By Michelle Dingley 

Before we look ahead to 2012, let’s take a moment to look back on the year that was.  Here are the top five most memorable moments of 2011. 

[Click here for part 2.]

#5 – August 5: The “Fighting Phillies” live up to their name

Ramirez plunks Victorino, leading to a bench-clearing brawl.

It’s a shame that this moment is so high on the list, but it was truly one of the most memorable moments of the year.  We will undoubtedly remember this game the next time we play the Phillies, despite losing Ramirez in the offseason.  The Giants were getting killed by the Phillies at AT&T Park.  With an 8-2 Phillies lead in the 6th, Jimmy Rollins stole second, followed by a single.  Ramon Ramirez’s next pitch beaned Shane Victorino squarely in the back.  As Victorino started toward the mound, Eli Whiteside jumped up to protect his pitcher.  Eli’s attention soon turned to Placido Polanco, who ran in from second base.  As Whitey held back Polanco, the benches cleared and it was pure mayhem.  At one point, Victorino pushed an umpire, and he later tackled Hensley Meulens in a likely case of mistaken identity.  When order was restored, Whitey, Ramirez and Victorino were ejected.

[For more on the brawl, click here.] 

Did the ball slip out of his hand?  Was it a beanball called from the dugout?  Did Eli call for it?  Did Ramon do it on his own?  If so, what pushed him over the edge?  We’ll never get these answers.  Eli said he was calling an inside fastball; it just went too far inside.  What we did learn here was that if you’re a Giant, Eli has your back.  He earned the respect of a lot of Giants fans.  When he left the field upon his ejection, the crowd cheered. 

[To follow up on the aftermath of the fight, click here.]

#4 – April 30: Jonathan Sanchez is taken to the woodshed

The Giants somehow pull out a win in the weirdest game of the year.

We must have had a little of that 2010 magic left over, because we had no business winning this game. 

There were ominous signs before the game even began.  The prior day, the Nationals’ Jason Marquis shut us out, needing only 96 pitches to do so.  Our starter for this game, Jonathan Sanchez, was coming off a flu-like illness which Bochy referred to as “the crud.”  Worst of all, Pablo Sandoval, our only offensive producer at the time, broke his hamate bone that morning and was headed for the DL.  Our infield shifted, with Tejada at third, Fontenot at short, and Buster at first, giving the struggling Huff the day off.  (Belt had already been sent back to Fresno by this point.) 

After the Giants went down in order in the top of the first, Sanchez took the mound.  He issued a leadoff walk, then erased the runner with a double play.  Posey did a great job staying with the wide throw for his first play at first base for the year.  Jonathan then walked the third place hitter, and the fourth, and fifth – that’s 3 straight walks and 4 this inning.  With the bases loaded, a groundout got Sanchez out of the jam.  This was the first time in San Francisco history that a pitcher walked 4 but allowed no runs in the first inning. 

Again, the Giants went down 1-2-3 in the second.  Sanchy again got off to a bad start, hitting the leadoff batter.  Sanchez picked off the runner as he headed to second, but Buster’s throw to Fontenot covering the base was too high.  Fontenot barely stopped the ball with the webbing of his glove, but it came out as he tried to apply the tag.  Fontenot was given the error, although it was the high throw that prevented the out.  The next batter walked (big surprise).  That’s now 2 free passes this inning and no outs as the pitcher, Lannan, came up to the plate.  Lannan struck out on a terrible bunt attempt.  A wild pitch that Whiteside was unable to field allowed both runners to advance.  Sanchy hit the next batter, loading the bases with one out.  The next batter, Ankiel, hit a little looper over the head of 5’8” Fontenot, “the littlest Giant of them all,” at least according to Krukow.  He ran straight back but couldn’t quite get to it.  Ankiel’s single was the first hit of the game, and it scored one unearned run.  With the bases still juiced, Werth struck out for the second out of the inning.  The next batter grounded out to Buster.  Sanchez didn’t cover first, so Buster had to take the ball himself for the third out.  Had the runner been faster, he likely would have been safe. 

When Sanchez came off the field, Righetti pulled him down into the clubhouse to have a word.  Kruk and Kuip called this being taken to the woodshed.  Krukow, a former pitcher, remarked that sometimes you need a coach to yell at you to get your out of your glaze.  If there’s one Giant who seems to be permanently glazed over, it’s Jonathan Sanchez.  In the third, Whiteside smashed a homer out to left field for the first Giants’ hit, and when Sanchy took the mound, the score was tied at one.  Sanchez kept it tied and had a nice 1-2-3 inning.  Whatever Rags said, it seemed to work. 

In the top of the fourth with one out, Buster doubled off the right field wall.  Pat Burrell then hit a comebacker up the middle that the pitcher snagged.  Buster was caught in a rundown, slipped on his way to third and was tagged out.  Pat was thrown out at second trying to advance, completing probably the strangest Giants double play of the season.  The good news was Sanchez calmed down after the insane first two innings and somehow pitched five full.  He only gave up the one unearned run and two hits, striking out 7, but he gave up 8 free passes (6 walks and 2 hit batsmen). 

Fast forward to the top of the seventh.  With two outs and Tejada on first, Fontenot hit a ground-rule double.  Tejada would have easily scored had the ball stayed in the park.  It’s just another bad break for the Giants in this game.  Whiteside was intentionally walked so the southpaw Lannan could face the lefty pinch hitter, Huff.  With the bases now loaded and two outs, Huff drew a walk and earned an RBI, putting the Giants ahead 2-1. 

In the 8th inning, Darren Ford recorded his first big league hit, a single up the middle. 

Wilson made the ninth very stressful.  After two walks and a hit batsman, the bases were loaded with two outs.  Wilson went to a full count before a swing and miss ended the game.  The Giants won 2-1.  Just another laugher! 

This was easily the strangest game of the year.  We somehow overcame Sanchez’s control issues, a few bad breaks and some poor defense to get the win.  In the bottom of the fourth, Kuiper summed up the game: “Weirdest first inning I’ve ever seen, weirdest second inning I’ve ever seen, weirdest double play in the fourth inning I’ve ever seen.”  I completely agree. 

#3 – (2011 season) “… And we are going home!”

The Giants keep it interesting down to the wire with a dozen walk-off victories.

For a while, it seemed like no game was out of our hands.  We almost took it for granted that we would come back and win it in the ninth.  By my count, there were 12 walk-off wins in the Giants 2011 season.  Ten of the 12 took place in the first half, when the Giants still employed the 2010 mantra of “a different hero every night,” and before the wind was collectively knocked out of the team toward the end of the season.  In those first few months of the 2011 season, even though we still weren’t scoring many runs, we seemed to come through in the clutch.  Here are the 12 walk-offs:

April 8: Rowand wins his second consecutive Giants home opener, capping a marathon game against the Cardinals.  April 9:  Tejada’s deep fly is too hot to handle, giving us back-to-back walk-offs over the eventual World Series champs.  May 6: Freddy Sanchez gives all Giants fans a present on Willie Mays’ birthday as we overcome a deficit against the Rockies.  May 7: A sac fly off the bat of Fontenot (make that Fonte-yes) sends us home happy for the second game in a row.  May 10: Cody Ross brings home the only run in a 1-0 win over the D-Backs.  May 20: Huff puts the Giants over the cross-town rival A’s.  May 22: Burriss knocks in his friend Darren Ford as the Giants complete a 3-game sweep of the Athletics.  June 6: Freddy is the first Giant to double-up walk-offs this season, completing a 13-inning game that saw Timmy’s 1000th career strikeout and two relief pitchers grab a bat (Affeldt walked and Lopez struck out).  June 10: Nate the Great comes through, scoring Torres to defeat the Reds.  July 6: Schierholtz again saves the day, this time with a walk-off homer in the 14thAugust 27: Keppinger brings the walk-off back into fashion after a long hiatus, helping the Giants beat the Astros in Eric Surkamp’s major-league debut.  September 13: Veteran Mark DeRosa feels like a kid again after driving in the winning run against the Padres, the last walk-off of the Giants’ season. 

#2 – September 9: Vogey wins Willie Mac Award

Comeback of the Year candidate Ryan Vogelsong earns the team’s highest honor.

Ryan Vogelsong was the feel-good story of the year, and it was wonderful that he received this award from the club.  Vogey’s story has been well-told, so here’s the Reader’s Digest version.  He was drafted by the Giants in 1998, but he was dealt to the Pirates for Jason Schmidt in 2001.  He played in the majors for a few years but was never especially good.  He went to the minors; he went to Japan; he was signed to more minor league contracts.  He was a non-roster invitee for the Giants’ spring training in 2011.  When Zito got hurt, Vogey got his chance.  He was right back where he started, with the Giants.  So much more than a fifth starter, he excelled and made the All-Star team. 

What was so inspiring about Vogey was not his improvement or how well he pitched.  It’s that he never gave up.  He had said in interviews that he had many opportunities to give up, to quit, but he never did.  As long as he could keep playing, he would keep playing.  At media day before the All-Star Game, Vogelsong summed up his standpoint: “Don’t ever give up.  It’s as easy as it is.  I came into this game and people told me that I played with that you don’t stop playing until they kick you out and take the uniform from you.  That’s what I was gonna do.  Here I am.”  No matter your career, your goals, your dreams, this is advice you can take to heart. 

#1 – April 8, 9, 10 – Opening Weekend Ceremonies

The banner raising ceremony, ring ceremony, and Rookie of the Year presentation were the true highlights of the year following our first World Series Championship since 1954. 

The highlights of the season were the ceremonies celebrating the World Series win.  The Rookie of the Year presentation honored Buster Posey, who had an amazing year both offensively and behind the plate, catching our fabulous pitching staff.  Despite coming up from the minors at the end of May, his rookie season easily merited the award. 

The ring ceremony was probably the most meaningful for the team.  Each player was honored for his role in helping the team reach the ultimate goal.  Travis Ishikawa was brought back to get his ring, even though he had been relegated to Triple-A in the offseason.  The broadcasters also got rings, which they wore in each telecast throughout the year.  The ring is something that each Giant can keep and pass down to their children, a tangible reminder of the 2010 season, the year they won it all. 

For the fans, the most memorable moment of the season has to be the banner raising ceremony.  With a hefty serving of pomp and circumstance, the ceremony commemorated the accomplishment of winning the Fall Classic for both the players and the fans.  The role the fans played was recognized as Brian Wilson presented the World Series-winning game ball to a season-ticket holder (who returned it to the Park afterward).  The banner itself, in glorious Giants orange, was passed from Willie Mays to each Giant player and coach and finally to the hirsute closer, who ran it to the outfield and raised it over McCovey Cove.  The banner is something we can all look to with pride and remember that wonderful moment, that final swing and miss that gave the Giants their first World Series title since moving out west.  You look up at that flag and you know that November 1, 2010, wasn’t a magical dream but a beautiful reality.  The stitching says it all: “2010 World Series Champions.”  The fans don’t get a ring.  We don’t get a plaque.  Any World Series memorabilia we own we had to pay for ourselves.  But that banner flapping in the San Francisco breeze belongs to us all.  We won’t win it all every year, but we will always be the 2010 World Champions. 

*     *     *     *     *

That closes the book on 2011.  To paraphrase Buster Posey’s World Series parade speech, let’s go out there and make another run at it.

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