he touched every whole number on the radar gun from 71 to 90. Arroyo struck out the side in the third, and, well, this was unexpected, for he had only done so one other time all year. His pitches were, as catcher Ryan Hanigan put it, "on point." Out of the blue and into the black. What's it like to have that kind of command in this sort of setting? "It's super comforting," Arroyo said. So, too, is the Reds' current condition in this set. And they knew these were the best possible conditions for Arroyo to succeed. By the end, Game 2 was a blowout, and, in some measure, this is a shame. Because the casual observer will note that 9-0 tally and not really realize how Arroyo quieted not just a lineup but an audience. The Reds sought to silence what can be an unfriendly environment for the opposition. Ryan Ludwick's leadoff shot in the second was a plus on the shush scale, as was the Reds' manufacturing job in a three-run fourth. But every time the Giants tried to muster some mojo, every time the crowd tried to will a win, Arroyo put up another zero, another hint that 0-2 was on the horizon for the NL West champs. Had this panned out exactly as planned, the Reds would really be sitting pretty going into Game 3 on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. ET on TBS. They'd have a 2-0 lead, with Latos looking to bring down the hammer at home. As it stands, given Cueto's condition and what it wrought, it's Bailey who is bestowed with the task of sealing the deal, with the possibility of Cueto or Latos looming in Game 4. If this thing gets to a Game 5, we might see Arroyo again. At Great American, we might not see him quite like this again. But the key to winning these short series is putting your players in the best possible position to succeed. In Game 2, Arroyo was in that position, right off the bat.