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.

26 August 2009

The End of the Beginning of the End

Took a long time to write this one up. I wanted to be sure I didn’t taint my words with hatred and frustration, so I gave it a day. My head’s still sore, but at least now my hands aren’t shaking too much to type...

Friday, August 21st
Giants 6, Rockies 3

WP: J. Sanchez (6-10); LP: Cook (10-6)
HR: SF - Rowand (11); COL - Smith (10)

This is the Facebook status I posted in the hours after this game:

Butch Husky is ceaselessly amazed at the ability of his baseball club to rebound from potentially morale-crushing defeats to win absolutely crucial games.

I stand by that emotion. Chalk it up to the ignorance of youth or the influence of a core of seasoned vets or the steady hand of “The Shaman,” but this team knows how to forget quickly the events of the past and focus on the present. This makes a lot of sense since it closely resembles approach of many Giants at the plate: thinking only of this pitch, the game within a game and nothing more.

How I wish we could have one without the other! The slow burn of the baseball season and the endless string of statistics it produces have the tendency to overwhelm the mind, to make it race when it should be still, to make mental mountains out of mole hills. A short memory is critical to a successful team.

But inside the batter’s box is not the time or place for short memories. Hitting a 95 mph baseball is hard enough when you’re not wearing blinders. To be successful at the fundamentals of hitting is to possess an healthy awareness of the situation: inning, number of outs, runners on which bases, your history with this pitcher, time of day, time of year, your team’s place in the standings, oh yeah, and the score.

You can see all of those factors running across the backs of the eyes of players like Freddy Sanchez, guys who can place a ball like they’re shooting trick shots on a billiards table. The Giants don’t have a lot of those guys, and they don’t even have Sanchez for the time being. But I can’t hate. The man apologized to the fans for being hurt. Ever heard of that before?

Regardless, someway, somehow, this group of guys manages to stay right there in the Hunt for October. (God, if you’re out there and you have any say in it at all, please don’t let Fox bring back those horrendously annoying Dane Cook commercials.)

Give a game ball to Aaron Rowand, who seems to be catching one of those waves he rides to the .300 mark just often enough to make it worthwhile to keep him in the lineup. If you’ve got one left, hand it to Jonathan Sanchez, who’s 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in four August starts, with both wins coming on the road.

I’m gonna throw a curve tonight and flip the script in honor of Jeremy “Soul Patch” Affeldt...

Quote of the Night
"When he hit it back to me, I'm going to say I was probably more overwhelmed with joy than anything else. That guy, I have a lot of respect for him as a hitter, as a man, as a player of the game. I'm glad I won that one." - Affeldt, on getting former batting champ Todd Helton to ground into a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh
Stat of the Night
Affeldt’s 16 induced double plays are the most of any reliever in the game.
Saturday, August 22nd
Rockies 14, Giants 11

WP: De La Rosa (12-8); LP: Miller (2-2)
HR: SF - Schierholtz (5), Garko 2 (13), Rowand (12), Sandoval (19); COL - Stewart (19), Helton (12)

This year’s version of your San Francisco Giants haven’t had many five-run leads, and they certainly haven’t come out of the gates like this against a top-of-the-line starter who hadn’t lost in 11 straight decisions and always seemed to give them fits. But that was precisely the case right around the time everything fell apart in this game, and this series.

I understand that it’s Coors Field, but after a while, it becomes like Chinatown, more of an attitude of fear than a truly frightening place. After all, this is only baseball, and these are only the Rockies, and they’re not perfect at home (their 33-24 record ranks 5th in the National League). Remember that team that lost all 13 of its games against the Braves in its inaugural season of 1993 when one victory would have dropped Atlanta into a tie with the Giants atop the division, triggering a one-game playoff that might have helped us all forget the name Salomón Torres? No matter how many wins they rack up, how many unlikely Wild Card victories and N.L. pennants they collect, they’ll still be that po dung expansion team that’s never done us any favors.

If the current Giants had any concept of the history between these two clubs, they might fight a little harder to defeat them, might play these games as though this bunch of young cocky pricks were their true arch rival in the West, not that blue-wearing tribe from Echo Park. Instead, they roll over, and simply blaming poor pitching doesn’t hold water.

Joe Martinez is in over his head. He was never expected to make the team, let alone return this year from a gruesome line drive to the head, let alone start meaningful games down the stretch in the first playoff race by the Bay in three years (counting the A’s). Justin Miller has given his all this season and turned in a career effort, posting an ERA under 2.00 up until this shocking display of ineffectiveness. Merkin Valdez is still struggling to find himself and would never have found himself in this game had the pitchers before him maintained any semblance of a lead.

This is all beside the point that Bochy made it abundantly clear before game time that he would be forced to stick with his hurlers, even if they were getting lit up like the White House Christmas tree. This has already been a long, hard roadie, and even though one more victory would guarantee a winning trip, the pitching staff has been taxed by extra-inning nail biters and grinding at-bats from teams like the Mets and Reds trying to play out their seasons with a sense of dignity. One could easily look at Martinez and company as sacrificial lambs. This was the one game in the series the Giants could afford to lose.

But when you hit five homers and plate 11 runs, you expect to win, and even in the house of horrors that is Coors Field, there’s no one to blame but the pitching, right?

Stat of the Night
The Giants hadn’t hit five home runs in one game since August 7, 2006, when they hit six at the BOB (now Chase Field) in Arizona.
Quote(s) of the Night: A Tale of Two Managers
"This is a park where you can't just go get your pitcher any time. You have to be a little more patient. You'll go through your 'pen there real quick. Both sides have been using their 'pens. You've got to stay with them a little bit longer and hope they figure it out. I can't bail everybody out or I'm going to run out of pitchers." - Bruce “The Shaman” Bochy

"The team that I've been managing since the 29th of May showed up in about the fifth inning. I know the type of baseball team we've had since the end of May, and for the first game and a half of this series, it wasn't that team. But the last half of this game, it is the team that I've been managing." - Rockies manager Jim Tracy, quite the little prognosticator
Sunday, August 23rd
Rockies 4, Giants 2

WP: Jimenez (12-9); LP: Lincecum (12-4); S: Street (33)
HR: SF - Renteria (3); COL - Smith (11)

There’s a pattern developing here, and it’s one the Giants would be wise to avoid in Monday’s series finale: The starting staff shuts down a potent Rockies offense for one or two trips through the lineup, and just when the starter is losing some juice and the bullpen is primed to take the reins, suddenly the Colorado bats come to life and everything goes to hell in a Rocky Mountain minute — not quite as fast as the New York variety, but close. (See the above Jim Tracy quote from the previous night.)

Today’s victim was Tim Lincecum, who has given just about everything he’s got to the Giants’ improbable run. But as the dog days wear on and the heat picks up, you can see Timmy’s fastball losing some life, you can see his tank run dry just a little earlier than usual. He’s never done particularly well against the Rockies, and the mile-high air does absolutely nothing to help his breaking stuff or his endurance, but this is still the reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner, and gosh darn it, we expect him to go out there every time and shut things down. We expect him to stop the bleeding started by the fifth starter. We expect him to be lights out, every time. And even though his peripherals are still well above average, he has not been the same lights-out Timmy that we’ve come to know and love.

This time out, he was likely done in by Bochy’s hesitation to tax his relievers. It was obvious Lincecum was on his last legs in the seventh, clinging to a one-run lead in a park that generates a fair amount of crooked numbers. But Bochy stuck with him to face the lefty Seth Smith, even though lefty Jeremy Affeldt was primed and ready in the Giants ‘pen. That’s not to say things would’ve turned out differently if Affeldt had entered the game to pitch to Smith. There’s a reason Bochy was hesitant to make the change, after all. Affeldt had also lost a bit of the dominance we’ve come to expect this season, and he’s been worked a lot. Best to squeeze as many outs out of every arm you’ve got and try to win games one batter at a time. It’s good managerial training for the playoffs, when one batter — one pitch — can change the entire landscape of a series.

That the best laid plans of mice and the Shaman fell awry this time out is no reason to condemn the philosophy. After all, I’d take Tim Lincecum at 75% over just about any pitcher in baseball at 100%, especially a specialist lefty out of the bullpen, no matter what kind of numbers they’re putting up. But there’s no way to deny that this loss hurts.

The Giants have held an early lead in every game in this series, but they’re still one up and two down with one more to go. At three games out, this is the largest deficit they’ve faced since the middle of May and certainly since it became trendy to talk about the Wild Card “Division.” With a victory on Monday, the G-Men would make the series a wash and end the most grueling road trip of this or any season with a winning record. They’re been turning the other cheek all season, and now more than ever they need to keep their memories short and their fly balls long.

Butch’s Btw

Major props are due to Juan Uribe, who made the play of the game while riding the pine.

Stat of the Day
Edgar Renteria accounted for both Giants runs with an opposite field shot into the right field bullpen in the top of the second. It was his first home run since April 24 at Arizona, a span of 342 at-bats.
Quote of the Day
"I know sometimes that's what things do here. Balls do weird things, and the changeup was left up and it cut right back to his bat." - Lincecum on the decisive home run he served up to Seth Smith in the bottom of the seventh
Monday, August 24th
Rockies 6, Giants 4 (14)

WP: Eaton (3-5); LP: Miller (2-3)
HR: COL - Spilborghs (7)

There’s this funny ass scene in a Mamet flick called “State and Main.” Alec Baldwin plays a spoiled Hollywood actor run amok on a small town location shoot. Late one night, he gets drunk, picks up an underage girl, and flips his car in the middle of Main Street, right in front of Phil Hoffman, who plays the screenwriter. Baldwin’s character climbs out of the car, bloodied but not broken, turns to Hoffman and smiles...

“Well, that happened,” is all he says before walking calmly away from the scene.

When Ryan Spilborghs’ hope-crushing grand slam landed in the Rockies bullpen around midnight in Denver, two things flashed across my mind:

The first was standing in the living room of an old bandmate who happened to be from L.A., watching the Giants blow a three-run lead at Chavez Ravine in the second-to-last game of the 2004 season. I didn’t speak a word to another living soul for days after Steve Finley’s season-ending grand slam put us in our coffin. Watching another team celebrate a victory they didn’t earn — a victory my team handed to them on a silver platter with a side of caviar — is always a moment of such pain that it cuts right to my very core and chills my soul. It’s easier to accept defeat when you’ve simply run into a better team.

The second image that came to mind was that Baldwin line after the car wreck. I felt like Julia Stiles, who played the underage girl riding shotgun with Baldwin at the time of the crash. Up to then, she was having the time of her life, cruising her boring hometown where nothing ever happens, diddling with a handsome celebrity who had been the god of her idolotry — to borrow a line from Shakespeare’s Juliet. The world was a blooming flower, and anything was possible. But in an instant, everything came to a screeching halt in a mess of metal and smoke.

“Well,” I said to myself as I switched off the postgame show during the fifth or sixth replay of the walk-off winner, “that happened.”

Butch’s Btw

With all the pain and frustration erupting in the heart of Giants fans all across the country in the wake of this tremendous defeat, it would be very easy to forget that Brandon Medders very nearly earned himself an immortal place in the lore of our club. Had his line shot in the top of the 13th found a way to curl around the glove of Ian Stewart, the 14th-inning heroics of Eugenio Velez and the subsequent disaster might never have occurred. As it stands, Medders didn’t have the energy to finish the game, and his woulda-been line drive will linger in my mind far longer than Spilborghs’ slam.

And I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that Barry Zito continued his streak of dominance in the second half, allowing just an unearned run through six strong innings. Of course, if he hadn’t walked in that run, this game might have ended in regulation, but the what if’s from this game could drive a man to drink. Speaking of which, it’s about that time...

Stat of the Night
Prior to Velez’s two-run triple in the top of the 13th, the Giants had been 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and had left 11 men on base.
Quote(s) of the Night: ‘Cause you can’t say enough about this one
"I told Adam Eaton that if they walked Tulowitzki, don't swing. I don't care if he throws three right down the middle, don't swing because I want Spilborghs to have a shot with the bases loaded. If Justin Miller throws three pitches for strikes, [Eaton would have] struck out. But we're not going to let him take a swing and hit a ground ball and end the game." - Rockies manager Jim Tracy

"It almost hurts sometimes when you're in the 14th inning and you're up by three. That intense focus that you've had every inning with zero margin of error, now you could say that you have a huge margin of error and you let a team in the door and they blow it wide open." - Zito
Series debrief

Time will tell if this series marked the start of something miraculous or the beginning of the end. A cynic would lean toward the latter. Who am I to disagree?

All I know is:

• Once again this team came out the night after a horrendous loss and managed to scrape out a win by the skin of the popcorn kernel wedged between their front teeth. They just refuse to let the season die, and if they’re not giving up, neither am I.

• They still have six games with the Rockies, all of them at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, a place that has not lacked for miracles this season. They also play 22 of the final 37 at home.

• The Hated Ones are falling apart in an even bigger way than the Giants. They rallied last night to force extra innings at Coors, but the Rocks eventually pulled out another walk-off win that put them within two games of first place. The Giants trail the Dodgers by 6, and the way things are trending, they may soon be chasing the Blue Crew in the “Wild Card Division.”

Let's go Giants!

21 August 2009

Feast or Famine

And they say this place is a hitter's park...

Tuesday, August 18th
Giants 8, Redlegs 5 (10)

WP: Howry (1-5); LP: Cordero (1-3); S: Wilson (29)
HR: SF - Uribe (6); CIN - Votto (18)

Whatever pipe our Shaman manager is smoking from, I want a hit. How else could he have had the prescience to go with Ryan “Cardinal Caveman” Garko over Travis “Hapa” Ishikawa against a righty when the former Stanford star had yet to flash any brilliance with the bat outside of a bevy of loud outs?

I have to admit, I scanned the lineup in Baggs’ pregame post with much consternation, especially over the absence of “Nasty” Nate Schierholtz, who has risen from the ranks to become the man crush of everyone who follows this team*. But when your team busts out for a season-high in hits and scores in double digits, I can understand the desire to maintain the status quo and roll the same lineup out there the next night.

Bochy even went so far as to have Fred Lewis deliver the lineup card for the second game in a row. If this streak continues, Freddy should be named honorary bench coach and get the duty every day. Maybe he’s finally found his niche on this team.

Whatever the reason, whatever the season, the G-Men have seen their bats come to life over the past two days. But right around the time Homer Bailey squeaked one down the line in the bottom of the second, I was conceding this one to the baseball gods. I’m not always happy to be proven wrong, but I’ll gladly take my lumps on this one.

It’s growing more and more obvious that Timmy likes it cold. He grew up and went to college in dreary Washington and plays his pro ball in a city with colder summers than winters. Anytime he pitches in the humid mugginess of the Midwest or East Coast, he loses his touch, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

This occasion falls into the latter category. Even “The Kid” himself admitted he had nothing. That he got through six innings is a testament to his natural abilities and perseverance, and it was a boon for a bullpen that went five innings the day before and won’t see a day off for another two weeks. The Giants’ relief success stems from the dominance of the starting staff, and every time Timmy or Matty don’t go at least seven-plus, it eats up innings that we’ll need from the ‘pen down the stretch.

Lincecum made it as far as he could on Tuesday in what looked like garbage time. So it was that much more thrilling to see him picked up by the biggest comeback of the season, and on the road no less. After what happened when these two teams hooked up at the Cove, we needed this win.

Of course, they G’s came back from three runs down for the first time all season in the game that preceded that Reds series, so God knows what to expect in Wednesday’s contest.

* Thanks for jumping on the bandwagon, folks. I knew this kid would be a force the first time I saw him take BP two years ago, and I’ve said so every step of the way along his frustrating career path. I only wish I’d had this blog two years ago so I could conveniently link you to my comments. Instead, the only person who could corroborate my claims is the friend who sat with me in the bleachers that day. You out there Rypka?

Stat(s) of the Night

There was no shortage of statistical oddities in this one:
• For only the second time in his career, Tim Lincecum walked in a run.

• Bruce “The Shaman” Bochy was ejected for the fifth time this season — and the third time in eight games.

• From Extra Baggs: “Amazingly, [Bengie] Molina hadn’t drawn two unintentional walks in the same game since June 22, 2006, for the Toronto Blue Jays at Atlanta.”
Quote of the Night
“[A]ny time you put a new uniform on, you want to try to be Superman, I think. We're all human. We all want to do it. Sometimes you have to take a couple of steps back and relax. I'm working on it." - Ryan Garko
Wednesday, August 19th
Giants 1, Redlegs 0

WP: Romo (4-2); LP: Arroyo (11-12); S: Wilson (30)
HR: None

Can Barry Zito get a run? Please? I mean, for reals, this is getting ridiculous.

Over on the 50K-Watt blowtorch, someone’s saying Barry should’ve looked at strike three with the bases juiced and one out in the second. Barry didn’t go down looking. He swung, and ended up hitting into an inning-ending double play. But who can fault him for swinging? It’s not like anybody else is doing much to get him even a shred of run support.

His ERA may still be north of 4, but Zito has pitched a helluva lot better than 8-11 in 2009. Tonight, he threw two-hit ball over two-thirds of the Giants’ 16th shutout of the season and improved his post-All-Star-break ERA to 2.36 with a line of 7 GS, 42.0 IP, 34 H, 11 ER, 12 BB, 34 K, 1.05 WHIP. Oh yeah, and the team is 5-2 in his starts.

Meanwhile, Nate Schierholtz returned from oblivion to drive in the game’s only run with his second double of the night. A cynic could say he could’ve done the same job as a pinch hitter, but the pitcher’s spot wasn’t up in that situation. The two hole was. And “Nasty” Nate was there to greet the moment with the hit of the game. Forgive my gushing, but attention must be paid. This kid is the future. And the future is now.

That said, wasn’t that knock eerily similar to the ball that Fred Lewis flat out dropped in New York on Sunday? I think Freddy had an easier play.

Props are due to Sergio Romo, who’s been born again hard.

Butch’s Btw

Bochy sat Panda tonight, and it was the right move. The kid’s dragging ass at the plate lately, and it was starting to carry over into the field. When that happens, you know the slumps getting into a guy’s head. Best to give him a day on the pine to gather himself for the sphincter-tightening days ahead.

Stat of the Night
Five Giants had two-hit games to account for all 10 of the team’s hits.
Quote of the Night
"I don't think there's any rhyme or reason. I think it's coincidence." - Barry Zito on enjoying the lowest run support in the Major Leagues
Thursday, August 20th
Redlegs 2, Giants 1 (10)

WP: Cordero (2-3); LP: Howry (1-6)
HR: CIN - Stubbs (1; first career)

And the pendulum swings just... like... that.

Not much to say after losses, I know, but who has the energy to break down a game in which a team scraped together 11 hits and could only plate one run... on a wild pitch?

Who has the time or the inclination to analyze the Giants’ lack of patience in the batter’s box? Their blatantly obvious ignorance of fundamentals? Their inability to deliver the clutch sacrifice fly or even so much as a butcher boy chopper to the right side with a runner at second and nobody out?

If the Giants succeed in their postseason quest, it will be on the backs of the finest pitching staff in all of baseball. (You can look it up.) We like to talk about how no one wants to face this staff — especially the front end of the rotation — in a short series.

But if the Giants are going to make any noise in October, it will be on the backs of these hitters. And two-game stretches like this will really make you cringe when you think about the pitching they’d face in a short series.

Stat of the Day
Tough-luck workout victim Matt Cain has made five starts in a row sans victory. His ERA over that stretch is 2.97. I should know. He’s the ace of my fantasy rotation.
Quote of the Day
“No question, this was one of our tougher games all year. But we have to get ready for Colorado now and put this one behind us.” - Bruce “The Shaman” Bochy
Series debrief

From Wikipedia, with my usual snarkiness...

Bob “Whatever happened to Bobby?” Howry was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 1994 Major League Baseball Draft.

On July 31, 1997, the Chicago White Sox traded three major players to the Giants for six minor leaguers, including Howry.

The Giants went on to win the National League Western Division title with a 90-72 record, two games better than the Hated Ones (yay!). The White Sox finished 80-81, six games behind the American League Central Division champion Cleveland Indians. The Giants were swept by the Florida Marlins in the National League Division Series. (And that’s all we need to say about that.)

Years passed, as they say, and sure enough, like a boomerang, Bob Howry returned to the Giants, signing a $2.75 million one-year contract. Until Tuesday night, he had never won a Major League game for the team that drafted him. And what a way to get your first W for the original club.

Thursday afternoon, Howry was a victim of a fate that’s haunted him all season. As soon as he worked himself out of a late-inning role with early inconsistency, he became the go-to guy in tie situations, late in the ballgame. He’s the Giants’ resident inning-eating specialist.

So it should come as no surprise that he’s clocking a 1-6 record this season. He tends to come into the game when everybody who comes to the plate is thinking, “Yabba dabba doo!,” and he throws a lot of fastballs.

But cut through all that playa hata nonsense in your head and think for a second about how cool it would be to go to the playoffs with a guy we gave up to win a division.

Tonight’s the night the real race begins. It’s a sprint to the finish, and we’re starting out two steps behind. Time for the cream to rise. Are the Giants in. Or are they out?


18 August 2009

New Yard, Same Smell

Not to mention those damn airplanes. Yet someone thought this was a good spot for a ballpark... twice.

Friday, August 14th
Mets 3, Giants 0

WP: Parnell (3-4); LP: Zito (8-11); S: F. Rodriguez (26)
HR: NY - Pagan (3)

Not much to say when the game is over after one batter in the bottom of the first. I will say that Barry Zito’s second half performance continues to impress. Sure, he hung one to David Wright in the sixth, right before he got yanked, but this game was over before anyone laced up their spikes.

Quick shout out to Angel Pagan, who owns the best oxymoron of a name in professional sports.

Stat of the Night
The Giants have been shut out in eight of Zito’s 24 starts. For those with remedial math skills, that means he’s had absolutely none chance of winning in one third of his appearances, no matter how well (or poorly) he pitched.
Quote of the Night
"It's hard to ride that momentum when it's not the next day." - Barry Zito, who might have a point. The Giants have played like ass in every game after an off-day in the second half. Look it up.
Saturday, August 15th
Giants 5, Mets 4 (10)

WP: Wilson (5-5; BS 6); LP: F. Rodriguez (2-4)
HR: SF - Sandoval (18); Molina (15)

I spent the better part of this game counter-protesting some vicious teabaggers outside a Barbara Boxer book signing at Barnes and Noble, and consequently, I missed the David Wright bean ball and didn’t learn the full context of this game until the postgame show.

So, when Panda hit his jack off the second deck after Santana threw behind him, I figured that was an isolated beef. When Bengie took issue when getting plunked, I assumed it was a direct result of the Sandoval at bat. When Cain tipped his cap upon being removed, I thought he was acknowledging the strong orange and black contingent that came out for the weekend getaway — as well as half the ownership group.

Once I saw the full highlight reel, I realized that all of those incidents had a direct link to Wright lying in the dirt with a dent in his helmet. Now, I’m all for an honor code, and I understand the principle of protecting your teammates, but in the middle of a pennant race, in a close game, these kids games are a pointless exercise. S**t happens, and sometimes a pitch gets away. I know these guys are hopped up on adrenaline and Gatorade and who knows what the heck else, but maybe a little Xanax would help cooler heads prevail.

What cannot be lost on anyone here is that Matt Cain was once again on the receiving end of a tough-luck ND. The mental fortitude of this kid has yet to display any limits. He’s one cool customer out there, and I challenge anyone to find the change in his expression as he watched from the dugout as another brilliant performance went from win to workout thanks to a bullpen hiccup. It’s just another reason I have no reason to doubt his ability to compete in a tight pennant race... or postseason series.

Can I get some love for Bengie Mo? The loveable if sloth-like backstop fought through doubts about his viability in the cleanup role to have a solid two weeks at the plate, culminating with three hits and a pair of RBIs in this contest — including a dramatic game-winning jack in the 10th.

I’m not saying he’s your prototypical four-hole guy, but really, if you accept that Sandoval needs to hit third to guarantee he comes up in the first inning and as many times as possible thereafter, where would YOU hit Molina? And if it weren’t cleanup, who would you put there instead? (Bear in mind, Bengie is second on the club behind Panda in dingers and ribbies, and the guy in third — Rowand — isn’t even close.) I’m eager to hear your solutions.

Butch’s Btw

For as long as I can remember, the Giants have played like s**t in Saturday games on Fox. Maybe the bright lights of national TV put a bug up their collective butt. Maybe it was something to do with the quality — or lack thereof — of the Fox announcing crew, be it Joe Schmuck and Tim “Hey, did I ever mention I once caught Bob Gibson in the World Series?” McCarver or Thom “I also do Diamondback games poorly” Brenneman and Mark “Nice Guy” Grace. Maybe they just didn’t give a crap about their fans in other markets who can’t afford the MLB Extra Innings package and choose to play badly in the only games they can watch — this happened to me many a time while toiling in SoCal.

Well, they tried their best to lose with glory, but the boys chalked up a W in a Fox game — on the road no less. This prompts me to ask: What’s next? Bengie Molina takes a pitch? Pablo Sandoval eats a salad? Nate Schierholtz starts every day? Not f**king likely on all counts...

Stat of the Night
Brian Wilson blew his sixth save but stuck it out for 2 2/3 innings scoreless innings — his longest career appearance — and got the win. It was the ninth time in his career he lasted at least two innings. In those nine outings, he’s 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA.
Quote of the Night
“He threw four fastballs by me [last night], and I couldn't see them. I said, 'You know what? He might feel the same way today.' So I was just sitting on 95 [mph]. If he had thrown any other pitch, I would have been the first out of the inning." - Bengie Molina, on his home run off Francisco Rodriguez that caused Butch’s thoughts to drift to the 2002 World Series, which is (almost) never a good thing
Sunday, August 16th
Mets 3, Giants 2

WP: F. Rodriguez (3-4); LP: Romo (3-2)
HR: NY - Castillo (1)

Luis Castillo didn’t beat the Giants on Sunday afternoon in Flushing. Neither did David Murphy. Fred Lewis won this game for the Mets. The only problem is the uniform he was wearing at the time.

It’s real simple: If you’re a major league ballplayer and a ball lands in your glove, it doesn’t hit the ground. Period. I don’t care if your chest explodes and a motherf**king alien pops out singing “Hello, My Baby”... You catch the f**king ball.

Why in the world this guy keeps picking up starts is beyond me. Granted, he’s one of the few guys on this team with any plate discipline, but when you have a guy like Nate Schierholtz riding your bench — a guy who just one day prior had two hits off Johan Santana batting left-handed — there is absolutely, positively no earthly reason why Fred Lewis should even sniff the starting nine except to deliver the lineup card to the umps before the game (see Monday recap).

I am so utterly sick of Bruce Bochy’s daily machinations with his starting squad that I’m about to puke on my MacBook. I don’t know what numbers he’s looking at, who’s whispering in his ear or what games he’s watching, but if another day goes by without Schierholtz in right field from the first inning on, somebody’s getting fired... at least in my head. When a team is this desperate for run support, how can you ignore a guy with Nate’s numbers and ability at the plate, on the bases and in the field in favor of trotting out washed-up vets like Randy Winn or promising but troublesome busts like Lewis.

It’s beside the point to mention that Randy so much as admitted he should be benched to Andy Baggarly and the rest of the beat reporters after a miserable performance last week. After years and years of playing for losing teams who never found themselves in contention, the man says he just wants to win. He doesn’t care about his view during the pennant race. Frankly, the way he’s been hitting, he should be watching from the pine, but that’s just, you know, my opinion, man. (Full disclosure: Yes, I saw his game-tying double. Impressive, but one hit can’t salvage a lost season.)

Sheesh, all that bitching and I still haven’t mentioned that Jonathan Sanchez deserved another win today. He’s really picked up his game on the road, and it’s a good sign for this team heading into the final seven weeks.

Butch’s Btw

Did anybody else’s heart skip a beat when they saw this? According to Baggs, he’s all good. But that’s what they said about Robb Nen.

Stats of the Night
Luis Castillo's hit his first home run since May 30... 2008.
J. Sanchez has compiled a 4.04 ERA since his no-hitter on July 10th, but he’s limited opponents to a .202 batting average in that span.
Quote of the Night
"I threw a strike that was hittable instead of one that wasn't. There's really no secret to what happened." - Jeremy Affeldt, who gave up the winning hit to David Murphy
Monday, August 17th
Giants 10, Mets 1

WP: J. Martinez (3-1); LP: L. Hernandez (7-8)
HR: SF - Rowand (10)

Here’s how I find the dark cloud in the silver lining of a ha-ha-ha-ha-ha laugher: You have an outfielder. Call him Jake Bierpoltz. Jake’s 25. He’s sporting a .296/.324/.437 with 13 doubles, four bombs and 22 ribs in 206 ABs.

You’ve got another two outfielder. Call them Andy Flynn and Ed Lewis. Combined, Andy and Ed are posting a .267/.329/.384 with a combined 46 doubles, six jacks and 59 RBI in 685 ABs.

In 685 ABs, Jake would have 43 doubles, 13 homers, and 73 RBI (and he’d still be hitting 30 points higher than Andy and Ed combined.

Did I mention that Jake runs like the wind, has a cannon for an arm, and hits lefties better than any other lefty on the team?

So why isn’t Jake starting?

Why is Jake coming off the bench as a pinch hitter (a role in which he’s hitting over .400) and crushing a near grand slam to bust the game open when he could have been playing the whole time?

Is some crazed shaman guiding this team? No, it’s only Bochy.

Okay, back to the 18-hit, 10-run shellacking, which was nice on so many levels...

The aforementioned shaman called a team meeting before his boys took the field and asked them to forget their road record and focus on having fun and leaving a good impression. Then he went and sent Fred Lewis out with the lineup card. And before any of us could ask ourselves “Wtf?” the Giants were rolling...

Joe Martinez won in front of a gob of friends and family, and he got to watch the last four innings taboot.

Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn had big games, which we’d like to think could bode well for these streaky hitters in the crucial days ahead.

Gino Velez continued to climb out of his super-mini-funk, and Freddy Sanchez continued his brilliance in the field and at the plate. He may be banged up, and it may not show up in the W column, but this is a better team for having him.

Edgar Renteria had an RBI. He’s got 40. No foolin’.

Stat of the Night
Aaron Rowand’s tiebreaker in the fourth was his first dong since July 2, a gap of 98 ABs.
Quote of the Night
"It's kind of a funky field." - Nate Schierholtz on the Mets’ new home, Citi Field
Series debrief

As I write this, the G’s just broke a 5-5 tie with the Redlegs in the top of the 10th in Cincy. At one point, they trailed 5-1 after Lincecum got lit up like he hasn’t all season, and all I was thinking was, "Just get him through the sixth or seventh so the bullpen isn’t taxed midway through the roadtrip." Then they went and scored 4 runs in one gosh darn inning. Now how about that?

15 August 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I conceived of this post about a week and a half ago as an off-day story to lead into the crucial 11-game trip that got off to a smashing start yesterday...

The G-Men were coming off a clutch road series victory in Houston, returning home to face the thoroughly incompetent Reds in a weekender before the Hated Ones came to town for a series that could have put the squad from the City right back in the Western Division mix. They had regained their Wild Card advantage over the Rocks and were flying high with new addition Freddy Sanchez off to a thrilling start in the orange and black.

I was going to tell you how the N.L. Wild Card race would come down to the two teams from the West. How the Cubs and Brewers would beat each other senseless in their attempts to chase down eventual Central Division champ St. Louis. How the Marlins don't have enough pitching consistency. How the Braves lack depth on either side of the ball. Why that didn't matter because the strength of the East from top to bottom — including the lowly Nats who shocked the world by reeling off eight W's in a row — would do in both Florida and Atlanta down the stretch anyway. How the Giants and Rockies were uniquely positioned to duke it out over the season's final weeks thanks to the weakness of 'Zona and the Pads and the overall strength of their respective pitching staffs full of young studs. And how the Giants would eventually prevail thanks to six games against Colorado in the friendly confines of 24 Willie Mays Plaza (where they still enjoy a 39-20 record despite a pitiful 2-4 homestand).

I started writing on the travel day after the Houston series. I attached links to multimedia, stat graphs, articles and blogs. I wrote prose poems in honor of Freddy Sanchez's club foot. I sang the praises of the soon-to-return "Nasty" Nate Schierholtz. Satisfied, I set the piece to post yesterday morning. I figured the only reason I'd have to scrap it would be if the G's managed to sweep the struggling Hated Ones and jump right back in the division race...

Then, this happened.

Now, our team is reeling at the absolute worst time imaginable. I said before that if they managed to hold on through this trip, they would make the postseason. While that's still a very manageable goal to aim for given they trail the Colorado team by only 1 1/2 games in the WC standings and sit 6 1/2 behind the Hated Ones — despite dropping two out of three to them earlier this week in atrociously mediocre fashion — a reasonable appraisal of this team would tell you they need the offense back in its late-June, early-July mode if they're to have any shot at all. (They certainly need to figure things out in time for the four-gamer in Denver that closes this little jaunt.)

So I scrapped my story and banged this out instead. Now, the boys have gone and dropped the first game of the trip with little more than a whimper, leaving Barry Zito hanging on the bump without a run of support for the eighth time this season — that's a full third of his starts, people (eat your heart out, Matt Cain) — and I have a hard time getting up the will to posit my theory, which still holds water, though it's leaking from numerous tiny fissures that could very quickly become gushers if the ship is not righted in short order.

I still believe the Central teams —aside from the Cards, who are suddenly running away thanks to the addition of .493 hitter and resident jackass Matt Holliday — will beat each other into bloody pulps by the time the season winds down and finish at or around .500. I still believe the East is too tough a division to produce two playoff teams. (The Phils are running away there as well, with Clifford Lee dominating N.L. batters, even in the band box that is Citizens Bank Park.) I still believe the Giants have a chance to make this a two-team race with the Rockpile. But if they're going to turn my faith into reality, they need to wake up the bats. Now.

The Giants have failed to rack up any prolonged stretches of brilliance this season. The five- and six- and seven-game winning streaks that mark well-crafted and durable teams. The kind of runs that could have put them back in the division race long ago or put some distance between them and the rest of the Wild Card pack. That deficiency has nothing to do with a pitching staff that still boasts the best team ERA in the majors (3.51). It has more to do with an offense that has never clicked on all cylinders at once.

Every player in the lineup has flashed their bat for weeks at a time, but not once have all the bats come together to put on the displays that generate sustained success. Pablo Sandoval has been a revelation, but even he has been prone to slumping thanks to his free-swinging, Vlad Guerrero-esque style at the plate. Bengie Molina's bat has only now started to come alive, but was truly needed in the season's opening months, when young talents like Panda and Schierholtz had yet to make an impact and the team was floundering around .500. Eugenio Velez was a pleasant surprise, but the shine is starting to wear off his cleats. And then there's Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, and Edgar Renteria, a triumvirate of overpaid veterans hitting a collective .262 — and a weak .262 at that. F. Sanchez has certainly provided a spark at the top of the lineup, but without professional hitting lower in the order, there's nobody to knock him in.

Callers to the 50K-Watt juggernaut and commenters on local blogs regularly deride the team for failing to make a competetive offer for the likes of Holliday, as if one power bat would solve all of our problems. Let's not forget, the Cards already had a superstar in their lineup when they added the ass-head former Denver-ite — some kid by the name of Pujols. If Marvin Benard hit next to that guy in a lineup, he'd be a superstar, with or without the cream and the clear.

At this juncture, there's no point to constructive criticism of the Giants deadline deals. That's the past. This is the team we have now. And it's not a bad team. We're still ahead of schedule, still loaded with talent down on the Farm, still stacked with the finest pitching staff in the majors, and still within reach of the final playoff spot, the spot that propelled them to an N.L. pennant in 2002, the spot we all wish were available to them in 1993.

But games like last night's have a tendency to leave a sour taste in the mouth of the faithful, those of us who race home from work to catch the final innings of an East Coast roadie, who make the 45-minute trek up the Peninsula to stand in the bitter cold under the Arcade for three and a half hours (two and a half when Timmy or Matty pitch), who defend their boys against all enemies, foreign and domestic, who wear their orange to family functions and business meetings alike, and always with a sense of pride.

Here's hoping today's nationally-televised contest is the worm-turner that gets the Giants' season back on track. If not, it's time to start salivating for Madison Bumgarner's first start of Spring Training 2010.

¡Vamos Gigantes!

13 August 2009

Hangovers & Hated Ones

It’s okay, Chicken Little! You can put away the noose! The sky isn’t really falling... yet.

Monday, August 10th
Hated Ones 4, Giants 2
WP: Kuroda (5-5); LP: J. Sanchez (5-10); S: Broxton (25)
HR: SF - Ishikawa (8); Molina (14)

One pitch. That’s all it takes to ruin a pitcher’s day.

Jonathan Sanchez threw that pitch to Matt Kemp in the top of the fourth, and Kemp cleared the sacks. That J. Sanchez survived to pitch a stellar fifth is testament to his newfound confidence. But for one inning, it was the Sanchy we all know and try to love: teetering on the brink of a full-on physical and mental breakdown.

One inning. That’s all it takes.

To all the squakboxes who like to quack about the Giants’ lack of pop: They’ve been putting on a power display of late, and how much do they have to show for it? I love watching Ishi and Bengie go deep as much as the next guy — a bit more seeing as how they’re on my fantasy team. But if Fred Lewis — or anybody, for that matter — is on base at the time, a home run is a lot more effective.

In a bit of news that’s hard to categorize, the Hated Ones announced No. 1 starter Chad “Barbara” Billingsley will miss at least one start with a sore leggy-poo and be replaced this turn by journeyman a-hole Jeff Weaver. Here’s hoping Chad’s got some good painkillers and that he’s out for a wee bit longer than anticipated, and also that someone talks a little s**t to Weaver during Wednesday’s game.

Oh yeah, stay hot Eugenio Velez.

Stat of the Night (Road team edition)
The Dodgers’ 31-12 record against the N.L. West this season is the best intra-division mark in the Show.
Quote of the Night
"This is not the way you want to start a series but it's not desperation time. We need to relax and play our game." - Bruce Bochy, Zen Master
Tuesday, August 11th
Hated Ones 9, Giants 1
WP: Wolf (6-6); LP: Martinez (2-1)
HR: LA - Ramirez (13); Kemp (16)

One play. That’s all it takes to turn the momentum of a game.

I’m sitting here, still thinking about it. If he’d let it go through, Velez would’ve grabbed the ball right on the bag and had an easy turn of two. Instead, he made a circus play that would’ve made it to the top of the Web Gems... had he not knuckled one to Gino, who conveniently dropped the dime. And the Boys of Summer were off and rolling again.

You have to feel for Joe Martinez. He was acting on instinct, and he made a tremendous play. But as he knows all too well, the game can be cruel. And so can Manny Ramirez. Seriously, when Casey Blake is “defending” him in the five hole, why would anyone pitch to this guy?

Speaking of ManRam... Don’t know if anyone else noticed, but there was a pretty thick cloud hanging over the Cove on Tuesday night, and it wasn’t the “marine layer”. For years, we learned to live with our own embarrassment of a left fielder because he was our embarrassment and when you strip away all the hype and the dope, he was still the greatest hitter many of us have ever seen live. We heard the Think Blue Mafia chant “Bar-roid” and “Barry Sucks” — even when Bonds wasn’t playing! They booed him, they taunted him, and through it all, we defended him because he was electric.

Pot, meet kettle.

Btw, I have to admit, I couldn’t deal in the 7th. The mediocrity was simply too much to take. The fact that it was coming from Brandon Medders made less sense than the endless string of hits he allowed. This guy has dealt all year, but for one inning, he looked like garbage. But one inning is all it takes, sometimes.

Stat of the Night
Eugenio “Babe” Velez’s 16-game hitting streak ended with an 0-for-3, but he made the most productive of the Giants 27 outs, driving in Fred Lewis with a 3rd-inning groundout. He had one last chance to collect a knock in the 8th, but he was hit by a pitch that first bounced in the dirt. During the streak, Velez hit .420 (29-for-69) with three homers and 11 RBIs. It was the Giants' second-longest streak of the season, trailing only a 17-game run by Aaron Rowand.
Wednesday, August 12th
Giants 4, Hated Ones 2 (10)
WP: Wilson (4-5); LP: Mota (3-4)
HR: SF - Uribe (5)

You always hear the cliché when someone’s talking about another sport: “You don’t want the refs deciding the game.” Kobe says it about basketball. Mike Nolan used to bitch about it in (American) football. And just this week, Tiger mouthed off about the officials at a golf tournament. Read that last sentence again, and bear in mind Mr. Woods won the match.

My point is, you don’t often hear that excuse in baseball. Because 99.9% of the time, umpires effectively render themselves invisible. Think about the sheer number of calls made by a four-man crew over the course of a single game. Now think about how often you actually see a call worth questioning, even after rewinding and replaying your DVR recording of the play at least fifty times at six different speeds.

That said, the umpires almost gave this one to the Hated Ones, and luckily I’m not an employee of MLB or any of its franchises, so I can say that without getting fined. On no less than three separate occasions, this crew absolutely and unequivocally blew the call.

The first time, it cost the Giants a rally. The final time, it cost Tim Lincecum a complete game victory and on any given Wednesday could have cost the Giants the game. The time in between, it added insult to injury after one of the scrappier tiffs this rivalry has produced of late. It got so bad out there, the Giants had their manager ejected... twice. (That has to be a first for Ron Wotus. I’ll have the research team check it out.)

A quick note on the bench-clearing petting zoo: Russell Martin doesn’t have to prove how hard he is. He’s a Major League catcher. That should be enough. Instead, he had to wave his d**k around in Panda’s face, and Panda didn’t do nothin’ to nobody. So back off, Junior, or you’re goin’ on the list right under Casey Blake.

And now a note or two about the baseball:

Redemption, like revenge, is a dish that is best served cold, and it tasted awfully sweet when Juan Uribe lit up Guillermo Mota on an 10th inning 0-2 mistake to send everybody home googly eyed and grinning. In a lot of ways, it had to be Juan Uribe.

This is the same Juan Uribe who left seven men on base earlier in the game. The same Juan Uribe who fouled off a hanging Mota breaking ball earlier in the same AB. The same Juan Uribe who made what could have been a costly an error on an easy bloop in the top of the inning.

Looking back at this semi-disastrous homestand and taking into account the Giants’ position in the playoff race, this was a huge moment. Biggest of the season. The lead was blown, but the Giants were still alive. Still alive in the Wild Card. Still alive in the West. Brian Wilson just laid down the law with four strikeouts. If something was going to happen, it had to happen soon. As in now.

This was a must-win game before the first pitch, but it became an absolutely positively have to win or you can kiss your season goodbye kinduva game right around the time Uribe rounded third and everybody took a moment to think about what we would’ve been facing if the Hated Ones prevailed... Swept by the rivals at home, headed on a brutal 11-game trip, to the East Coast, in the dog days.

I felt these same emotions surging through my bloodstream once before this season. It was a warm May night in Seattle. Call this movie Unlikely Hero Redux.

P.S. Anybody get goose bumps when Wilson struck out Casey Blake to start the 10th? Much better revenge than plunking him. And just think, if they’d won this in nine, we would’ve missed a classic AB.

Stat of the Day
Before Freddy Sanchez’s RBI single in the fifth, the Giants had been 0-for-14 with RISP in the series. They were a whopping 1-for-18 by the end of it.
Quote of the Day
"I was worried about running out of managers today." - Bruce Bochy, who was ejected in the second inning (Interim manager and Bench Coach Ron Wotus was ejected in the ninth.)
Series debrief

Giants pitching shut down their rivals’ offense for 22 innings over the three-game series. In the other five innings, the San Francisco staff allowed 15 runs — 13 in three innings through the first two games.

The big inning has been a Giant killer all year, and the Hated Ones are built for crooked numbers. Their lineup is solid from top to bottom, and they jump on every mistake you make and every gift you hand out.

The Giants were far too generous with their charity in the opening two games, but no one can fault their valiant performance against a 13-man squad on Wednesday. Sure, you need to score with the bases loaded and nobody out, but it’s hard to complain about some good ol’ fashioned drama as evidenced at 24 Willie Mays Plaza this week.

I could tell you guys were into it. Wanna know how? Because I still heard you cheering in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday night:

“Beat L-A! Beat L-A!”