Jeremy Affeldt announced his retirement on Thursday, and it’s left San Francisco Giants fans with many talking points. Most of them center around Affeldt’s seven years with the team and more specifically, his time in the postseason. For all the acclaim and fanfare Tim Lincecum received in 2010, Matt Cain earned in 2012 and Madison Bumgarner deserved in 2014, no pitcher was more important to all three championship rings than Affeldt. In my mind, it’s not even close, either.
Affeldt, a member of the Giants “core four” along with Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla, was at his absolute best when it mattered most. His consecutive-game scoreless streak in the postseason is second best all-time, just one game behind Mariano Rivera. Ultimately, he did not allow a run in his final 22 appearances in the postseason. He was dominant throughout the playoffs during all three championship runs and he had signature moments in every championship that may have been the most critical moments of each.
Game 6 of the NLCS vs Philadelphia in 2010
During the first improbable run in 2010, Affeldt and his teammates faced the powerful Philadelphia Phillies who were, according to all the experts, just too good for the band of misfits that were the Giants. Keith Law and Buster Olney had the Phillies winning in five games, Rob Neyer and Karl Ravech had them in six, and Jayson Stark and Tim Kurkjian had them in seven.
Fast-forward to Game 6 with the certain-to-lose Giants up three games to two and a chance to clinch. Giants general manger Brian Sabean, manager Bruce Bochy, and pitching coach Dave Righetti had talked before the game about what to do if starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez struggled. With such a left-handed lineup as Philadelphia had, the plan was to go with Affeldt, Bumgarner, and Lopez, all lefties, in relief roles if necessary. Sanchez struggled. He also got frustrated, and for no apparent reason got upset with Chase Utley and it led to the benches clearing.
When benches clear in baseball, so do bullpens. Every member of the bullpen ran onto the field, except for one. Affeldt. Mark Gardner, the Giants bullpen coach, told Affeldt to stay in the ‘pen and start throwing because he knew Sanchez was going to be taken out of the game. Affeldt was going to replace him and he needed to be focused on the task at hand. The task: two on and no out in a 2-2 game in the third inning.
Affeldt, normally a setup man who was more used to pitching in the last three innings, was asked to pitch in the third inning. He struck out Ryan Howard on a high fastball, made Jayson Werth flyout to Cody Ross in right, and then forced Shane Victorino to ground out to Aubrey Huff at first and the inning was over. He again went three-up-three-down in the fourth inning and his two scoreless frames helped the Giants keep the game locked at 2-2 after four innings.
The Giants would go on to win the game thanks in large part to Juan Uribe‘s eighth-inning home run, but it was Affeldt’s brilliance in the third and fourth innings that saved the day and led to the Giants’ first trip to the World Series in eight years.
Game 4 of the World Series vs Detroit in 2012
Affeldt was called into the eighth inning of Game 4 of the World Series in 2012 to face the heart of the Detroit Tigers’ order. Again, the game was tied, this time 3-3. Even though Affeldt was left handed, he had been called on many times in the past by Bochy to get out tough right-handed hitters. This would be the toughest test yet of that faith, as Affeldt began the inning facing Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera. Affeldt struck him out swinging on a nasty 0-2 breaking ball. Prince Fielder was up next and struck out swinging as well, and after Delmon Young did the same, it was the most impressive inning of Affeldt’s postseason career. The Giants would go on to win the World Series that night in the tenth inning.
Game 7 of the World Series vs Kansas City in 2014
Game 7 began like a storybook for 39-year-old Tim Hudson. He had waited 16 seasons to pitch in the World Series, and here he was being asked to pitch Game 7. This was the game every kid dreams of playing in when they are dreaming in the backyard.
However, much like the night for Jonathan Sanchez four years earlier, Hudson got hit hard early and before the second inning was over, it was déjà vu all over again for Affeldt. Bochy had mentioned to Affeldt before the game that if he needed to take his starting pitcher out early, he would go to him first. Affeldt didn’t expect to be called on in the second inning, but like the previous 21 appearances with the Giants, he wasn’t going to let the team down.
With two on and two out in the second inning, Affeldt got Nori Aoki to ground out and the inning was over. Over the next two innings, Affeldt induced two double plays, including Joe Panik‘s glove flip to Brandon Crawford that may go down as one of the greatest double plays in World Series history. Affeldt, often considered a ground ball pitcher throughout his career, forced ground balls to one of the best infields he had ever pitched in front of and once again, Affeldt did the job.
This game has become Affeldt’s best moment in professional sports. He said as much in the press conference to announce his retirement and in postgame interviews that night for how his career had come full circle. Affeldt began his professional career in Kansas City and didn’t like the way his tenure there ended. To be named the winning pitcher of Game 7 that night in Kansas City completed a journey that has made him San Francisco’s greatest postseason pitcher in the 57 years the team has been in the City by the Bay.