A defensive gem for the history books

— -- KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There was a time when October always brought tricks to San Francisco rather than treats.

The Giants had World Series games delayed by torrential rains (the Columbus Day storm of 1962) and 10 days by an earthquake (the Loma Prieta quake in 1989). They felt the painful heartache of seven-game losses in the 1962 World Series ("Why couldn't Willie McCovey have hit that ball just two feet higher?!?!'') and the 2002 World Series ("Why couldn't Scott Spiezio have hit that ball just two feet lower?!!?''). They won 103 games in 1993 and got knocked out of a postseason spot on the final day of the regular season by the Dodgers (grrrrrr).

For crying out loud, they got beat twice in the postseason by the Marlins!

Now, October brings nothing but treats. The Giants have won three of the past five World Series, and this latest one came in part due to a reversed call that became a rally-killing double play after being replayed several minutes by the umpires -- and will be replayed by San Francisco fans for ages.

Joe Panik's diving stop of a third-inning ground ball that eventually led to a double play in Game 7 was so dazzling that the 24-year-old rookie not only couldn't have dreamed of making it in the World Series, it was one he never even attempted at any level.

"That's the first time I've ever done something like that," said Panik, who reached the majors just five months ago. "Once in a while in practice or B.P., I'll do a glove flip standing up, but nothing like that on my belly. It was just instinctual. I couldn't get my bare hand to the glove because it was Lorenzo Cain running and I'm like, 'He's fast,' so I just tried to get it out to [shortstop Brandon Crawford]."

This was the situation. The score was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the third with reliever Jeremy Affeldt pitching, Cain on first base and Eric Hosmer at the plate for the Royals.

Hosmer hit a ball sharply up the middle that he -- and most everyone else in Kauffman Stadium -- believed would be a single that would advance Cain to third base. Instead, Panik dove to his right and speared the ball with his glove. Lying on his stomach, he then flipped the ball from his glove to Crawford to force out Cain at second.

"He always talks about how he doesn't do [glove flips] and that he's always going to flip with his bare hand," Crawford said. "But in that situation, that was the best play he could make."

Crawford followed it up by firing to first base. His throw arrived in Brandon Belt's glove at almost the same instant Hosmer's fingertips reached the bag when he dove headfirst. Diving headfirst into first base is almost always a mistake unless the runner is trying to avoid a tag, because it is faster to run through the base than to dive to it. Hosmer, however, maintains it's the opposite case for him.

"I feel that's quicker for me," Hosmer said. "I have a long wingspan, and instead of taking two more strides, I just reach for the bag. I stole a couple hits that way this year. That's the quickest way to the bag for me."

First-base umpire Eric Cooper agreed, initially ruling Hosmer safe. Giants manager Bruce Bochy quickly challenged the play, something that teams could not do until this season. It paid off. After the play was reviewed for several minutes, the call was overturned and Hosmer was ruled out for a 4-6-3 double play.

"I originally pounded my fist because I thought he was out," Panik said. "But then watching the replay, I thought that's a little close. I honestly couldn't tell. That's why they have the HD cameras in New York."

It's understandable if Royals fans are upset the umpires overturned their call. It killed a possible rally. Then again, it could be worse for Kansas City fans. Baseball could have had instant replay in the 1985 World Series.

Of course, if baseball did have replay back then, we still probably would be waiting for them to rewind the Sony Betamax machine.

Asked whether he thought Hosmer was out, Crawford replied with a less than certain, "Apparently."

Hosmer said he hadn't seen all the replays but was not upset about the play being reviewed. "That's what you want," Hosmer said. "You just want to get the call right.

"Panik made a great play. That's what you've got to do to win championships. He's a big part of their team. The whole series, he was taking hits away. That would have been a big hit. Runners on first and third with no outs and Billy Butler coming up? Definitely a crucial play."

It was. The Giants scored the go-ahead run the next inning, and then Madison Bumgarner shut down the Royals over the final five innings to secure the 3-2 victory.

"That double play saved me, but it was also a game-changer," Affeldt said. "I think what it did was it kept me from throwing more pitches and Bochy possibly having to go to someone else to get me out of a jam. To have a two-out-and-nobody-on situation rather than a one out with a runner on and I have to pitch a little different -- it was huge.

"That kid has made plays since he came up that were pretty awesome, and he's definitely the reason we did this today."

Why are the Giants doing this now after so many decades of painful losses? Crawford grew up in the Bay Area in a family with season tickets to Giants games. Asked why San Francisco used to always lose in October but now always wins, he replied. "It's hard to say what the difference is. We kind of create our own luck by doing the little things right. I'm not saying those teams didn't when I was growing up, but that's a big reason we're back here so often."

Panik's double play was no little thing, though. It was a defensive play for the World Series history books. Or better yet, for the video screens.