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.

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