SAN FRANCISCO — For all the millions of dollars they earn, the chartered jets they fly and the luxury hotels in which they stay, baseball players have their moments when they are just like the rest of us. The San Francisco Giants could testify to that.
The Giants were stuck on an airplane for hours late Friday night, well into the early hours of Saturday morning. They waited for a destination, for more fuel, for the mechanics to fix the hydraulics. What could have been a two-hour journey turned into a nine-hour ordeal.
With no televisions. The players, eager to learn whether the Washington Nationals or St. Louis Cardinals would be their opponent in the National League Championship Series, peered over the shoulders of teammates to get a peek at an iPad. The less fortunate used cellphones, to get play-by-play from relatives.
The red eyes got here, all of them, just before sunrise. The Giants flew in from Cincinnati. The St. Louis Cardinals flew in from Washington. The combatants for the NLCS had arrived, the winners of the 2010 World Series against the winners of the 2011 World Series.
The series starts Sunday. The Giants go with Madison Bumgarner, who has failed to survive six innings in each of his last three starts. The Cardinals go with Lance Lynn, who is starting because Jaime Garcia suffered a shoulder injury in the division series.
The Giants were not supposed to be here. No team had ever lost the first two games of a best-of-five series at home, then come back to win.
The Cardinals were not supposed to be here. No team had ever trailed by six runs in a winner-take-all postseason game, then come back to win.
That last thought was on the Giants' mind when they boarded their plane Friday night. The Giants dispatched the Reds on Thursday, then hung around to see where they would go next. If St. Louis won, the Giants would come home.
However, as the Giants enjoyed a team dinner, the Nationals roared to a 6-0 lead. The Giants bused to the airport and boarded their plane, and still the Nationals led. Bumgarner admitted he had started thinking about how he would pitch to the Washington hitters.
"Whoever made the call to stay [on the ground] until the end gets the credit," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "I was ready to hop a plane to D.C."
"They were getting quicker updates," Posey said.
The Cardinals rallied, twice one strike from defeat, and the Giants were ready to take off for home. But the pilot needed more fuel, and a mechanic, and the delay was so long that Giants Manager Bruce Bochy could not remember when the plane finally took off.
"I don't know, 2:30, somewhere in there," Bochy said. "I can't tell you the exact time. At that point I think most of us were asleep, or trying to fall asleep."
The Cardinals flew west too, fueled by the adrenaline of what infielder Skip Schumaker called an "epic comeback." They escaped the down-by-two-runs, down-to-their-last-strike handcuffs last fall, in Game 6 of the World Series, so they amazed a nation but not necessarily themselves.
"I thought I saw it all last year," Schumaker said. "I guess I didn't."