07 December 2009

Butch’s Hot Stove Report, Vol. 1

So much has transpired since the Giants hung up their spikes it’s been hard to keep up, especially if you’ve been spending your free time cruising I-5 with Tim Lincecum.

Unfortunately, your trusty friend Butch is not so lucky. He has to work for a living like anybody else, but he hasn’t forgotten his loyal readers as the seasons turn and the cold chill of winter sets in. So, without further ado, I doth present:

Butch’s Top Ten Stories Between the End of the Regular Season and the Winter Meetings That Don’t Involve Unsubstantiated Rumors or Downright Lies

1. Lincecum wins second consecutive Cy Young Award

How can you top this? The Giants had not been home to a Cy Young winner since 1967 before Timmy broke through last year, and while he didn’t have as consistent a season as he did in ‘08, he learned how to finish games, anchored the best rotation in baseball, and grew one of the finest mops in baseball, all while posting peripherals that would make Fernando Valenzuela drool.

Did he truly deserve the honor? Bet your ass he did. Sure, you could make a case for Carpenter or Wainwright, but I’ll tell you this much: It’s a lot easier to pitch with confidence when you’ve got Albert Pujols (and Matt Holliday) in your lineup. The intestinal fortitude displayed by Lincecum, Zito, Cain, et al. with virtually non-existent run support is nothing short of amazing.

2. Sabean and Bochy get contract extensions

This would have been number one had it not been for Timmy’s repeat and the fact that it was a virtual no-brainer after the Giants hit the All-Star break 11 games over .500. It would’ve taken an absolute collapse for Mr. Neukom and Company to go hunting for a new front office guru and field general, and while that’s never out of the realm of possibility when it comes to the Giants, the 2009 team proved resilient and determined, which reflects very well on the job both of these men have done to build a winner.

3. Hated Ones' owner separates from wife

This might not have appeared on the radars of a lot of Orange and Black faithful, but it’s a significant development in the power structure of the National League West. If Frank McCourt faces divorce proceedings, his assets — including the Hated Ones — could be frozen, preventing “Nuclear” Ned Colletti from wheeling and dealing to his heart’s content this offseason... and at next year’s trading deadline.

4. Giants decline arbitration to Molina, declare Buster unfit for primtime

Another piece of news that wasn’t really news. We all knew Bengie would not be back. It was a simple matter of math: he wants a multi-year contract; the Giants will only offer him one year. We also knew from watching him in limited action that Buster Posey’s meteoric rise to the majors took its toll on his young body, and psyche. That’s not to say we won’t see him behind the dish five days a week by the end of the season, but it puts him in limbo to start Spring Training, and it opens the door for a possible free agent signing. Pudge to the Giants? Oh, lordy...

5. Sabean says MadBum could start 2010 in the rotation

The most welcome news of the fall so far was this nugget that got buried beneath the Buster-Bengie soap opera. Once Brad Penny declined a one-year contract, it made very little sense for the Giants to pursue outside options for the role of fifth starter. With a rock solid 1-through-4, the Giants offer Madison the protection he needs to accrue the big league experience he needs to take his game to the next level. The numbers show he has nothing left to prove or learn in the minors. Like Lincecum in ‘07, this kid’s time has come.

6. Lincecum busted for pot

Okay, I know you all thought your buddy Butch would put this at number one with a bullet, but seriously, the fallout from this sidenote was so miniscule that it’s hard to call it big news. So the kid smokes out. Nothing anyone with half a brain couldn’t have figured out on their own. That the Washington State Police made it official was simply a big smile. How can marijuana’s detractors gain any traction when a two-time Cy Young winner and an eight-time Olympic gold medalist are both getting lit in their spare time?

7. Giants add four players to 40-man roster

They may not yet be household names, but 1B Brett Pill, OF Francisco Peguero, OF Darren Ford and RHP Kevin Pucetas are now protected from the Rule 5 Draft. You can check out Andy Baggarly’s breakdown of their many talents here. In other news: clutch hitter Juan Uribe declines a one-year contract.

8. Yankees win World Series

Same s***, new stadium.

9. Pablo goes to Camp Panda

What do you get for a Panda who’s got everything? A fitness camp for one designed to keep everybody’s favorite rumblin’, bumblin’, rolly-polly, woulda-been catcher cum first baseman cum de facto third baseman in shape and spare his knees an extra load over 162 games. They even made special t-shirts. Read Henry Shulman’s take on the endeavor here.

10. Franny se va a Puerto Rico

Kevin Frandsen is posting a .300 BA with five doubles, a homer, and seven runs scored in 12 games for Gigantes de Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Teammate “Nasty” Nate Schierholtz is seventh in the league with a .346 average and an OPS of .982. But the MVP of the league so far is Carolina catcher Orlando Mercado, with a robust line of .444/.512/.583. Most impressively, Mercado has only one strikeout in 36 ABs and five walks.

That’s all for now. I’ll return shortly after we sign Dan Uggla and move Freddy Sanchez to third base.

24 September 2009

The Sun's Anvil

82 wins. No matter what, remember that this team truly was greater than the sum of its parts.

Monday, September 21st
Giants 5, Diamondbacks 4
WP: Romo (5-2); LP: E. Vasquez (3-3); S: Wilson (35)
HR: AZ - Reynolds (43)

I went to the Valley of the Sun for a September series back in aught-3. I remember thinking Downtown Phoenix looked pretty dead at one in the afternoon on a weekday. If I had to guess, I’d say it had something to do with the triple-digit temps. But modern engineering is somethin’ else. You walk through two sets of glass doors — past the ubiquitous 2001 World Series trophy — and you’re hit with a glorious blast of 72° air. When you make it to your seat, you marvel at how open and spacious a domed stadium can be. That sensation definitely does not come through on TV.

What does come through is that Giants starters are not getting it done. This marked the fourth game in a row in which they didn’t make it through five and the seventh consecutive contest without our starter collecting a W. Tonight’s victim was Barry Zito, who coughed up not one but two leads to a team playing far south of .500 and appears to have rediscovered that inconsistent streak with which we’ve all grown so familiar.

You’ve got to give it up to the ‘pen for another boffo performance — particularly Brian Wilson, who’s certainly found his groove down the stretch. Over the past few games, this band of brothers has effectively stolen the show from the best rotation in baseball. Luckily, Fred Lewis’ speed made their efforts worthwhile.

Franny Watch

God help me, I want to be happy that Franny’s getting some action, but there’s no positive way to spin this. UPDATE: Even worse news.

Regardless, K-Fran took an 0-fer in three trips.

Stat of the Night
The Giants scored an above-average five runs while going 1-for-11 with RISP.
Quote of the Night
"It was Fred Lewis running. That's why I hit him. He's tougher to double up than Frandsen. Thank goodness for speed." - Bruce “The Shaman” Bochy, obviously not a man to mince words
Tuesday, September 22nd
Diamondbacks 10, Giants 8
WP: Davis (8-13); LP: Cain (13-7)
HR: AZ - Ryal (3)

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades
, or at least that’s what my mother used to say when I told her I was close to finishing my chores. I’ve got another maxim I like to live by: When you’re up by four, you must win that game... especially when you get that lead against Doug Davis! The Giants experienced an epic fail in this situation thanks in no small part to a lack of stuff from my fantasy stud and permanent player of the second fiddle, Matt Cain.

To say that he looked terrible would not even begin to do justice to his performance. It was, quite simply, the worst you’ll ever see him. But you know what? He’s gonna come back in five days against the Cubs and show us how quickly he regains his focus and competitive edge. He’s been doing it as a Giant for four years, but it’s one of those things you can’t teach. It’s something you’re born with and nurture over a lifetime.

It’s safe to say Matt Cain has passed the trials of youth and emerged on the other side as a true craftsman. But tonight, he crafted a pretty ugly defeat for the Orange and Black, which took on an added frustration when the Rockies rallied (again) to beat the Fathers in Denver.

Once again, the bullpen was called upon to chow down on some innings as the Giants failed to get five out of a starter for the fifth straight game, and aside from a brain fart from starry-eyed rook Waldis Joaquin and a dong off Randy Johnson — likely making his final career appearance in ‘Zona — they rocked the house: 6.2 IP, 3 R, 3 BB, 7 K.

Consider it another benefit of having the second-least-used bullpen in the bigs coming into September that the Giants have survived this bleak stretch with any victories at all.

Butch’s BTW

Props to the umps for getting it right on the replay of Gerardo Parra’s blast to right-center. I thought it was gone until I watched the extreme slo-mo replay twice.

Franny Watch

OMG, grab your socks and hose and pull: Franny got a start! Unfortunately, the hits just aren’t finding K-Fran’s bat this season. He went 0-for-2 but worked a walk and scored on Matt Cain’s triple. (You did not mis-read that.) As of this game, his BA stands at a robust .149 with an OBP of .216, which shows that even though he can’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag, he might be able to walk out of it.

Stat of the Night
Merkin Valdez’s scoreless inning marked the first time since August 17th that he retired three batters without allowing an earned run.

Oh yeah, and Baggs points out the Giants were 22-0 before tonight when scoring eight or more runs. Yeah, I had to read that twice, too.
Quote of the Night
"He just left a lot of balls over the plate. If you look at our hits, they are catching a lot of white. Normally he is on the corners with his fastball and slider." - Mark Reynolds, who took a hat trick with three Ks to break his own year-old MLB record and at some point doubled to knock in his 100th RBI. Talk about feast or famine.
Wednesday, September 23rd
Giants 5, Diamondbacks 2
WP: J. Sanchez (7-12); LP: Mulvey (0-2); S: Wilson (36)
HR: SF - Uribe (14)

Leave it to Jonathan Sanchez to snap the starting staff out of a funk that saw Timmy and Matty lose in the same rotation turn for only the second time all year. Granted, he only made it through five and an out, but Bochy is quite obviously playing his cards every night like it’s Game 7 of the World Series. There’s no time to see if Sanchy works out his kinks in the sixth. The inning must end. The lead must be preserved. The game must be won, or the season is over, for reals, and we mean it this time. This cavalier attitude quite likely contributed to the now-snapped streak of five starts short of five innings.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Juan Uribe was the Giants offense prior to the seventh inning. The man had the team’s only two hits, and those hits drove in all the runs we needed off D-Backs’ young starter, Kevin Mulvey, who otherwise befuddled our bats in a re-run of a program we’ve seen before this year. If there is an improbable — and virtually impossible — run left in this team, it will be made on the back of the beloved nephew of a beloved Giant. Say it with me: “U! RIBE!”

Now, I’m not gonna bitch and moan about the Freddy Sanchez deal and what a jackass Brian Sabean is and how the entire front office needs an enema. I’m not gonna criticize that deal because the same front office went out and got Juan Uribe off the scrap heap for a cool $1M. The same front office drafted Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Pablo Sandoval, and yes, Buster Posey. The same front office gave this franchise its most prolonged streak of success in my lifetime. And the same front office has built a seven-team organization that posted the best overall win percentage in baseball this year. So I’m not gonna knock the Sanchez deal.

I am gonna knock Freddy for not being honest and forthright up front. If he’d told the truth about his knee, he might still be in Pittsburgh, where he claims he was so happy. But I guess you can’t blame him when the Giants were offering him a chance to play on the first winning team of his career.

Butch’s BTW

Reliever Jeremy Affeldt picked up his league-leading 33rd hold with a perfect eighth, prompting the question: What the hell is a hold?

Oh yeah, and tonight, the umps had it right the first time. But what is it about disputed home run calls in Phoenix?

Stat of the Night
Merkin Valdez’s scoreless inning marked the first time since August 17th that he retired three batters without allowing an earned run.
Quote of the Night
"Hopefully, Penny can come back tomorrow and go even deeper." - J. Sanchez, apparently unaware of the double entendre his choice of words invoked
Series debrief

How often do the Giants score 18 runs in a three-game series? Okay, not as infrequently as I suspected when first scrawling down the question, but not all that often either. To be precise, it’s happened seven times in 37 three-gamers this season — twice against the Astros. (It also happened over three games of the July four-gamer with the Pads that featured Sanchy’s no-no.) The last occurrence came in Houston at the beginning of August, when the G-Men notched a whopping 21 runs at one of the high points of their season.

Regardless, it’s good to see at least a little consistency from the O-fence. Granted, they’re still not getting hits with RISP, but at least they’ve stopped getting all single-happy and started making their hits count. One run-scoring hit in a 5-4 victory Monday, and tonight, five runs on four hits. On Saturday in Los Angeles, the G-men scored one run on 10 hits in a 12-1 defeat. I don’t know about you, but the latter circumstance is much more frustrating from the fan perspective.


Editor’s note

You may have already noticed a delay with some of my recent posts. Obviously, as the season winds down and playoff hopes begin to dim, the sense of urgency to blog my every thought wanes. That and work’s been kinda busy lately, and I don’t exactly get paid for sharing these little insights with you, my (three) loyal readers. Regardless, I will push on through and finish out the season right alongside our boys.

We’ve already passed the 81-win mark, ensuring a .500 season or better. But with a four-game gap and ten to play, it’s all over but the crying. In the season’s final posts, I’ll try to blend remorse for the passing of the 2009 campaign with optimism for the years ahead. God knows, there’s a lot of it to go around. I’ll also make a few bold predictions and add my own two cents as to where the Giants should look to improve (um, offense?) and where they should just stop tinkering (um, pitching?).

So stay tuned. The fat lady might be singing for the G-Men, but Butch is still fired up and ready to go.

23 September 2009

Butch's LA-LA Road Trip

Just a quick jaunt down the ol' I-5. A run to Zankou, a calzone from Damiano's, apple caramel cheese pie from Claim Jumper, and a little place called Chavez Ravine, where the smog is thick, parking is terrible, and the hot dogs are overpriced.

Friday, September 18th
Giants 8, Hated Ones 4
WP: Howry (2-6); LP: Troncoso (4-4)
HR: SF - Velez (5), Sandoval (22), Rowand (15); LA - Ramirez (19), Furcal (8)

Around the eighth is when it happens. It could be any time after the Do-yers fail to score late in a game they’re trailing to their hated rivals at home, but usually, it’s the eighth when it happens. A crowd that’s been all too willing to sit idly by and let the Giants and their fans enjoy the run of the house suddenly turns into a rabid beast.

Perhaps they’ve been waiting patiently for the inevitable comeback by the hometown nine. After all, this is a club that leads the world in comeback victories, and Andre Ethier has been a one-man walk-off highlight reel — with multiple video testimonials to that effect playing throughout the game.

Perhaps alcohol has been accumulating in their bloodstream ever since they got to their buddy’s place after work and ripped into that 30-pack of Natty Light. They got lost on the way down Sunset and ended up parked in some godforsaken corner of the lot after getting ripped off for parking — which you can do for free if you know your way around. The walk to the stadium left them winded and their buzzes killed, so the first thing they did once they got inside was pound another beer.

Perhaps they only just got settled into their seats after arriving in the bottom of the sixth with over-hyped Dodger Dogs and whack knock-off garlic fries cradled in their arms. The argument over their seats with the family that’s been in them for the first six innings didn’t help their adjustment to the game’s tempo. They only managed to get their game faces on in time to see Man-Ram strike out for the second time.

That’s when I cheer on my team: “Yeah, Serg!”

They turn around and glare. “Who told this guy he could sit there and wear the wrong shirt and say the wrong things?”

Non-confrontation is my policy of choice, and it’s because of the history I have with the fans of the Hated Ones. For the most part, they’re like anyone else: they like baseball, they like their team, and they want them to win, and good for you if you come out to support the other team because that’s what makes America great! They may be slightly more ignorant than your average Giants fan, but that has more to do with them being from Los Angeles than it does with their baseball allegiances.

But there is an element out there that the team would be ashamed to call their fans. These are the most vile and putrid types who care nothing for the game or its rich history or things like common decency and honor in defeat. They are the ones who throw food, hurl unprovoked insults in your direction, threaten physical violence just for looking them in the eye, get up in your grill and scream F-bombs, tell you to “go back to Frisco with the rest of the gays,” and if you’re really unlucky, they’re the ones who stab you, take your money, and leave you to die in the parking lot. (This has actually happened twice, but one of those times, the Giants fan was shot.)

People wonder why I continue to return to this place of eternal damnation and filth, with no leg room for a man of my stature and no respect for the most basic tenets of our society’s rules of engagement, and more importantly, why I insist on going alone. First off, I go alone because the friends and fellow fans I used to drag along with me have long since been scared off by the treatment they receive by association — that or they’ve been scared off by one or more of my many baseball-triggered breakdowns, which have an uncommon knack for occurring at Chavez Ravine.

As for why I keep coming back, it’s because this is the gauntlet with which we are presented as Giants fans. This is our rivalry, and it’s played out in two houses. To know the struggle from only one perspective would diminish the experience. If I were a Red Sox fan, I would take pride in a sojourn to the Bronx for a showdown with the Yankees. If I were a North-sider from Chi-town, Busch Stadium would be a yearly destination. But I’m neither of those things. I’m a Giants fan. This is my battlefield.

Come get some.

Butch’s BTW

Today’s BTW is devoted to two superstars of the game:

Gino Velez stayed hot at the dish and continues to make a case for himself when the club starts to think about next year’s starting eight. As was noted elsewhere, he came within one Andre Ethier diving catch of the first cycle I’ve ever seen live, and he set the game off on the proper tone with a smash off Vicente Padilla, who’s given the G-Men fits in the past.

The Giants bullpen won this game. Entering a tie game in the fifth, the relief corps tossed 4.2 scoreless and struck out Manny Ramirez twice. Jeremy Affeldt picked up his Major-League-leading 31st hold — whatever a hold is — and “Beach Boy” Brian Wilson put the cherry on top with a mercifully quick ninth.

Quick shout out to the Kung Fu Panda, who went yard to give the club an early lead. His first-pitch jack was out of there faster than I could say, “Get up!”

Stat of the Night
Coming into tonight’s game, the Giants were hitting .247 and averaging 3.6 runs per game on the road. At the Cove? They’re at .267 and scoring 4.5 rpg. Thanks, Haft!
Quote of the Night
"I have to take him out to dinner, I guess.” - Fred Lewis, after Manny Ramirez grossly misplayed Lewis’ pinch-hit, game-winning double in the sixth
Saturday, September 19th
Hated Ones 12, Giants 1
WP: Garland (11-11); LP: Penny (3-1)
HR: LA - Belliard GS (9), Kemp (25), Loney (13), DeWitt (2)

I tried not to smile when Man-Ram straight dropped Gino’s well-struck drive in the top of the first. I tried not to smile, but I think I did anyway. I let the Devil in, and he paid me back ten fold, well, twelve fold really. The minute Ronnie Belliard’s slam settled into the Do-yer bullpen, I settled in to a long afternoon with my portable radio, listening in as my Trojan football team fumbled and threw away a gimme game a short 1140 miles away.

The abysmal second half combined with the events playing out on the field in front of me to create a ceaseless rain of body blows that on any other day would’ve filled me with rage to the point that I erupted, with bad consequences all around. But today, I was sedated by a force beyond my control. I went to my happy place and stayed there, and I avoided the worst of the doldrums.

It’s just not healthy to get too worked up over these things once they’re done. It’s all well and good to get hyped up before a game, during the game, up until the final play, but once the results are in, there’s nothing anybody can do about it, and no amount of pointless aggression is going to change the score, much as we wish it were so sometimes. Much as we wish it were so.

I got to watch and hear the seasons of my ball club and my alma mater go down in flames within the same three-hour span. But I’ve had worse days, days I’m loathe to recall, days I’ve considered doing worse things than cursing out a fan of The Other Team. I’d rather think of tomorrow. I’ll have a pretty good view of Timmy as he takes the bump for another round with our SoCal counterparts. I like our chances, even against Randy Wolf.

One thing I will get all Negative Nancy about is leg room. How is it that I could be so cramped last night, only to move one row back today and have a luxurious amount of space to maneuver my tree-stump knees? Is there some drastic difference between rows G and H of the Loge level? When they put the new seats in a few years back, did they get cheap with the limb space in favor of more seats, more money, more Manny?

Greedy bastards. I’d like to see them “enjoy” a game in my shoes. Size 13.5, btw.

Butch’s BTW

Once again, attention must be paid to the little silver linings, without which games like this would suck altogether way too much donkey knob.

So props to Buster “Parker” Posey for collecting your first big league hit. I hope one day I can be glad to say I was there to see it, cause it was the only thing worth sticking around for after the first inning, at least from the whole, you know, Giant perspective.

Comeback of the year honors go to Joe Martinez, but the runner-up is the man he replaced in today’s game. Randy Johnson got in his first live work since July 5th, and looked more than a little shaky. But he proved a point. He wasn’t done. You can talk all you want about disappointments and overpaid athletes, but the guy had 8 wins before he went on the trainer’s table, and I’ll gladly pay him $1M per. After all, that seems to be the going rate for W’s in MLB these days. Check this out and do the math yourself. (Note the Giants right smack dab in the middle of the pack, just in case anybody’s wondering if they could be spending more... They could. A lot more.)

Franny Watch

Kevin Frandsen should start every game against the Hated Ones. He obviously gets it up to play them, and it’s not hard to imagine why, seeing as how he’s a die hard fan of the Orange and Black from way back. Anyway, kid got his first AB since last week against this very same Other Team, when he collected his season’s first RBI with a ringing double.

Today’s appearance didn’t turn out quite as well, but the kid got himself an opposite field knock and lifted that average all the way up to .167. I’m sure it’s not the season he would have predicted and certainly not the season he could have hoped for going into spring training with a legit shot at the cornerstone, but such is baseball, and such is life.

I don’t know what will become of him after this season, but I truly hope he’s enjoying himself and not taking this all too seriously, ‘cause there are a billion and one kids out there who’d give their left nut to be where he’s standing. A lot of them are bigger, more athletic, and even more gifted than he is, but the one thing he has that no one can touch and no one can teach is drive. That tells me we haven’t seen the last of him, with the Giants, or without.

Stat(s) of the Day
In case you were wondering, this defeat marked the largest margin of victory for the Hated Ones over your San Francisco Giants since a 16-4 shellacking during the 100-win 2003 campaign.

We al remember his late-inning heroics in the 2001 World Series, but Randy Johnson's last regular-season relief appearance came on July 18 of that year at San Diego, when he struck out 16 in the completion of a suspended game.
Quote of the Day
"It starts right with me and this is where it stops, right here... I'm not doing a good enough job making points on how we win.” - Pete Carroll
Sunday, September 20th
Hated Ones 6, Giants 2
WP: Wolf (11-6); LP: Lincecum (14-6)
HR: SF - Torres 2 (5); LA - Ethier (31)

I don’t have the stat right in front of me, and I don’t expect to have the time to look it up, but I can’t recall the last time the Giants scored a first-inning run in all three games of a series. I also can’t remember the last time they opened two games in the same series with a leadoff home run. Furthermore, I can’t pinpoint in my memory the last time the Giants’ leadoff hitter collected two dongs in the same game. To put the icing on this bad boy, I’m willing to bet that a Giants leadoff hitter has never accounted for his team’s entire offensive output with two solo jacks — at least not since that leadoff hitter was Brett Butler. All of these things happened in Sunday’s game. None of them could prevent the meaningful portion of the 2009 season from finally, at long last, coming to a close.

A lot of that is due to the fact that the Do-yers are just plain good. They’ve got talented hitters up and down the lineup, a serviceable starting staff, and a stout bullpen that’s been the cornerstone of their success all year. (It’s the only pen in the majors with an ERA lower than the Giants’, but it’s also logged the second-most innings in the league.) They hit for power, they hit for average, they bunt guys over, they steal bases, they catch the ball... well, everyone but Manny... and they have that aura of knowing how to win whatever game you throw their way.

Unfortunately for the forces of good in the universe, the Giants didn’t throw much of any game at their hated rivals over the final two games of what could have been a season-salvaging series. After a strong finish to Game 1, our boys came out flat and lifeless, particularly the starters, who — including the first two games in Arizona — have failed to make it out of the fifth inning for an entire five-game rotation. Brad Penny looked like he was more concerned with his pitch count and the Do-yer faithful than actually, you know, getting guys out. And after a typically dominant couple innings, Timmy faded quickly in the mid-80s temps and grueling sun of the smog-infested L.A. basin.

Lincecum’s struggle to adapt in warm climes seems like a trend the club would have a vested interest in curtailing. I’d recommend a yearly trip to the tropics to build up his heat tolerance after spending his first 22 years in the chilly Pacific Northwest and pitching his home games at the Cove. If this team continues to score runs at this anemic pace, they’ll need every quality start they can get out of their rotation, and any weakness will be amplified tenfold.

Speaking of anemia... This had to be one of the most painful pair of games a Giants fan has ever had to sit through, but because the home team had both contests in hand by the third inning, we were spared the usual brunt of Chavez Ravine aggression toward anything orange (see Game 1 notes). There’s nothing like a blowout victory and a hapless opponent to turn 53,000 agitated Angelenos into putty for Nancy Bee and her Organ of Doom. The guy they have doing a karaoke version of “Don’t Stop Believing” in the middle of the eighth certainly helps to lighten the mood.

Of course, the kid-glove treatment I received could have more to do with the price of admission in my seating area than the general attitude of opposing fans. I s’pose when you pay $70 a ducket, it’s easier to keep your cool since that’s too much change to waste on getting tossed for being a jackass. It really is shocking how much tickets are going for these days at other parks. In case you ever find yourself bitching and moaning about Mr. Neukom and the cost of seeing baseball (COSB) at AT&T, have a look at the price points for Do-yer Stadium.

Stat of the Day
Randy Winn extended his career-best errorless streak to 200 games but also extended his career-worst homerless drought to 453 at-bats.
Quote of the Day
“You can tell by the look on my face I'm not really happy about my outing and the way I let the team down." - Lincecum, owning it like a ten-year vet
Series debrief

Driving back to my friend’s place after Friday night’s game, I did a little opp research and turned on the Do-yers AM affiliate for the postgame wrap. My first observation, and one that came within moments of flipping on the radio: These guys suck. Honestly, is this the best breakdown crew for a team with Vin Scully’s name on the press box? My second observation: The Hated Ones are going nowhere in the postseason.

I listened for about five minutes as the hosts of the show fielded questions from fans about their team’s postseason rotation. Who should go first? Who should go in Game Two? Do you play match-ups or do you go on gut instinct? What would Torre do?

It struck me that they don’t know. They don’t know who would start Game One of a postseason series! This is a team leading their division by five with twelve to play, the epitome of cruising, a team that can afford to align its rotation any way it likes, and they have no idea who their frontline starter would be.

I can’t say that I blame them. With Chad Billingsley quickly falling to pieces, this staff lacks a credible ace and even a serviceable two-man. Matched against a powerhouse like Philly and their one-two of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels or the Cards and the deadly Adam Wainwright-Chris Carpenter combo, even a team with as many offensive threats as the Do-yers boast doesn’t stand a chance unless it can match the level of play at the center of attention.

It is truly a shame that the Giants lack the consistent offense to get them into a short series with one of those teams. I think they could hang with either one of them.

18 September 2009

Back in the Saddle

It's one of those things you don't like to talk about. You avoid the subject at all costs. The "What if..." sensation tickling the back of your mind. And when the circumstance you've been avoiding suddenly materializes, it's like a sucker punch to the gut. Kinda like the guy who goes his whole life without ever taking a physical because, as he states with supreme bravado, "I feel fine." One day, he walks into the doctor's office and finds out cancer's eating him alive and he'll be dead in a matter of weeks.

Okay, maybe it's not that bad, but finding out Tim Lincecum is gonna miss the first start of his career because of... gasp!... back spasms was certainly a sphincter-shrinking moment. Muddled together were the emotions of the moment, trepidation for all that this team had worked for all season long, anticipation of MadBum's big league debut on the bump, confusion as to the cause — was it because of his mechainics? — and sudden doubt in beliefs which I had previously held as sacrosanct, such as the genius of Chris Lincecum's coaching techniques.

The team had just returned from a moderately successful homestand. Moderately in that they survived to go .500 despite scoring a grand total of 12 runs in six games. The trip ended on a sour note thanks to Prince Fielder's theatrics, and less than 24 hours later, the G-Men had to strap it on and play the next Biggest Game of the Year, suddenly trailing the Rox by 2 games. But Brad Penny went out and closed the door, the offense grew a pair, and for one day, it looked like we were most definitely in this.

Then Lincecum's back started balking.

It's strange to say, but it probably meant the season. He only missed one start, but that was just enough of a bump in the road to skew the alignment of the wheels on the good wagon Gigantes. MadBum went out and pitched a wonderful game that by all rights he should have won, but the absence of the Ace, the Freak, the Franchise, the Kid, made everyone's heart sink just a little bit, and if it was like that for the 35K in attendance, then you gotta believe it was like that for the 25+ guys in the dugout.

The funk of the next four games was a purely mental one. There's no other way to explain the seeming disinterest in playing baseball displayed by the Giants over this most crucial stretch of games. We owe the Padres a huge thanks for knocking the Rockies off the high horse of their eight-game winning streak and taking the final two at Petco to keep us in the hunt. But serious praise must go to Brad Penny, who has quite simply become the Unbeatable Giant. If his 24-inch neck and his 97-mph fastbal hadnt been there to stop the bleeding against the Hated Ones on Sunday, there would have been no use playing the games Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.

About those games... How beautifully cyclical baseball can be. It has something to do with the nature of the seams, how they run in a continuous circuit around the ball. It has something to do with the bases, how the goal is to end up where you began. It has something to do with the repetition of playing every day, which forces you to have a short memory and think only of the now, this moment, this pitch, this play. That Lincecum, Zito and Cain were lined up to make these starts was no more of a coincidence than it was when it happened in that memorable sweep at the end of August. They were aligned this way to instill fear, to give our guys a boost, and to do exactly what they (almost) ended up doing.

In each of six games with the Rockies in our yard over the past two weeks, our starters have kept us in the game, and the offense has stepped up at just the right moments, and it all would have worked out so wonderfully had anyone been able to get a hit with runners at second and third and no outs in game three. Six batters came up, spread across two such situations, and all of them made outs. All of them. Minus that brain fart of Alexandrian proportions, I think the Giants have made clear who owns this stretch of King Street.

With the whooping they've laid down on Colorado in recent days, los Gigantes have also laid down the gauntlet for what is still a possible Wild Card tiebreaking game on Monday, October 5th. Thanks to a win in the season series and a new rule form MLB, the G's would host the purple pitching eaters. I don't know about you, but I like our chances... unless, of course, the Rockies sign Neifi Perez in the next couple days.

Homestand recap

Mon-Wed, September 7-9
  • Giants 9, Padres 4 WP: Penny (2-0); LP: Richard (8-5); HR: SD - Gonzalez (36), Hundley (6); SF - Uribe 2 (12), Renteria (5)
  • Padres 4, Giants 3 WP: Gregerson (1-3); LP: Affeldt (1-2); HR: SD - Headley (11), Kouzmanoff (17), Venable (10); SF - Rowans (14)
  • Padres 4, Giants 2 WP: LeBlanc (2-1); LP: Zito (9-12); S: Bell (37); HR: SD - Gonzalez (37), Salazar (5); SF - Torres (3)

Fri-Sun, September 11-13
  • Hated Ones 10, Giants 3 WP: Kuroda (6-6); LP: Cain (13-5); HR: LA - Blake (17)
  • Hated Ones 9, Giants 1 WP: Padilla (11-6); LP: Sanchez (6-12); HR: LA - Martin (5), Loney (12)
  • Giants 7, Hated Ones 2 WP: Penny (3-0); LP: Billingsley (12-10); HR: LA - Martin (6); SF - Uribe (13)

Mon-Wed, September 14-16
  • Giants 9, Rockies 1 WP: Lincecum (14-5); LP: Hammel (8-8); HR: SF - Molina (18)
  • Giants 10, Rockies 2 WP: Zito (10-12); LP: Jimenez (13-11); HR: COL - Tulowitzki (26)
  • Rockies 4, Giants 3 WP: De La Rosa (15-9); LP: Cain (13-6); S: Betancourt (2); HR: COL - Tulowitzki (27), Stewart (24)

08 September 2009

A Run is a Run is a Run

There’s winning ugly, and then, there’s just winning, by any means necessary...

Friday, September 4th
Giants 3, Brewers 2

WP: Medders (4-1); Coffey (4-4); S: Wilson (33)
HR: SF - Molina (17)

How did we win this game? No, really, how did we win this game? I went into a political potluck in the bottom of the fifth. Barry Zito had just struggled through four rough innings, but the Giants were still in the game. Of course, they were finding new and exciting ways to keep off the scoreboard, and another chance went squandered in the top of the fifth. Then, Justin Miller came out and walked the first two guys he faced. I shut off the radio and went inside.

Two hours later, after snacking on garbanzo salad and egg rolls, I came back out to my car and turned the radio on. The boys were in the middle of the postgame wrap, and it took me a few seconds before I figured out they were celebrating a victory. I pounded the steering wheel in disbelieving jubilation. By the time I watched the highlights, I already knew the tale, and it made perfect sense. After all, any improbably victory always begins with a break. This break, as with the best of them, had history.

I’d go into all the juicy details, but before I could put my thoughts down on virtual paper, Andy Baggarly went and beat me to it (see second note). I suppose I could tell you it was the first thing that flashed across my mind’s eye when I saw the replay of Cameron’s Jose Cruzian drop, and I could hope you’d believe me. But it just goes to show that great minds think alike.

Kudos to Bengie Molina for keeping his focus after the Buster Posey call-up and subsequent heartwarming chat with Bochy. He’s taken a lot of flak for a guy who’s been the most valuable player on the team since 2006, but he goes out there and does his job — and does it well — day after day, night after night. This is the second go-ahead jack he’s launched in a little more than a week. The last one he hit on one leg. If there’s anybody out there who questions Big Money’s determination and intensity, you’d be wise to start paying attention. He’s going to earn his keep in September.

In the end, all thanks are due to the ‘pen, which recovered from Miller’s dubious entrance to shut down the Brew Crew over the final five frames, paving the way for the unlikeliest victory of the season.

Stat of the Night
The Giants won despite their pitchers combining for 10 walks, a season high.
Quote of the Night
“When I saw the first one had a lot of movement, I for sure didn’t want the kid to lose the game in a slider or changeup.” - Bengie Molina, on the fastball-heavy debut of rookie ladder-climber Dan Runzler
Saturday, September 5th
Giants 3, Brewers 2

WP: Cain (13-4); LP: Gallardo (12-11); S: Wilson (34)
HR: SF - Uribe (10)

Well, that took long enough. Seven winless starts must’ve been enough for Matt Cain, who gave everything he had over seven-plus, and it must’ve been enough for the rest of the Giants, who scratched out three runs and held on for dear life as the spry but powerful arms of Ryan Braun and the sheer girth of Prince Fielder sought to crush the dreams of our unassuming ace, who finally equaled his career high for Ws. After that six-week ordeal, No. 14 should be a breeze.

I can’t tell you how much it would’ve hurt to lose this one. When you’re playing in a yard with as many ghosts as Miller Park has for the Giants, you’ll take every break, every hit, every run, every win you can get. And this one was surely gettable. But that didn’t prevent our heart attack boys from nearly letting another one get away.

You can’t say enough about Brian Wilson’s guts. To come out and shut the door the past two nights, especially after the goings on during the Giants’ last visit here, takes a short memory and a whole lot of swagger. It’s pretty obvious Big Weezy has both. That said, there’s not a day goes by without me wishing he hadn’t made this the Year of the Mohawk in the Giants’ clubhouse. Pretty soon, Bochy’s gonna be rockin’ one, and then we’ll know the rapture is near.

Like many of the Giants, Juan Uribe has no two strike adjustment. He’s got no adjustment at all, really. No matter the count, the situation, the score, this guuy goes up there thinking one thing and one thing only: Yuck-a-doo! His swings are so violent, I sometimes worry he might hurt himself one of these days and not be able to run out another monster home run. (Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened to the Giants this season.)

Tonight’s blast from “U-RIBE!” was an instant classic. One pitch after fouling one deep into the left field stands, the Heart of the Giants straightened one out and drove it deep into the seats in fair territory. The sequence was so ridiculous that Fox national play-by-play man Dick Stockton sounds comically surprised by the actual home run. (Eric Karros, meanwhile is his usual Giants-hating self, abandoning all pretense of objectivity the minute he sits down in the booth.)

The broadcasting combinations regurgitated upon the American people by Fox Sports are enough to make even the most casual fan want to puke.

Stat of the Night
Not all that quietly, Uribe is hitting .321 over his last 17 games, with five homers and seven RBI.
Quote of the Night
"He's bull strong.” - Bochy on Cain
Sunday, September 6th
Brewers 2, Giants 1 (12)

WP: Stetter (4-1); LP: Valdez (2-1)
HR: MIL - Fielder (37)

Prince Fielder had better not show his face in San Francisco until the Brewers return here in 2010. If he does, the fat f**k may not make it out in one piece.

This all started out so well. Three batters, two hits, run. How hard is that? Well, I probably should’ve taken Renteria’s inability to lay down a bunt as a bad omen. But when this team scores, you tend to overlook the whys and the wherefores. The run is the end. The means matter not... Eleven innings later, I was creaming for a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly, a grounder to the right side, a ground ball with eyes, anything but more of the same futility.

Anyone who got up on a soap box earlier this season and demanded that Jonathan Sanchez be traded for a bucket of warm beer and a bat should be prepared to eat a whole face full of crow if the kid can maintain this level of composure and excellence. I saw this stat in Baggs’ notes, and I had to read it again to make sure I wasn’t having an acid flashback:

Over his first nine road starts, Sanchez went 0-8 with a 6.60 ERA. Since his first road win at Houston on August 4th, he's 2-1 with a 1.16 ERA and .154 opponent's average in five starts away from the Cove. That, my friends, is unreal.

Many more props are due to the ‘pen for another gargantuan effort, especially to habitual tough-luck loser Bob Howry, who was saved from yet another L by the soft hands of a Panda. So hats off to Medders, Runzler, Romo, Howry, and Valdez. The game may never have seen a more dominant starting staff, but they’re backed up game after game by the most relieving relief core in the bigs.

As for Fielder the Younger... I understand his daddy didn’t treat him right and he’s got some maturity issues, but someone has got to check this guy before his attitude gets out of hand. Anyone who follows the A’s knows that someone won’t be Ken Macha, who has to be the most uninspiring field general in the history of professional sports. (This guy looks lost down there in the dugout, looking to the heavens for answers as his team collapses in the summertime heat — yet again.) I say Bob Uecker should get up in the big fatty’s grill and give him a lesson in respect.

It’s a lesson he sorely needs to learn before his health — and the health of his teammates — is put in jeopardy by his endless antics. Of course, his love of the postgame buffet table could be more hazardous to his health than the next pitch thrown his way by a Giants pitcher.

Butch’s Btw

Lost is all of this, a-way back in the first inning, Gino Velez made the defensive play of the year. Rowand’s catch to preserve the no-hitter was an instant classic, but this was an impossible play, and Count Chocula made it look easy.

Oh yeah, and Aaron Rowand became the first Giant to hit into a triple play since J.T. Snow on August 5, 1998.

Stat of the Night
The Giants are an even 19-19 in one-run games this season. In those 38 games they've scored 97 runs... and allowed 97 (2.5 per game).
Quote of the Night (Wise Opponent Edition)
"Everybody out there throws a gazillion mph. Their whole pitching staff is good. I think that's why they're in the race, because they have good hitters over there who aren't hitting right now. Every game they win or lose is by one run." - Brewers second baseman Felipe Lopez
Series debrief

You can’t be upset about the last one when you probably should’ve lost the first one and you won the one in between by the slimmest of margins. It was a microcosm of a road trip that saw the Giants hold two of the highest-scoring clubs in the league to nine runs and find a way to split six games. But you can’t be upset. You can’t be upset because this is the team we have to work with. Nothing has changed all season and nothing projects to change between now and October 4th. This team is going to have to find a way to be two games better than the Rockies down the stretch. With 16 of 25 remaining games at home, where they enjoy the best record in the NL and seem to play with a bit more spring in their step, I like their chances.

They’ll have to put another rough one in the rearview and focus on today, but they’ve done it all season long. By now, it should be old hat. (Need I mention an 8-4 record post-Spilborghs?)

Wear your orange and bring your game face. It’s officially crunch time.

05 September 2009

Ghosts of Giants Past

Does anybody else finds it rather odd that the Giants now have three guys on their roster who played on three of the past four teams to eliminate them from the postseason: Edgar Renteria ('97 Marlins), Bengie Molina ('02 Angels), and Brad Penny ('03 Marlins)?

Far as I can tell, they don't have anyone who played for the '00 Mets, but they did pay Edgardo Alfonzo to man the hot corner for two long and mostly forgetful seasons.

Ah, well. On to the baseball, shall we?

Tuesday, September 1st
Phillies 1, Giants 0

WP: Hamels (8-8, CG); LP: Sanchez (6-11)
HR: None

Okay, coulda done without seeing that one and had a perfectly fruitful life. What was that I said after the D-Backs series about Doug Davis and the success of lefty pitching against the Giants’ bats? Well you can add Cole Hamels to the list.

There is nothing in this world more frustrating than a 1-0 loss, especially when you never even had a chance to win. Kudos are due to J. Sanchez for continuing his recent roll. It’s obvious just from watching his body language that he’s felt a tremendous boost in confidence since his epic no-no on July 10th.

Now, I’m not one for believing in jinxes, so if you are, you might want to skip ahead a few graphs...

With the acquisition of Brad Penny and his subsequent dominance of a possible first-round opponent (see next entry), one could lead themselves to believe that the postseason rotation would include the newest Giant at the expense of the young southpaw who’s got this stat line since the break: 3.35 ERA; 1.17 WHIP; .190 BAA. (The fact that he’s 3-3 over that period says more about the Giants’ absent-minded offense than his pitching prowess. Wait, I think I’ve said this before...)

They’d be right to go with Penny. After all, the guy’s been to and won a World Series, and there’s no self-respecting Giants fan over the age of ten who wouldn’t remember that. In point of fact, his beat down of the Giants in Game 2 of the LDS that year is really what did them in. But it’s oh so easy to hate on Jose Cruz, Jr. Hell, I do it all the time.

Last week at a house party, my buddy tossed me a can of beer. It went right through my hands and straight to the floor. And what did I say? “Aw, look. I pulled a Jose Cruz Jr.”

I bet everybody who skipped a couple graphs are a little confused right about now.

Butch’s Btw

Don’t tell me this wasn’t embarrassing as all get out.

Stat of the Night
From Baggs: The Giants average 3.58 pitches per plate appearance, which is far and away the lowest in the major leagues.
Quote of the Night
"I thought I was there. It was close." - Andres Torres, who was picked off of first base with nobody out in the top of the ninth in a one run game, on being thrown out at second base
Wednesday, September 2nd
Giants 4, Phillies 0

WP: Penny (1-0); LP: Happ (10-4)
HR: SF - Uribe (9); Rowand (13)

Say, “Hello,” to Brad Penny.

Now say, “Goodbye,” to Brad Penny (at least if you’re wearing Philly colors).

My kinda game, ladies and gents. Quick, painless, victorious, and injury-free, unless you count Panda, who’s been banged up for weeks. And the $100K man was up to the task. If we make it to the promised land by a single game, the signing will have been more than worth it.

I don’t know what Penny was smoking while he was with Boston but I want some of that. This guy looked like the Penny we saw back in ’03. Hard stuff, down in the zone, painting the corners, getting quick outs, and just plain mowing down perhaps the most explosive offense in the game in one of the best launching pads of all time.

Props are due to the bats for getting something going in support that performance, in particular, Juan ”U-RIBE!” and Aaron Rowand, who went back to back in the sixth. Those two jacks put the team at 96 on the season, eclipsing last year’s mark of 94, the lowest output in the Major Leagues. Of course, they had to do it against J.A. Happ, one of the studs of my fantasy rotation. (For some ungodly reason — probably his home split — I decided to sit him for this one, so the Nimbys avoided taking a hit from my real world team.)

Barry Zito was probably salivating over the quartet of runs supplied to his new rotation mate.

Butch’s Btw

Adding to the eeriness I referenced in the lede, watching this series has been like having a front row seat for a performance of “Ghosts of Giants Bullpens Past.” I mean, holy effing sheet, dood. I know relief pitching is a dangerous occupation with a high turnover rate, but this is bordering on ridiculous. Scott Eyre, Tyler Walker, Jack Taschner, oh my! And if you want to take it a step further, I’ll raise you a Pedro Felíz just to sweeten the pot.

Stat of the Night
16 of 28 (57%) plate appearances against Penny ended in three pitches or less. The Major League average is 47%.
Quote of the Night
"There's not a guy who's called a better game for me in my career. I'd grab a pitch that I'd want to throw and he'd throw [the sign for that pitch] down. We were on the same page. I didn't have to shake [him off] a whole lot. That's pretty impressive for never catching me." - said Penny, a 10-year veteran
Thursday, September 3rd
Phillies 2, Giants 1

WP: Pedro Martinez (3-0); LP: Lincecum (13-5); S: Lidge (28)
HR: SF - Velez (4); PHI - Werth (30)

Dirty. Filthy. Nasty. Un-hittable. And that was the losing pitcher.

Somewhere along the line, between the surgeries and the stints on the DL with minor bumps and flares, Pedro Martinez learned how to pitch. He never had to before. The stuff he had in the late ‘90s and early aughts was so electric, he could toss it up there blindfolded and end up throwing a no-hitter. He’s a different man now, an older man, but he’s crafty like nobody’s business, and he showed it in the rubber match against the Orange and Black.

When Tim Lincecum came up in the spring of ‘07, the comparisons drifted to Pedro almost immediately. Their tiny stature and swing-through touch are a unique combination to the point of scaring off coaches and GMs for fear of injury cutting short their usefulness.

Tonight, we got to see them up close and personal. The Kid and The Master. Head-to-head. And it was fun up until the moment we lost. Good to see Timmy return to his double-digit-strikeout form. Sucked to watch our bats go quiet for nine innings following Gino Velez’s first-pitch leadoff home run.

Stat of the Night
One more from Baggs, by way of statistical guru Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse.com: Lincecum became the first Giants pitcher to log seven or more innings, allow four hits or fewer, strike out at least 11 and lose since April 26, 1968, when the Dodgers defeated Ray Sadecki at Candlestick Park.
Quote(s) of the Night
"It's ridiculous how nasty his stuff still is. When you watch him, it's obvious he knows what he's doing out there." - Lincecum on Martinez

"He reminds me a little bit of me, but he's twice as good as me at this time of my career. It took me seven years to win a Cy Young." - Martinez on Lincecum
Series debrief

All things considered, you hate to lose a series when you give up three runs in three games, but it’s not like we’re not used to this from the G-Men this season. Despite the fact that the offense couldn’t produce, the staff held this team to three runs in this park, and you have to imagine they’ve earned the respect of the entire league. And after their anemic performance at the Cove just one month ago, you have to imagine this Phillies team is more than a little intimidated by our young guns.

31 August 2009

The Big Payback

Series of the year, game of the year, hit of the year, not necessarily in that order.

Friday, August 28th
Giants 2, Rockies 0

WP: Lincecum (13-4); LP: Jimenez (12-10); S: Wilson (31)
HR: SF - Sandoval (20)

If there’s one player the Giants can’t afford to lose, it’s Tim Lincecum. If there’s one more, it’s Pablo Sandoval. They needed both of them to win this one. They’ll need Panda to win the next two. No doubt about it now. They have to sweep, and they’ve set out to do just that.

Yeah, of course they need to do better with situational hitting. Tell me something I don’t know. It’s as if by writing and talking about it incessantly, folks think they can actually change the status quo. Do they seriously think Carney Lansford, Shawon Dunston, Roberto Kelly, and every other hitting instructor in the dugout hasn’t reamed every man on the roster about this at one point or another? They probably bitch and moan about it all the time. Eventually, we have to accept that this team is chock full of free-swinging pine tar gamblers. They see the ball, they hit the ball. Sometimes they make 27 quiet outs, sometimes they don’t.

That said, it looks as though Gino Velez has righted the ship to some extent, though it makes me smile to think of a guy who’s been up in the Show less a month righting the ship. Truth is, he’d have to spontaneously combust to return to the level he was playing at in the weeks after he got the call.

My inner child smiled a bit when starting catcher pro tempore Eli Whiteside nailed Troy “Hometown Boy” Tulowitzki not once, but twice while trying to steal second base. I’ll admit, I have no idea why I hate the man known as “Tulo,” but he seems to have replaced Matt Holliday as my least favorite Rocky. Maybe it’s the cheer they do for him at Coors. Maybe it’s his cocky home run trot. Maybe it’s just his ass face. Whatever it is, guy bugs is the point, and Whiteside flashed some serious skills that made me forget that Bengie Molina’s still riding the pine.

While Matt Cain’s gone winless since July, Ubaldo Jimenez has been the ace of my fantasy staff. The decision to start him against the Giants was not a hard one to make, particularly after their abysmal performance against him in Colorado in his previous start. But if you don’t mind my saying, it worked out pretty well for all those concerned. The G-Men got the W, Jimenez didn’t get lit up too much, and nobody got hurt. The only better scenario would’ve been eight shutout innings from Jimenez and a ninth inning walk-off victory against the bullpen.

Once again, the Giants recover within 24 hours of a demoralizing defeat and add to the legend of 2009: The Team That Wouldn’t Stay Down.

Stat of the Night
This marked the sixth time Lincecum has pitched at least eight scoreless innings this season. No other pitcher has done that more than three times.
Quote of the Night
"You want to get that game one, then go for tomorrow, then the sweep. Obviously it's tough to sweep a team, but right now is the time to do it, and if we can do that, we can just get a little momentum going." - Brian Wilson, who picked up save #31
Saturday, August 29th
Giants 5, Rockies 3

WP: Zito (9-11); LP: Marquis (14-9); S: Wilson (32)
HR: COL - Hawpe (19); SF - Sandoval (21)

Barry Zito got a curtain call. By now you know that is not a typo. It’s been the talk of the town since he walked off the field in the top of the ninth after surrendering what could have been his first shutout since 2003.

Updating previously-reported stats, ZIto is 4-2 with a 1.77 ERA since the All-Star break. Is that line good enough for $5,000 a pitch? Of course not, but at least it doesn’t suck.

The patience of Giants fans has been tested over the past three years by Peter Magowan’s $126 million impulse buy. (Funny how he only splurged on guys named Barry.) Only now are we witnessing the potential of the stoner with a curveball who left UC-Santa Barbara after his sophomore year and finished up his collegiate career at another party school, USC. To say that I’m rooting for Mr. Zito would be a drastic understatement.

Two years ago, in the Summer of 2007, I attended a three-game series at Chavez Ravine, as I’ve done every year since returning to the place where thing make sense (every year but last year, when something more important got in the way). Zito won the rubber match with seven strong innings, and lost in the postgame haze, I stuck around outside the gates with the autograph hounds.

At the start of the season, I’d bought a new home jersey complete with the All-Star patch and the number of the Giants’ big free-agent acquisition, my fellow Trojan, Barry Zito. Just like the decision to hang around in hostile territory after dark, my choice of jersey was made in a haze. It just made sense at the time. It made even more sense when I found myself wearing it in the parking lot waiting for players to emerge from the clubhouse and struggling to recognize them in street clothes.

Zito came out last and was swarmed immediately. A crowd of twenty to thirty men in their late teens to early fifties, all carrying Sharpies and 8x10 glossies of Zito in action — many of them taken while he was with the A’s — followed him like a pack of rabid dogs to the car he’d driven to the game. He was gracious and signed for everybody, even chatting up the guys who engaged him.

Eventually, he had to stop in the middle of the lot as the crowd got too thick, and I squeaked to the front of the pack. I borrowed the silver pen of a guy with whom I’d struck up an earlier conversation over a cigarette, took the jersey off my back, and passed both to the 126 Million Dollar Man. He thanked me for some kind words about his performance and signed the vertical line of the 7 in his number. I got the jersey back, returned the pen to its owner, and watched him sign something for every single person in that crowd.

Maybe the scene would’ve played out differently if he’d been lit up by the Hated Ones that night, but I don’t think so. The raindrops just seem to roll right off this guy.

The postscript to that story is I’ve had the jersey hanging in my closet untouched ever since and still haven’t procured another home jersey to replace it. Even without Zito’s autograph, I would’ve retired it anyway. That same night, I was struck in the shoulder by a hot dog thrown by a disgruntled fan of the Hated Ones. The attack left mustard stains on my jersey, but I didn’t stress the mess. In fact, I wore it as a badge of honor.

Butch’s Btw

Yes, my sphincter was just as tight as yours while the Rockies rallied in the ninth, but if you think anything’s gonna come easy for this team, you’ve got another thing coming.

Stat of the Night
Zito struck out the side to start a game for the first time since July 29, 2001, against the Kansas City Royals.
Quote of the Night
"I don't think it's gonna be a good night. I'm tired." - Pablo Sandoval, just before he crushed the 50th Splash Hit by a Giant despite playing through a strained right calf and flu-like symptoms
Sunday, August 30th
Giants 9, Rockies 5

WP: Medders (3-1); LP: Betancourt (1-3)
HR: COL - Helton (13), Tulowitzki (24); SF - Rentería GS (4)

Revenge is a dish best served cold. I prefer it with a healthy portion of karma on the side. Edgar Renteria’s grand slam in the bottom of the seventh had plenty of both.

Forget the inability to score with runners at second and third with nobody out in the sixth. Forget working only 23 pitches out of Jason Hammel the first time through the lineup. Forget Ryan Spilborghs and 14 innings of frustration at Coors Field. Edgar made that all go away with one swing of the bat, and if your head didn’t hit the ceiling when it happened, either you’re not a Giants fan, or you were standing outside. I can tell you this much: If you were watching that game, there’s no way you weren’t on your feet.

Among all the heroes to emerge from this improbable season before Sunday, Renteria was almost an afterthought. Maligned by fans for his lofty contract before he’d even had a chance to step into the batter’s box, he’s quietly been a leader in the clubhouse. Recently marginalized by the revelation of bone spurs in his elbow, which will require off-season surgery, he’s responded with his best ABs of the season. Disrespected on a daily basis by the likes of Damon Bruce and Mychael Urban on the 50K-Watt blowtorch, the man finally stuck it up their collective ass.

What a way to end an August in which the Giants went 16-12 and experienced every fathomable emotion and faced an endless string of must-win situations. Much has already been written about the tremendous turnaround of the past week and the miraculous finish to this game in particular, and I won’t add to the redundancy except to say that of all my years as a baseball fan and a fan of the Orange and Black, I’ve never felt as funny as I do right now. There have been many good years, a couple prolonged runs of success, players with exceptional talents, a new ballpark, and several South Bay ballpark initiatives, but for the first time in my adult life I feel as though, with this team, anything is possible.

That said, there’s still one long month of stressful games to negotiate, but after surviving a week like this, Giants fans should be ready for anything.

Some game notes:

• Give it up to Jeremy Affeldt, the workhorse of the Giants’ bullpen, who got himself into a tight spot in the eighth but was man enough to get himself out of it. Hopefully an appearance like this can help him forget his one poor stretch of the season and propel him the rest of the way.

• How ‘bout that Ryan Rohlinger? I’m not discontinuing my membership in the Franny Fan Club, but that was one crucial hit for a almost-rook still searching for a batting average. And how classic was it to watch him relive the entire AB with Roberto Kelly once he got to first. I can hear Roberto now, “Nice hit, kid. Now shut up and pay attention.”

• The wait is never a long one for a visiting player to look awful goofy trying to defend right field at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. Even when an out is recorded, the play usually looks so bad it makes Giants fans appreciate guys like Randy Winn and Nate Schierholtz even more.

Stat of the Day: Former Giants Edition
Rockies backstop and past San Francisco fan favorite Yorvit Torrealba singled in the eighth to extend his career-best hitting streak to 10 games.
Quote of the Day: Full Circle Edition
"If you have ambitions of playing baseball in October, when you get knocked down you've got to stand back up.” - Rockies Manager Jim Tracy
Series debrief

There’s a lot to be said for chemistry. Can a team win without the players going out for coffee? Sure it can, and Giants fans need look back no further than 2002 to know that’s the truth. If you’ve got the talent top to bottom of a team like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals or Phillies, you can live with a little bad blood in the clubhouse. When you’re scratching and clawing to stay in the playoff race on a team playing far beyond it’s career stat lines, chemistry is everything.

A team of haters would have imploded after a game like the Giants experienced a little less than one week ago in Colorado. A clubhouse full of prima donnas would have eaten itself alive. A chartered plane full of spoiled brats, no matter how talented, no matter how overpaid, would have folded the season and made reservations for Pebble on October the 5th.

This team rebounded with a resiliency only a tight-knit brotherhood of professionals can produce. They trumped everyone’s expectations once again and shot themselves back into the pennant hunt like a Saturn 5 rocket.

P.S. Brian Sabean just pulled a Brad Penny out of his ass to lock down that five hole in the rotation, so it looks like the MadBum faithful will have to wait ‘til next year. Meantime, Butch is ticked because he figured off days would allow the No. 5 spot to be skipped twice before his trip to L.A. for the final series with the Hated Ones. That would line up Lincecum, Zito and Cain to pitch those three contests, which still might go a long way toward determining the season’s endgame. With this addition the starters for the L.A. trip should be Sanchez, Penny and Lincecum. Not bad, but we just caught a glimpse of what the big three can do in a short series.

29 August 2009

On the Rebound

Looking at the Arizona lineups from this series, I felt like that construction worker in Major League: “I don’t know half these f**kin’ guys.”

Tuesday, August 25th
Giants 5, Diamondbacks 4

WP: Affeldt (1-1); LP: Rauch (2-2); S: Romo (2)
HR: SF - Uribe (7), Ishikawa (9)

When the Giants traded for Ryan Garko, I immediately dropped Travis Ishikawa from my fantasy team. He’d been riding the pine for the Willow Glen Nimbys for the better part of the season thanks to stronger (and more consistent) performances from other first baggers on my roster. With the addition of Garko, “Hapa” would be limited to guest appearances and defensive replacements the rest of the way as Bochy looked to field the best offense he could on any given night. So I DFA’d him and didn’t think twice.

One night won’t make me regret that move, but my first thought after his eighth-inning blast ended up in the first row of the Arcade was: “Dammit. There goes seven points!” My second thought: “Thank freaking God.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but if there ever was a “must-win” game, this was it. Coming off the heartbreak of a lost weekend in Denver, this team needed to right the ship in a hurry or risk slipping into irrelevance over the final month of the season.

At the All-Star break, when I began this blog, I posted an analysis of how the Orange and Black could win the West. In that post, I posited that if they were still standing after the brutal 11-game road trip from which they just returned, the Giants would make the postseason. I’ll have to ask the peanut gallery to weigh in on what constitutes “still standing.” If four games out of a playoff spot with 37 games to go counts, then the boys have a long way to go to prove me right. I think, at the time, I considered it to mean within one or two games of the Wild Card, if not the division lead. Either way, things have not progressed as I predicted, but what else is new in baseball?

A few more notes from this one:

• Matt Cain had another stellar turn to keep the Giants in the game until the offense found its wings, but what do you expect from a pig but a grunt? In his short time in the Show, this kid’s proven that he’s tough as nails and has ice water for blood. I bet he could freeze rain with his game face.

• Scoreboard watching takes on a mighty perverse tone when the team you love to hate is playing the team you have to catch. To be honest, I’m almost hoping the Hated Ones go completely in the tank and we end up chasing them down for the Wild Card while the Rox take the division. It would be super sweet for Frank McCourt to have to return all that bunting he rented back in May when everybody was handing them the N.L. crown.

• With Brian Wilson stretched further than even he could bear, it’s no surprise that he ran out of juice and almost gave up the ghost in the ninth. Sergio Romo came on to get the final out and gave us another glimpse at the depth of this pitching staff.

Butch’s Btw

As expected, Freddy Sanchez landed on the DL today with Ryan Rohlinger replacing him on the 25-man. Can’t say it’s a good thing to have your most professional hitter unavailable during the most crucial stretch of the season, but you can’t blame the guy for getting hurt, and he genuinely wants to be in there, as evidenced by his multiple public apologies to the team and all of us.

It’s also worth noting that Kevin Frandsen was not the call-up in this situation, which is surprising given that he can play every infield position but first and — at least until his comments after the Sanchez trade — was higher on the organizational ladder. What this means is anybody’s guess, but Franny has obviously burned a few bridges in the front office and may be wearing different colors come next season. As his biggest fan and most ardent supporter, I can regretfully say that this is a good thing. A change of scenery will probably do him a lot more good than the harm it does to the egos of Bellarmine-educated Giants fans everywhere.

Stat of the Night
Before his double to set up the tying run and his subsequent eighth-inning dong, Ishikawa had only one extra-base hit in his previous 68 at-bats over 31 games. Hapa must enjoy the weather at the Cove, as he’s hit a smoldering .353 over 46 games in the friendly confines.
Quote of the Night
"I didn't get all of it. I knew I hit it well; I was just kind of praying that it would either hit off the wall or get over the head of the outfielder to get the run in." - a very modest Hapa, giving all thanks and praise to Jah
Wednesday, August 26th
Giants 4, Diamondbacks 3

WP: Miller (3-3); LP: Qualls (2-2; BS 5); S: Medders (1)
HR: AZ - Roberts (6); SF - Uribe (8), Molina (16)

There’s no way we can keep this up.

No Freddy Sanchez, no Panda, no Big Money... well, almost. You can say all you want about the D-Backs’ Triple-A lineup, but without the three most productive hitters on the roster, the Giants’ starting nine looks about as intimidating as a stuffed animal from the Build-A-Bear Workshop out in center field.

So it was not all that surprising to watch Doug Davis thoroughly confuse and kerfuddle the offense over the first seven innings, minus one pitch to Juan “All My Hits Leave the Park” Uribe. It was even less surprising when taken into account that Davis has always kerfuddled the Giants, as has many a crafty lefty over the years. They say sometimes a pitcher or player performs better against a certain uniform. When a guy tossing 85 mph fastballs puts up 0 after 0, even against an offense as weak as this, you have to think there’s some merit to that theorem.

Thank heavens for Bengie Molina. I’m not going to go as far as others and put his eighth inning three-run jack up there with the likes of Kirk Gibson, but when you put your blinders on and look at the Giants’ 2009 campaign, I doubt you could pinpoint a bigger hit, other than Uribe’s bases-clearing double in Seattle or Pandoval’s walk-off against the Nats. (Whoever had today as the next time I’d mention the now-infamous Seattle trip just won the pool.)

I was at this one and spent the first five and a half innings pacing the Arcade in a ball of frustration. The crowd was very light, even on Italian Heritage Night — free scarf, very cool — and made me think the Spilborghs granny did more to shake the confidence of Giants fans than the team itself. But you could feel the relief erupting from the hearts of the 27K-plus in attendance when Big Money back spun a ball high and deep into the night sky.

By that time, I’d found an usher I knew and settled into a seat about fifteen rows up from the Giants bullpen. The guys sitting behind me kept passing around large game cups filled with a rum-and-Coke concoction they were whipping up in a makeshift bar under their seats. Earlier, when Monday’s goat, Justin Miller was warming up in the bullpen, they were ragging him over the gigantic L.A. tattoo he wears across his back. Miller grew up a fan of the Hated Ones, you see. But don’t blame that for his piss-poor performance in Colorado over the weekend. From an L.A. perspective, the Rockies can’t lose enough right now.

When Molina came out to pinch hit, half the crowd rose to its feet, anticipating a game-changing moment. When he went down 0-2, I remember thinking there’s no one I trust more with a two-strike count. When he made contact, we instantly started measuring things up. Did it have a chance to go? Would the left fielder have a play at the wall? Was this really happening? There was plenty of time for all of those questions to flash across our collective minds before Molina’s moon shot settled into the first row of the left field bleachers.

Of course, after the game, my thoughts kept wandering to the intentional walk Bochy made Jonathan Sanchez issue to Rusty Ryal with one on and two out in the sixth. Sanchez had pitched a strong game to that point, and was not in any serious trouble, facing one of a slew of rookies up and down the Arizona lineup. With little experience against many of the opposing hitters, I imagine the Shaman was just going for the lefty-lefty matchup, playing every card he could to win the hand. That it backfired speaks to J. Sanchez’s fragile temperament. You just can’t take a guy out of his zone that deep into a ballgame. You’re only asking for trouble.

But whatever... A win is a win is a win. Right?

Stat of the Night
From Extra Baggs: Building off their newly-rediscovered home field advantage, the G-Men are 12-1 in one-run games at the Cove in 2009.
Quote of the Night
"The fans, believe it or not, are a big part of this. They cheer you on and pump you up big time. I hope they understand that." - “Big Money” Molina
Thursday, August 27th
Diamondbacks 11, Giants 0
WP: Petit (3-8); LP: Martinez (3-2)
HR: AZ - Reynolds (39); Allen (1)... no relation

Ugh. I mean, really, what the hell else am I s’posed to say? We missed a shot to claw back within two games of the Rockies, who visit the Cove for three must-see, must-win, must-crush games over the weekend. Joe Martinez purchased his bus fare to Fresno. Still hamstrung by the health — or lack thereof — of our 2, 3, or 4 hitters. Did I mention our bats were silenced over six innings by a guy with a record of 2-8 and an ERA north of 6?

All in all, not a good night, which is why I’m glad to have spent it watching the San Jose Giants roll to a 4-0 victory over Lancaster JetHawks at Muni Stadium. Unheralded starter Paul Oseguera continued his recent run of home dominance (3-1 with a 0.58 ERA in his last four starts), collecting a career-high 15 strikeouts while tossing a three-hitter. Oseguera also endeared himself to fans by striking out the infamous Beer Batter three times, triggering long lines at the concession stands for virtually the entire contest. Meanwhile, Darren Ford led off the game for the Giants with a home run and C.J. Ziegler (a name that bears all sorts of irony for West Wing fans) added a solo shot in the fourth.

The midseason promotions of Alderson, Bumgarner, Crawford, and now Posey seem not to have slowed the Baby G-Men down in the least. With this win, they improved to 84-46 overall and tied their team record of 48 home wins, set in 1993 and matched in 2008. They pitched their Cal League-leading 11th shutout and set a single-season attendance record of 201,461. Who knew baseball was so popular in San Jose?

Dear Commissioner Selig...

Butch’s Btw

In the interest of full disclosure, I bit all of those Baby Giants stats — and the one below, I might add — from the gamer on sjgiants.com.

Stat of the Night: Baby G’s Edition
Oseguera’s 15 Ks were just one shy of matching the San Jose Giants single-game record held by Dan Rambo (1990) and Keith Foulke (1995).
Quote(s) of the Night
"A loss is a loss, whether you lose by one or 11.” - Aaron Rowand, though I’d be tempted to add that the one-run defeats hurt a lot more for all the what if-ing

"The club was not looking at tomorrow. We certainly had our focus out there." - Bruce Bochy, to which I’d say: “F**k off with that bulls**t!”
Series debrief

I’m proud of my team for the way they’ve bounced back from potential oblivion, but I’m not really surprised. They’ve been doing this all season. It’s been one heart attack after another, but more often than not (69 times, actually), our side’s come out on top. It would’ve been awful nice to get No. 70 on Thursday and pretty much erase the memory of the Denver doldrums by putting us back within two games — which is where we were when we touched down in the Mile High City.

C’est le baseball. We’ll just have to sweep the Rocks out of the Cove, and we’ve got the horses lined up to do it.