San Francisco reliever Kelly Downs frustrated the Chicago Cubs with split-fingered fastballs, nearly ignited a brawl with a wisecrack and finally left with a victory.
It was quite a game Sunday night for Downs, who lives in Centerville, Utah, in the offseason, after he had been pelted for three runs in the Giants' loss in Game 2 of the National League playoffs.This time, he was the stopper the Giants needed to complement their slugging. Although the Giants lead 3-1 in the series, their pitchers have a 4.89 earned-run average. Chicago pitchers have a 6.09 ERA.
Downs came on in the fifth inning after starter Scott Garrelts allowed a single by Jerome Walton, a two-out triple by Mark Grace and a double by Andre Dawson to tie the game 4-4.
The Cubs seemed poised to take command, until Giants Manager Roger Craig went to Downs.
Was Downs nervous?
"This is the playoffs. None of us are really nervous," Downs said. "This is where we want to be. This is a childhood dream. It's great to get a chance to help your team to make it into the World Series."
Downs went to the tricky, sinking split-fingered fastball, Craig's favorite pitch but one which Downs had been avoiding.
"I haven't quit throwing my split finger, but I just haven't found a situation that I feel comfortable using it," he said.
This time Downs was comfortable mixing the pitch up with his regular fastball, and he got Luis Salazar to ground out to second to end the threat.
Downs then worked out of a jam in the sixth, starting the playoffs' first bench-clearing incident in the process.
Shawon Dunston led off with an opposite-field bloop single to right off the bottom of his bat.
"I played winter ball with Shawon," Downs said. "I've gotten along with him real well. When I pitched him inside and he got the ball down the line for a hit, I just went over there and said, `You can't take that' and had a smile on my face. I guess he didn't see the smile. I was kidding."
Dunston took offense at the remark and began raging at Downs. Both teams immediately rushed to the scene, but no punches were thrown.
"He's not no Nolan Ryan," Dunston said. "I don't try to show nobody up. He shouldn't try to show me up."
Downs said it was "something that happened in the heat of the battle. As far as I'm concerned, it was just a big misunderstanding."
Dunston got to third on a groundout and a two-out single by Walton. But that's as far as Dunston got as Giants left fielder Kevin Mitchell made a falling catch of Ryne Sandberg's liner to end the inning.
Downs held the Cubs to three hits over four innings before giving way to closer Steve Bedrosian with a man on and two out in the ninth.
Downs said the first thing Craig asked him on the mound before taking him out was, "How do you feel?"
"It's what a manager always says, and I think pitchers have learned to be good liars," Downs said. "We can say we feel great with a smile on our face, and we can fool them most of the time. I was getting a little stiff and I had a long inning. I was just disappointed I couldn't stay in to finish the inning."
For Downs, the victory marked the highlight of a big comeback from a shoulder injury that put him on the disabled list May 2 and kept him out of the lineup until August.
Downs finished the season with a 4-8 record in 15 starts and three relief appearances. His ERA was an undistinguished 4.79.
"It has been a little frustrating, especially after the kind of year I've had," said Downs, 28. "I just feel I want Roger to have confidence in me. Roger is the type of guy who's going to go with the older pitchers or the guys that have done more. After the year I had, it's good to come in and contribute any way that I can."