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.

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