16 December 2011

Tinkering around the edges.

© Getty Images
Picking up where we left off last week, now that the roster is pretty much set, it's time to put on our size 8.5 hats and play inside Bochy's head a bit. Watch out, because it's kinda dark in here, and slippery...

The good news? There are a number of switch hitters on the 40-man, which means Bochy will get more length out of his roster on a day-to-day basis. This becomes important when your field manager treats every game like the Game 7 of the World Series and you'd like to be home in time to catch the late Sunday game on ESPN.

The bad news? There aren't a lot of lineup permutations where Angel Pagan isn't be featured in the leadoff role. While I like having someone to cement the position, I'm still not convinced he can pull it off every day in our yard. But he's what we have, so you have to use him. Right?

In the end, beyond the leadoff spot, there's a plethora of options at Bochy's fingertips. Let's survey just a handful of his potential lineups...

09 December 2011

Devil or Angel?

There are trades that drive you nuts — like you just caught your girlfriend with another dude — and there are trades that give you perma-grin — like you just caught your girlfriend with another girl, and they asked you to join the party. But then there are trades that are necessary, trades that are surgical, trades that are so businesslike that they would fall under the radar if we weren't refreshing our Twitter feeds every five sec... Hold on... Okay, where was I? Right, let's call them "trades of convenience".

The Giants weren't bringing back Andres the Giant — much as we'll miss him. They would like to have kept Ramirez, but as has been noted in many other places on the interwebs, they're pretty deep as far as right-handed relief. And Angel Pagan fills a genuine need. Again, nothing to poop your pants over, but another solid move in an offseason where Brian Sabean has had to get creative. With the Care Baer in charge, it's back to brass tacks. The hangover is, well, over.

01 December 2011

Let's get real.

Photo © tanmanforlife
There's always a lot of talk on the Twitter thing about what it means to be a "real fan". Pissing contests erupting 140-characters at a time. Grown men whining back and forth like old married couples. Ladies behaving... well, rather un-lady-like.

It's getting fricking dangerous out there, folks, and the whole shebang has got me thinking: What exactly constitutes a "real fan"?

In the wake of the team's first title in 56 years, life-long Giants fans watched with trepidation as the park filled up night after night in 2011 with out-of-the-woodwork casual fans decked out literally from head to toe in their freshly-purchased World Champions-branded gear.

24 November 2011

Catching up.

As I've said before, the hardest part of being a part-time blogger is keeping on a schedule, especially if you spread your passion across a wide swath of industries, hobbies, and pastimes. Which I do. But that's really another way of saying I'm lazy. I have no problem admitting that sometimes baseball is the furthest thing from my mind, and sometimes I don't feel like I have anything to add to the conversation.

So if you're looking for a daily dish, go to the big boys like MCC or BASG. Me, I don't really do this for page views. You won't see any Google ads on this Google site. I come here to vent, to let loose, to get a healthy dose of catharsis. If somebody actually reads what I write and likes what they read, that's just the all-natural whipped cream on top of my gelato.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let's dig into some recent news and notes before we dig into our turducken...

04 November 2011

Locking up the lefties.

Forget for a moment that the Giants just committed $9.25M to two relievers for the 2012 season — one of them an above average LOOGY, the other a very bad chef.

Forget that they'll pay Javy Lopez another $4.25 in 2013.

Forget that our team was woefully inept hitting with RISP in 2011.

Forget all of that, kick back, grab yourself a Racer 5, and think about this double-down move in the appropriate context: reality.

29 August 2011

Blame Game

What is the nougat at the center of the American obsession with scapegoating? Why must there always be someone or something to blame for our misfortunes? Are we that full of ourselves? Is it so incredulous to think that sometimes shit just happens, without judgment or discrimination? I don't think so, and I've got a lifetime of experience to back me up.

But if you want to play the blame game, then let's play...

08 August 2011

There is no "I" in Brandon Belt.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one." - Vulcan Proverb

Managing the 2011 San Francisco Giants might be the most impossible job in the world. What do you do when only two guys on your roster have even a shred of a clue at the plate? How can you build a productive offense around a see-the-ball-hit-the-ball, rolly-polly thirdbagger and a preppy-lookin' dude with Zito socks and a penchant for taking it back up the middle? What do you say to a pitcher who throws eight innings of two-run ball against one of the league's best offenses and takes the loss? Who do you go to for advice when you're ready to pull out every hair left on your head because the middle of your lineup just went down in order on 7 pitches in a one-run game?

These are the questions I ponder as I study the face of Bruce Bochy — the chiseled jaw of a former Navy brat, the fine lines around his eyes, the squinting gaze of a guy who's seen his fair share of bus rides and red-eye flights in a sport where chance plays just as much of a role in the difference between victory and defeat as talent and ability. I really pity the guy when he's up at the podium in the postgame pressers, groping for cliches to cover for his bottomless frustration with what has to be one of the most pathetic offenses ever to lead a division in August.

01 August 2011

You're a good man, Charlie Manuel.

I'm choosing to ignore recent baseball-related events in Cincinnati. I will expunge them from my brain before I incur any collateral damage. I shall wipe the slate clean and look upon tomorrow as another day. Instead of wallowing in pointless abandon over this horrendous lost weekend, I will roll with the post I've been aiming to write since Thursday night...

This has to do with that little series in Philadelphia and a certain manager's comments afterwards regarding the relative merits and demerits of two young starting pitchers. To provide a frame of reference for the following diatribe, please allow me to introduce you to the studly dudes in that picture there:

24 July 2011

We've been down this road before.

© 2010 Associated Press
Antsy morning. Up with the sun, and nothing to do but watch the Sports Reporters and read Internal Affairs in the Merc. Nothing newsworthy this week. At least not newsworthy enough to bother you while you're visiting this space in search of baseball commentary. Little did you know, you've really wandered into a deep dark corner of my subconscious mind. At any moment, a crazed ex-girlfriend or a GIF of Jose Cruz Jr. dropping Jeff Conine's popup might jump out from behind a curtain and scare you shitless. Welcome to my world.

Now that we have all the caveats out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks: I hate the trade deadline. I abhor the rumor mill. I despise prognostication based on little more than idle conversation over the phone in traffic on the 405 — or Sepulveda, but who would be insane enough to sit in that mess? Team A interested in Player B but doesn't want to part with Prospect C. Oh, but wait, Team D now asking for Prospect E and a little cash to sweeten the deal long enough for Team F to jump in the mix and make things interesting... Btw, I heard this from Team G's clubhouse attendant. Yeah, it's fun to banter this shit about, but what's the point if you're not the guy who can pull the strings and make it happen?

Maybe I'm just getting old, and maybe I've been through too many Julys, and maybe I've seen Sabean make too many shrewd but wholly nondescript moves, a few of which helped us win a little thing called the World Series last year... and a few of which became Ryan Garko. My point is, it should be bluntly obvious to any Giants fan that Sabean has been reluctant to pull the trigger on the so-called "blockbuster" deal ever since he dealt Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and some guy named Boof to the Twins for a dude who played one season in SF, set a club record for GIDP, and went on to win a World Series with the White Sox the very next year. (It's not worth mentioning his name this early in the morning.) Prior to that much-maligned move, the man was a wheelin', dealin' machine...

16 July 2011

Second verse, same as the first...

Can't believe it's been two weeks since I last spoke to you in more than 140-character bursts. Oh, well, that's the life I lead. As everyone else begins to relax and take a little vacay, I tend to get busy keeping myself organized. Probably why I love baseball so much. It feeds right into my obsessive compulsions. There's no shortage of stats or highlights or sabermetrics to keep my mind occupied until the wee morning hours as I stare out the window wondering... "Do I dare to eat a peach?"

This, of course, is a very long-winded — Dickensian, if you will — manner of apologizing for leaving you hanging. But then again, I sincerely doubt you lacked for online entertainment in my absence from the blogosphere. There are, as I've discovered, other baseball blogs out there. Besides, the mini-hiatus gave me time to come to a few epiphanies about our 2011 San Francisco Giants, and damned if I don't feel a little lighter in the shoulder region. I'll share them with you now in the stead of another cookie-cutter midseason report...

04 July 2011

Smoke and Mirrors

Design by thecitygraphics.com
Let's see if you recognize this pattern: Team A falls behind early by a run or two and can't get anything done against Team B's starter. Around the seventh inning, Team B has to go to the bullpen, and Team A suddenly rallies to steal the game. If you identified this as the Giants' modus operandi at home in 2011, you are correct. But the same narrative could also be used to describe the three losses the Giants absorbed on their most recent road trip to the American Midwest.

The Giants simply aren't used to blowing leads, and we as fans are not used to seeing them blown. It's disconcerting when the best bullpen in baseball doesn't deliver the goods. Now that Brian Wilson has been elevated to a godlike status not just by the Giants and their fans but by the marketing execs at Major League Baseball™ who know a good cow to milk when they see it — please to consult the Ubaldo Jimenez mini license plate spot ("Zander?") — the ninth inning has a cone of pride and ego enveloping it. And when the cone is pierced, it lets loose a primal roar of frustration.

24 June 2011

A Tale of Two Bochys

Way back in September of '97, as the Giants were hurtling toward an eventual National League West pennant, two days after Brian Johnson's epic dance around the bases at the 'Stick, smack in the middle of taking three of four from the Fathers at ol' Jack Murphy Stadium — when that was still its name — the Giants played an absolute stinker. It was, for all intents and purposes, an all-too-common brain fart in an otherwise memorable season.

It's safe to say the '97 Giants took their share of beatings. 16 times they gave up 10 runs or more, including four 15-plus spots, two 11-0 losses to the Hated Ones, and a 19-3 shellacking by Felipe Alou's Expos. But the 12-2 drubbing they absorbed at the hands of Bruce Bochy's Padres on September 20th was significant for two reasons: 1. It was my first game in San Diego. 2. My favorite pitcher at the time, the great Shawn Estes... got lit the f*** up.

I'd driven down on my own after failing to convince any friends to join me. I was flying high on the Brian Johnson Kool-Aid, and cocky enough to think I could find a sports stadium without the help of, you know, a map. (Mind you, this was 10 years before the introduction of the Google Maps app.)  Needless to say, when I pulled off I-5 in Downtown San Diego, the game was just getting underway. As I stopped for directions and tuned in to the Padres flagship, Estes was already in trouble, Greg Vaughn was about to have a very good day, and I was about to embark on a journey through the Southern California suburban wilderness...

14 June 2011

Striking a Balance

Over the weekend, when ESPN's Buster Olney reported on high-level talks concerning Major League Baseball realignment scenarios, he touched off a firestorm of debate, discussion, and diatribes that continues to clog up the blogosphere and distract us from the season at hand. I've spent the better part of the past few hours playing catch up on all the assholes — I mean, opinions — out there, swirling around the web like stray pieces of paper in a toilet bowl. Seems like everybody's got one.

In case you've been living under a rock for the past few days — or your cat peed on your cable modem — Buster reported that owners and players are considering a consolidation of MLB into two wide-open 15-team leagues with five playoff spots each. What would that mean, exactly? I'm glad you asked. From my vantage point, we're looking at three major impacts:
  1. Endless Interleague. Balancing the leagues necessitates at least one interleague series to be happening at all times. Good for revenue. Fun for the fans — the ones that still get a kick out of it, anyway. What's the problem? Picture the Giants coming down to the wire for a playoff spot and having to face the Yankees over the final weekend.
  2. Hella Frequent Flyer Miles. Instead of starting from a base of 18 games each against four divisional opponents, I envision a schedule something like this: 10 games each against 14 intraleague opponents and 22 total interleague games (amounting to a home-and-home w/ your "natural" rival and five series against a 4-5 teams additional from the opposite league every year). This means a lot more travel and a lot more sleepless nights for players.
  3. Bonus Baseball. Five playoff teams means an additional round. But you can't squeeze many more games into the postseason without pushing into November every year, and unless you want to see more snow in the World Series, that's not a good idea. So the 4 and 5 seeds in each league duke it out in just the type of winner-take-all match-up Bud Selig alluded to as early as last year. Depending on your opinion of the relative benefits of short series or one-game playoffs, this could be a good or bad thing.
So, what do I think of all this? I'm glad you asked...

07 June 2011

The Un-Naturals

What the hell is lurking in the waters of McCovey Cove? The ghosts of Candlestick Park? Ken Kesey's Kool-Aid? A magical dragon called Huff? Inquiring minds want to know, because this is getting ridiculous. This whole post was going to be about my experiences at the park yesterday and the most inspiring win of the season, but it seems as though every game keeps trumping the last. It's gotten to the point that when birthday boy @JeremyAffeldt drew a walk in the bottom of the 10th, I started laughing uncontrollably. I'd hardly contained myself by the time Freddy "Ballgame" Sanchez ended things with a patented oppo slap job and Chris Stewart had his moment in the afterglow that pervades everything that happens at 3rd and King these days... aside from one quite horrific night.

There is no stat for what the Giants are doing this season. There is no sabermetric that could possibly explain it. How can a team with a run differential of +4 be eight games over .500 and a game ahead of the hottest team in the sport for first place in their division? That's just not natural. And neither is this team. It's like the pennant race and playoff chase of 2010 carried over into spring training and kept right on bucking. If they'd only come all the way back on Opening Day against the #Doyers, you could say it's been a perfect storm that's carried the Giants thus far. No doubt, they've had moments that confound the soul and crush the spirit, this re-united band of fartknockers. But they've had far more that elicit orgasms of joy all across Northern California — and all the way across the country in a Manhattan bar at two in the morning.

27 May 2011

Where have you gone, Gerald Dempsey?

There is no crying in baseball. But there is horror. Pure, unadulterated horror... No matter which player had ended up in a heap at the plate in the 12th inning of Wednesday night's loss to the Marlins, it would have been a horrific sight, a horrific moment, a deafening breach in the veneer of baseball, the gentleman's sport, our national pastime. Indeed, I thought I had gone deaf, as the very soul was sucked out of the crowd in one unconscious gasp, and suddenly you could hear creaking masts on yachts parked in the marina, seagulls in the distance impatiently awaiting their evening feast, water lapping on the shores of McCovey Cove. To say it was quiet in the house just does not do it justice. That is as soft a crowd as has ever graced the stands at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

24 May 2011

Steal this game.

Manny awaits his big moment | Photo by Ash Kalra
So there we were. The 'pen had just blown a 2-0 lead for Jonathan "Dirty" Sanchez, who despite all his demons managed to find the better angels of his nature in yet an other "quality start". Before Jeremy Affeldt could utter "Jesus wept," the misfits were down 4-2, and Gio Gonzalez had re-discovered his best stuff. When you consider the Giants have the second-worst run production in MLB, that's gotta be a "Game Over" scenario, right?

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to what would have been certain defeat even two years ago. Bob Geren lifted Gio during a futile 7th inning rally and turned the game over to the vaunted A's bullpen (#sarcasm), Miguel Tejada got his second (second!) hit of the afternoon, and Nasty Nate Schierholtz from San Ramon Valley got just enough of a mistake on the inner half to launch it into the Arcade just inside the fair pole. Tie game. Two innings later, after a refreshingly dominant performance from Sergio "Heart-Crushing Two-Strike Gopher Ball Victim" Romo, @DarRunFord and his BFF Manny Burriss formed like Black Voltron to send the home team and its spoiled fan base home in hysterics... once again.

07 May 2011

Back to the Torture

Design by Jason Wong | thecitygraphics.com
I began to get the feeling when the unlikeliest of heroes — Aaron Rowand and "Michael" Tejada — got the winning hits on Opening Day and Opening Night respectively. It occurred to me quite often during the wild series with the Doyers by the Cove. And it simmered in my mind throughout the 10-game roadtrip. But it really struck me during the final moments of Thursday's afternoon defeat at the hands of the Metros, particularly the ninth inning rally against the dreaded K-Rod... The 2011 Giants are starting to look an awful lot like the 2010 version.

24 April 2011

You really can't start worrying yet.

Seriously. It's just as reactionary as getting all hyphy 'cause your team jumped out to a hot start. Admit it: If the Giants were cruising through the first few weeks of the season, you'd be all over Twitter and the blog comments talking nonstop smack about how the Boys were on their way to a repeat and y'all better watch out! And if they were barely scraping by like the, ahem, Red Sox Nation, you'd be paging Chicken Little and devising new and exciting ways to kill yourself... slowly. But everybody regresses or progresses to their natural mean at some point. Everybody's gonna win 60 games. Everybody's gonna lose 60 games. It's what you do with the 42 in between that counts.

IMHO, over the 2011 season's first 20 games, the Giants have played 6 of the Middle 42, and they're 4-2 in those games:

09 April 2011

Tiny Miracles

It was like a tiny miracle. After the pomp and the circumstance, after the game ball was presented to the fans, and the flag was presented to the team, and Brian Wilson made his mad dash to the flag poles in center field, and the crowd roared as it was raised into the crisp cobalt blue sky on one of the prettiest San Francisco days you'll ever see...

Like everything else about the 2010 Giants, one of the final codas came together like a fine cocktail or a tasty salsa. As the words of Freddie Mercury rang throughout the park, the air was still over McCovey Cove, and as the music behind the words swelled to a crescendo, and the orchestral choir joined in to sing out "We are the champions!" a breeze caught the banner and set it ablaze in a wash of orange and black, and the words "2010 World Series Champions" unfurled for the 43,000 faithful to admire and enjoy. And we did bask in the glow of the achievement of our baseball-loving lives. And the air smelled sweeter. And the sausages were delicious.

And then, they played a game. I'm not going to bore you with the particulars of the 5-4 epic battle that took place by the shores of San Francisco Bay on April the 8th in the year 2011. I'll leave that to scribes more talented than myself. Like this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. If you want to know what I thought of the game, you can check my Twitter timeline. I will say this: No matter how much we want to ditch the torture idiom, it will always be there for this team. We are not Red Sox Nation. We'll never blow anybody away with our talent on paper. But boy, when this team comes together, they can do just about anything at any given moment. And they did it all yesterday.

I feel kinda bad for Eli Whiteside. Poor dude was the only guy on the 25-man who didn't get into the game. But that happens when you're the backup catcher to the reigning Rookie of the Year. And I have a feeling he was just as keyed up as anyone else in the park. He'll get his chance to contribute to this season's success or failure. Baseball finds everybody on that bench sooner or later, and makes them answer for themselves.

It also finds new ways each and every day to make you turn your head and say to the person next to you, "Damn, I've never seen that before." Case in point: Tonight, we #PutARingOnIt...

05 April 2011

The Wrath of Chavez Ravine

It could have been any of us. I've been going to Giants games at Chavez Ravine for 15 years. I've seen some crazy shit. I've seen enough to keep me from being surprised when things like this happen. It's the cost of doing business when your target market is alcoholic thugs. Yeah, I said it. But they're just words. Much as I'd love to sometimes, I know that it's just not right to crack a Doyers fan over the back of the head and kick him while he's down. It's just not right to shank a guy in the parking lot because he's wearing a different jersey. It's just not right to shoot another man over baseball...

Yet all of this and more has occurred at Doyer Stadium in just the last eight years. And that's not to mention a million tiny slights, thousands of needless confrontations, and hundreds of unprovoked assaults. I've seen the way we treat their fans in our yard. Once, at Candlestick, I saw a Giants fan boo a little girl in a Doyer hat. But I've never seen a 10-year-old Giants fan call a grown woman a "motherfucker" and flip her off while his father cracked a prideful grin. Yet that happened to my friend on Thursday night, the same night Bryan Stow was beaten, dropped, and kicked until he was thoroughly broken.

26 March 2011

Butch's 2011 Fantasy Draft Recap

Since I came back to fantasy baseball in 2007 after a twelve hear hiatus, I've had one semi-successful season and three straight clunkers. I've never been last, but I've never been first. I seem condemned to meddle in the middle. Why I find myself perpetually pursuing the prize is a matter of mere inertia as I truly don't have the time to mull over statistics and projections, let alone prepare a draft strategy contingent upon the rules and players in my particular league. But though I might lament my luck and I'm out more than a few hard-earned bucks, this little experiment has proven to be a healthy diversion from the more mundane aspects of my daily routine.

My preparation for this season's draft was virtually nonexistent and anecdotal at best. I watch enough of the MLB Network to have at least a peripheral knowledge of nearly every team in the league. I read enough Twitter posts to know who's out with a calf strain and who's suffering from mono. But mostly, I play it by feel. I like scrappy players, guys with a variety of talents, maybe not the best players on paper, but with the heart to make them stars. I also like players who fit the team name for the year. With that, I give you Team Tiger Blood:

12 March 2011

The "Daily" 140: Cost of Doing Business

From @ButchHusky, 3:07 PM, 11 March 2011:
Quick poll of #STH tweeps: Did you pay the $400 in advance for all the 2011 promotional items? #sfgiants #bobblehead #wearableblanket
Inflation is a part of sports fanaticism. A small shift in the price of beef, and ten transactions later, we're paying $7 for something that only cost 25¢ to produce. For season ticket holders, it's just business as usual. Every year, we pay a little bit more for tickets, a little bit more for beer, a little bit more for garlic fries...

You'd like to think that winning a title would make your team magnanimous — and they've rewarded us with early entry to FanFest and special dates with #SFGTrophy. But we're also paying a few hundred bucks more for our ducats. We'll be rewarded with on-field celebrations and another great season of Giants baseball, but for a guy like me who's not exactly a Rockefeller, it'd be nice if they used this unique opportunity to cut us a break.

25 February 2011

The "Daily" 140: Second Time Around?

From @ButchHusky, 2:24 PM, 24 Feb 2011:
I'm not saying #SFGiants won't repeat, but any rational person would recognize it's a long shot no matter what the roster looks like.
Like many of us, I've been riding high on the wings of a long-awaited championship. Cold winter months watching Hot Stove on repeat and pouring over PECOTA have yielded dynastic visions of grandeur. This is natural, and not wholly unexpected. I've often pondered how I'd react to a Giants World Series title. Would I shake the rawhide monkey off my back and snap back to reality? Or would I invest myself even more in this beautiful, pastoral sinkhole of hopes and aspirations we call baseball? To date, the latter has been the case — sometimes to an obnoxious extent. But as the season slowly encroaches, I'm humbled by recent MLB history and reserving my excitement for the return of the game and an opportunity for los Gigantes to prove 2010 was far from a fluke just by cracking October again.

23 February 2011

The "Daily" 140: Mythbusting at McCovey Cove

From @ButchHusky, 1:30 PM, 22 Feb 2011:
Maybe we could broadcast that to the Adam LaRoche's of the league. RT @PoseidonsFist: AT&T is more neutral than people think. #sfgiants


A Twitter-sation with Purple Row blogger Andrew Fisher yesterday prompted me to re-examine a myth that players, coaches, and fans have propagated over the decade since the Giants moved to 24 Willie Mays Plaza: that conditions at our ballpark unfairly penalize hitters and reward pitchers. A quick Google search led me to a site called Park Factors. Their analysis puts AT&T in the middle of the pack, much friendlier to hitters than Petco, and far kinder to pitchers than Coors. If you’re hungry for more, my colleagues at Triples Alley did some wonderful analysis last summer in response to fan concerns.

Long story short: While the Cove certainly doesn’t give batters any breaks, there are few parks in MLB that compare with ours in terms of equity, and we, the fans, should use this as a point of pride.

22 February 2011

The "Daily" 140: An Open Letter to Mat Latos

As a way of reconciling my day job and inordinate amount of extracurricular activities with my desire to regularly wax philosophical in this space, I've come up with a fun challenge for myself: Take one of my numerous daily tweets of 140 characters or less and convert it to a blog of 140 words or less.

If it catches on (and I keep it up), I'll make it a permanent fixture of the blog. If not, who cares? It's on the Internet. I'll just try something else.

So, without further ado, here's today's tweet of inspiration...
Dear Mat, Because you've gone from throwing balls at coaches to playing pranks w/ @HeathBell21 does not mean you've matured. Love, Butch (10:36 AM, 2/21)
...and my 140-word rewrite:

An Open Letter to Mat Latos

Dear Mat,

I caught an intriguing headline from @SportingNews on Monday, so I followed the link and read this little yarn about your personal growth with help from practical jokes with Heath Bell. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Anthony Witrado didn't find this tidbit as part of his obviously extensive research for the SN story. I'll also assume Mr. Witrado didn't catch this little nugget from late in the 2010 season.

I encourage you to celebrate overcoming the trials of youth that provoked you to hurl baseballs at opposing coaches and throw temper tantrums on the mound. Take pride in a tremendous MLB debut season, even if it didn’t end how you hoped. Then, suck it up, bite your tongue, and play ball. 5,000 Padres fans are counting on you.

Love,
Butch

14 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #1: Aubrey Huff, Baddass

I sing the song of Aubrey Huff, the last man in our countdown and the first Giant in our hearts. What can be said about a guy who spent nine years on last or second-to-last place teams only to find his niche and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in San Francisco, wearing a red thong for the Orange and Black? Sitting down and writing this, it seems fitting that Aubrey Huff should be rounding out this trip down Memory Lane. I think back a few years to when I first started hearing his name and the Giants paired in the same sentence. He was on Sabean's radar for a while, and it's not difficult to understand why. His red ass nature fits right in with the mentality of this entire organization. Right down to the very last one of us fans, the Giants are one bitter bunch, but a barrel of laughs nonetheless. So a lanky, goofy, aging country ballplayer makes perfect sense as the team spokesperson/motivational speaker/practical joker/heart and soul.

I didn't know what to think when we finally acquired Huff off the free agent wire. It wasn't a bad signing by our standards. One year, three mil. And it made sense for a guy his age with diminishing numbers. At the worst, he was a stop gap until either the market opened up or talent revealed itself in the farm system. And while Brandon Belt proved he's on the cusp of making an impact in the Show, it says a lot that the front office brought Huff back around for two more years (at least) and gave him a sizable raise in the process. He was the unquestioned Leader of the Misfit Pack, the King of the Red Asses, the Elder of the Tribe. On a team that's grown noticeably younger with every passing year, Aubrey Huff was a steadying fatherly influence, the guy who scraped rock bottom and only wanted to drink from the keg of glory. And he led not only in word but in deed.

Throughout the season, the Giants offense was anchored around Huff in the middle of the lineup. He bounced around a bit at the beginning and end of the season, as Bruce Bochy struggled to find the winning formula, but on this team, there was no one else with the power or consistency to fill that void at the heart of the order. He took a long time getting off the home run schnide, but when he did, it was in spectacular fashion. And when he hit taters, he hit them in bunches. When former U of Miami teammate Pat Burrell joined the Giants in June, you could see the lift that it gave Huff after months of carrying the team. Consequently, his July was one to remember, as the Giants went 19-9 and Huff hit .367 with a 1.115 OPS, 8 HR, 6 2B, and 23 RBI.

But he struggled mightily in August, and with his team on the ropes, the clubhouse clown knew he needed to inject some life into his teammates. So he did it the only way he knew how. By now, we're all well aware of the Giants little good luck charm that inspired a 20-10 record down the stretch that — combined with an epic Padres brain fart that, let's face it, was pretty much a regression to the mean for that bunch — led the San Francisco version of the New York Gothams to a National League West title and an eventual World Series Championship. If for the Rally Thong alone, Aubrey Huff deserves a place in Giants lore alongside Lefty O'Doul and the Crazy Crab. But for his comprehensive contributions to the Season Which Will Live In Infamy, I think he gets a statue. The only question is what he'll be wearing when he sits for the sculptor.

Thanks, Aubrey.
...

So that's it. 42 players in 28 days. My love letter to the Team of Destiny. Now, it's on to 2011 and the beginning of our title defense. Bring it, Philly...

13 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #2: Pablo Sandoval, 3B

I sing the song of Pablo Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda, the loveable rolly polly ball of athletic goo, who flew high as a kite in 2009 and came crashing back to earth in 2010, but never lost his smile along the way. The Giants haven't sent a homegrown position player to the All-Star Game since Matt Williams in 2006 — prior to 2010, the last time the National League won the Midsummer Night's Classic Type Thing. But we came awful close in the Summer of '09, and with good reason. The day baseball exhaled for the All-Star Break, Panda was hitting .333 with an OPS of .964. He had 102 hits, 24 doubles, 15 homers, and 55 RBI. He was in the top 10 of every offensive statistical category that didn't involve speed. But as a virtually unknown sophomore hot corner man playing on the edge of the world at McCovey Cove, he didn't win enough Brownie points with coaches or voters to merit an invite, despite our best efforts.

That didn't deter the Panda from lighting up the National League in the second half, nearly lifting the Giants to a Wild Card berth through the will of his generous spirit. He was just as good by the numbers after the break, hitting .327 with a slightly slimmer .919 OPS, 20 doubles, 10 dingers, and 35 RBI. But you could see his waistline beginning to expand, and in a bitter dose of irony, his regression began during his All-Star vacation, when he returned to Venezuela and pigged out on mama's home cooking. Any serious eater knows what it's like when you swell your gut with goodness and don't keep feeding the beast. You get the feeling that your stomach is eating itself. You're hungry all the time, even after an average-sized meal. You start to snack. A lot. You cut back on time spent keeping track of your body, and eventually, your body betrays you.

Panda's body betrayed him in the Spring of 2010, when he very easily could have lost his job to Mark DeRosa, had the latter not taken an early trip to the D.L. He came out of the gates hot, and all the banter was about his eyesight, which allegedly was much-improved by offseason corrective surgery. Oh, those were the times, when we talked about the dude's eyes. But once he started flailing at anything anywhere near the plate, once he couldn't catch up to the high fastball, once those five-hole shots started getting by his glove which had been so money, we all knew something was up, and like a trending topic on Twitter, Pablo's gut became Public Enemy Number One. And there was no letting up on the topic the remainder of the season.

It got so bad at one point, KNBR callers were demanding Bochy and Sabean send the kid back to Fresno to "wake him up." Meanwhile, fans on the opposite end of the fringe were spending the summer thinking every two-hit game, every home run, every run-scoring double was the end of the slump, the beginning of the Return of the Panda. But the sequel never came out. Hell, the damn thing never even made it to the editing room. Pablo had a very decent August (.312, .907, 6 HR, 16 RBI) but fell completely off the map in September (.207, .576, 1 HR, 4 RBI) to the point that he was benched more often than not down the stretch. He ceded playing time to Mike Fontenot and later Juan Uribe in the postseason, but when he wasn't in the game, he was never far from the top step. If you watch each of the four on-field celebrations, he's right there in the first wave to hit Brian Wilson each and every time.

There's no telling what had a greater impact on Sandoval's under-performance in 2010 (whether his eyes where bigger than his stomach). And while we can't go inside his head to see through his peepers, the things we can see portend of very good things indeed. Let's hope he keeps it off. Nothing less than the Giants' chances of another postseason run hang in the balance of one man's scale.

Thanks, Panda.

Countdown to Scottsdale #3: Juan Uribe, IF

I sing the song of Juan Uribe, second cousin of José, also known as UUU! RIBE!, the only man I've ever seen do a bat flip after connecting on a sacrifice fly, a good Giant once, but a Giant no more. Remember the looks on the faces of Philly phans when Juan's lawn dart eeked over the right field wall for an Oppo Taco? Like somebody ralphed on their cheesesteaks. Like they just shat themselves thinking about the season of their dreams being undone by this career reserve infielder who'd rediscovered himself with the Orange and Black. I really had to feel for them. We all should feel for them. You and me, we've been there, right? But there are two truths to this situation: 1. Philly got their title in 2008, everything else this decade will be gravy from a long-term perspective; and 2. Juan Uribe was preordained to hit that dinger.

"Jazz Hands" was an anomaly. He was a freak of nature. There won't be any way of knowing before Opening Day if the uniform gave him a lift. But I like to think that Jose's spirit seeped into the No. 5 jersey over the past two years, and found its way into Juan. His overall numbers won't show it, but every one of his 24 homers and 24 doubles in 2010 seemed to come in a clutch situation, and each of his 85 RBI seemed to win a game. He filled the void left by Pablo Sandoval's regression (and expansion), which could have sunk a lesser team with a shallower bench. Brian Sabean assembled quite the ragtag band of misfits, but he didn't splurge in any one area — beyond the obvious, ahem, Zito, ahem. He spread the payroll and built a very deep team around a killer pitching staff. And when it was time for them to shine, they all did, each in his own way.

Juan Uribe's entire raison d'etre as a Giant seemed to be to disrupt the confidence of the other team, to discourage the opposition with tomahawk chop, yuckadoo swings that either sent balls flying into the bleachers or into the stands directly behind the plate. He truly has no two-strike adjustment, swinging just as hard 0-2 as he does 2-0. And we may never know if he's allowed to swing away at 3-0 because he hardly ever gets that deep into an at bat. If there's any one thing that Miguel Tejada can replicate for the 2011 Post-Uribe Giants, it's that intensity. But his impeccable timing may prove difficult to match. We can only hope Juan doesn't come around to stick his jazz hands up our behinds like Rick Vaughn in the heat of a pennant race.

The day Uribe signed with the Hated Ones for just a few dollars more than the Giants were willing to offer over a slightly longer time period, I tweeted a good baseball friend: "I'm going to miss is our call and response." See, whenever Juan yanked one into the cheap seats, I'd unleash a joyous @ tweet to him: "UUUUUU!" and he'd respond in kind with "RIBE!". It started around mid-season and became a little tradition. A few minutes later, my friend tweeted back: "I guess we'll have to find another player to obsess over." Brandon Belt, anyone?

Thanks, UUU! RIBE!!!

12 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #4: Andrés Torres, OF

I sing the song of Andrés Torres, who resurrected his career in the orange and black, and left it all on the field — including his appendix — as the Giants made their run to Left Coast immortality. I had a dream last night that the Giants hadn't re-signed the 2010 Willie Mac Award winner, and he'd just inked a two-year deal with the Mets. Needless to say, I had a panic attack and woke in a cold sweat to the comforting reality that Andrés is indeed on contract to play at McCovey Cove this season. Why do I bother to bring this up? I mean, this ain't no place for me to work out my personal affairs...

Well, the thing is, after I woke up and went to sit on the shitter for a minute, I got to wondering: would the same dream about any other player outside of the Golden Children of the starting rotation give me the same amount of willies? Truth is, I don't know. The common perception is that the 2010 Giants were greater than the sum of their parts, that everybody overachieved at the right time and all the pieces fell into place and whatever other cliché you can think of that basically says each player played an equal part in the team's success. Well, what if the magic juice the Giants drank right around September 1st of last year all came from the same cup? And what if that cup had a big ol' Mr. T necklace?

If you've ever seen Andrés Torres give a postgame interview, you know it's all about love. He loves his teammates. He loves the fans. Most of all, he loves baseball, and it shows on the field. Nobody works harder. Nobody runs harder. Nobody plays the field with more reckless abandon. He truly is the Gazelle in centerfield, gracefully gliding between the Water Buffaloes to the spot where he anticipates the ball will come down, stopping on a dime, and depositing every scorching liner in the webbing of his mitt. In 2010, he was the ultimate five-tooler at the top of the lineup — .268, .823 OPS, 56 BB, 26 SB in 570 PAs, 1 error and 7 assists in the field — and he started the year on the bench! Not only that, he's got one lovely wife. If I was him, I probably would've stolen the mic from Jon Miller at the championship rally, too. "Thank you for coming to Andrés Torres' wife's birthday party!"

When he went down with a ruptured appendix in September, I ragged on him a bit. I have a real problem with athletes taking the "tough guy" mentality way too far. Playing through pain is one thing when you've got a bruised rib or a hip pointer or any manner of injury you can't treat other than by getting all hopped up on pain meds. But to put off a trip to the ER when your gut is on fire for two weeks straight is sheer lunacy. Yes, it all worked out in the finish. Andres got better and came around just in time to help the Giants win a little thing called the World Series, but it could have been much, much worse... You can talk about "manning up" all you want. If it was me, and my life depended on my ability to play baseball at the height of my talent, I'd be getting every hang nail checked out. But hey, that's me.

Then again, if I were Andrés Torres, and I'd spent three years of my life out of Major League Baseball, kicking around god knows where in the Minor Leagues — well, thanks to B-R, we know he was in Oklahoma, Rochester, Erie, Toledo, Iowa, Arizona, and San Jose — I might be afraid to do anything that might change the roll I was on in 2010. Who knows what can happen when you go to the doctor? Maybe you find out something you didn't care to know, or maybe something you knew all along but couldn't define. I've got a fear of medical offices and hospitals. Had it all my life, really. So I understand where the dude's coming from. But even I'm know enough to recognize when the pain ain't going away... Oh well, what doesn't kill you makes you stranger, right?

Gracias, Andrés.

11 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #5: Nate Schierholtz, RF

I sing the song of Nate Schierholtz, Bay Area native, lifelong Giants fan, victim of premature balding, and one of the finest defensive right fielders to ever work the grass at McCovey Cove. If he could only prove that he can hit a lick, he might actually make a name for himself in this league. Nate lost the starting RF job to John Bowker before the team broke camp in Scottsdale, and he never stayed on the horse long enough to win it back, even after Bowker proved he was miscast as an everyday solution. He had a good run from mid-April to mid-May, including a 5-for-5 performance in the infamous "Jayson Werth Bloop Double" game and a 3-for-3 night in South Florida, complete with one of his three dingers on the year. But Nate truly excelled as a pinch hitter, hitting a cool .310 with a .911 OPS and six walks in 35 PAs, compared to .232/.640 in 217 PAs as a right fielder. These numbers — and his lefty bat — likely triggered his inclusion on the postseason roster. He didn't see a lot of playing time, but he got a start in the World Series, and he got a ring. So, not too shabby.

Fan trivia: Nate and former Giant Randy Winn attended the same East Bay high school. Name it. (Answer at the end of this blog.)

I can't help but rep for the local boys, the hometown heroes, the Kevin Frandsens who fulfill their childhood dreams of playing for the Orange and Black — with varying degrees of success. As such, I was an early fan of Nate Schierholtz. I remember watching "Nasty Nate" take BP at AT&T back in 2007. He was raking balls up Triples Alley, slamming them off the brick archways under the arcade (message!), going the opposite way, even plunking a few into the drink. In short, he was spraying the field. I turned to the friend I was with and said, "That kid's gonna be something." I didn't say what, when, or for whom, so I'm holding out hope that my projection — while it's far from PECOTA-worthy — will one day come to fruition. Until then, I'm just happy he got to be a part of the torture in 2010.

Thanks, Nate.

(Trivia answer: San Ramon Valley High — If you got it right, you win my undying love and respect. It's all I have to give.)

Countdown to Scottsdale #6: Travis Ishikawa, 1B

I sing the song of Travis Ishikawa, who's tried his very best to crack the everyday lineup at first base, but whose very best has never been quite good enough. To me, "Hapa" is that quintessential Quadruple-A talent, the kind the Giants have specialized in producing over the past 20-odd years of building teams around Barry Bonds (and recently around a top-flight pitching staff): not quite ready for prime time, but too talented to send back down to Fresno. When you watch him take BP, you wonder when he's going to have a breakout 30-homer year, then you watch him in game situations and stop wondering. Despite his failings in the batter's box, he's always been stout with a glove, and he's never lacked for passion, though at times his passion for Jesus seems to outweigh his passion for baseball.

Fans will recall the occasional postgame interview in which young Travis thanked the Good Lord for helping that ball he hit in the seventh inning carry over the wall. Now, I have no beef with Jesus, but my problems with organized religion stem from the notion that Jesus or Allah or Buddha help us to accomplish great things in our everyday lives. We hear athletes say this shit all the time: "First and foremost, I just want to thank God for giving me the strength to win this game." I've never heard something so patently ridiculous. The truth is: WE are in charge. We make our own decisions. We are responsible for our own accomplishments. When you hit a home run or score a touchdown or redirect a corner into the back of the old onion bag — that's YOU doing it. YOU worked hard your whole life to put yourself in position to make that play at that moment in that game.

So, Travis et al., please take ownership, have a little pride, be a little cocky. It's okay. This is professional sports. The fans will forgive you. And when it comes down to it, ego makes you a better player. Waiting for Jesus to make you great is like waiting for Godot: He ain't coming, so you best get on with it.

Okay, off my soap box...

Travis entered 2010 well aware that he would be filling a niche role. With Aubrey Huff on board to man first base, Hapa's options were pretty much limited to pinch hitting and late-inning defensive upgrades. And to his credit, he embraced these options like a true professional. He never complained, never waffled, never tanked a play. He was an invaluable member of this squad, as evidenced by his position in this countdown — which is determined by games played. When Aubrey Huff did a stint in left field in July, Travis had a chance to pick up a few starts, and he excelled, hitting nearly .300 for the month. When it came time to set the postseason roster, Travis was on the bubble, but his spot was never really in doubt. He even got to start at first base in a World Series game.

Perhaps that will end up being the high point of Hapa's career — or maybe just his career with the Giants. But even if it does, he'll always be able to show off his ring and tell you how Jesus helped him win a championship.

Thanks, Travis.

10 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #7: Freddy Sanchez, 2B

I sing the song of Freddy Sanchez, who fought his way through injury and ineffectiveness to have a standout 2/3rds of a season and a solid October for the eventual World Series Champions. After beginning the season on the DL following a pair of surgeries on his barking knee, Freddy made his 2010 debut for the Giants exactly 10 days before Buster Posey. The Orange and Black promptly lost five games in a row, including a brutal 3-game sweep in Oakland at the hands of the San José Athletics. Freddy hit a measly .211 over that stretch. But I'm happy to report the season got better — for Freddy as well as the Giants. Less than a month later, he was working on a cool .340 BA and an errorless streak that would stretch deep into the season, and the Giants were on their way to the most torturous championship in sports history.

The saga that's plagued Freddy Sanchez since the days leading up to his trade to the Giants in the weird and wicked Summer of '09 is not unlike a Shakespearean tragicomedy. It began with the grumblings about his knee. Over eight and a half years in the bigs, Freddy had never spent an extended amount of time out of commission, steering clear of everything this side of a hang nail. But as the trade deadline loomed, grumblings began to surface about the phantom injury holding him back in the field. No matter how persistent the rumors, it looked like the deal might not get done, despite the Giants' gaping vacancy at the 4-spot.

But a couple days later, after a series of tests and tweaks and trials, the Giants' doctors declared him fit for trade, and Freddy made a long, emotional walk from one clubhouse to the other at AT&T Park. In a flash of a few minutes, he left behind the only franchise he'd ever known, and the break was hard to reconcile. You just don't see professional athletes tear up very often unless they're writhing in pain or thanking their mom during a postgame interview. The fact that Freddy did under this circumstance speaks to his sense of loyalty and his respect for a Pirates team that was loyal to him despite posting losing records year after year after year. It speaks to his character.

It took a lot of character to fight through the roller coaster ride of surgery and doubt and more surgery and obfuscation and a little "Why the hell did we trade away Tim Alderson, anyway? Wasn't he supposed to be the future?" and a healthy dose of the Gary Radnich special: "Who IS this guy, and why should I care?" It takes the kind of character you need to overcome a childhood like Freddy Sanchez had. Once you hear this guy's story, it's hard not to care. It's hard not to root for him, to marvel at him, with all his imperfections, a Major League ballplayer champion.

When Freddy flew into second base with his third double in Game 1 of the World Series, I was on my feet to salute him before he could brush the dirt off his uniform. I don't know how many of the 43,000-plus in the house that night knew that this man with the funky moles and ill-fitting baggy uniform was born with a club foot. I don't know if it matters, either. No matter what kinda water has flowed under his bridge in the past, this guy is just plain fun to watch. He plays the game with the passion it takes to be truly good at this level. He's the first to admit he won't win any style points doing it, but I don't care if you're sexy. I don't even care if you look good. I only care if you win. And so should you.

Thanks, Freddy.

09 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #8: Buster Posey, C/1B

I sing the song of Gerald "Buster" Posey, who came to the Giants as a man and became something greater: a hero. Together with Tim Lincecum, Gerald "Buster" Posey constitutes what I'm gonna guess is the only Golden Spikes battery in the history of the game. That is to say, they're the only pitcher-catcher tandem to have both been named college baseball's Player of the Year. Over 63 games in 2008, Buster hit .463 for the Florida State Seminoles with 29 home runs and 93 RBI. He had 119 hits and walked 57 times. He struck out 29 times. That's very nearly a 2-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio. And not only did he don the mask and manage the FSU pitching staff, he was the team's star closer. One day, the dude played all nine positions in a single game. I shit you not.

How Buster Posey slipped to the Giants at 5th in the draft is just as much of a mystery to me as the rationale that caused six GMs to pass on Tim Lincecum in favor of another pitcher. Scanning the interwebs, I recognize all of the names above "Posey, Gerald" on the list of Draft Class '08. But I'll be damned if any of them have made an impact on his big league club like this tall stack of ballplayer from Leesburg, GA. He didn't exactly light up the scoreboard during his cup-a-joe stint in September of '09, but 17 ABs is not much of a sample size, and there wasn't much room for him in the regular rotation with the Giants chasing the Rockies for a playoff berth and Bengie Molina still somewhat decent with a bat. But it was a look, a chance for him to get acclimated with the feel of a pennant race. I have to think that came in handy in 2010.

Speaking of the Year of Our Blessed Contendedness, Buster never had much chance of making the 25-man roster on Opening Day. Right around the time Molina signed on for another season — after failing to coax a sufficient multi-year deal from the Metros — you knew the Golden Child would be starting the season in the Central Valley. But once Bengie came out of the gates struggulin', you also knew it was only a matter of time before a change of the guard would occur. That change began on May 29th when Buster debuted — at first base — and went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI. It ended on July 1, when Molina was traded to the Rangers for Chris Ray. The next day, Buster had two hits including a home run in a Giants loss. The next day, he collected two more hits, back at first base while Eli Whiteside caught Timmy. All he did for the month of July was hit .417 with an OPS of 1.165, 7 HR, and 24 RBI. The rest, as they say, is history.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, the Giants love their Golden Spikes winners — Pat Burrell and Will Clark are a couple other examples. In an age when everybody's looking to go young and draft high school studs they can sign for a modest sum and mold from start to finish, it's good to see a club put a premium on mature, educated, cultured collegiate players. Yes, Matt Cain was a high schooler when the Giants plucked him out of Tennessee, but Shotgun is an old soul. This is a good character team as much as a team of good characters. And despite his mild-mannered Clark-Kent-ian demeanor, Buster Posey fits right in.

Of all the wonderful moments from Buster's first (almost) full season in the Show, I can actually point to one that stands out to me more than all the others. On October 3rd, in Game 162, Buster stepped to the plate in the 8th with the Giants up 2-0 on the Padres and the N.L. West title hanging in the balance. He took an 0-1 mistake from Luke Gregerson and planted it into the first row of the left field bleachers... As he rounded first, Buster pumped his fist in the air, then brought it down tentatively, as if he were embarrassed by this display of emotion... It's that passion, mixed with humility and an unteachable opposite-field approach, that tells me this guy will never have a "down" year. He's gonna be real good for a real long time, and for the next five to six years at least, he'll be making the Giants real good, too.

Thanks, Gerald.

08 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #9: Aaron Rowand, CF

I sing the song of Aaron Rowand, the guy who makes you cringe just by squaring up in the batter's box and manages to make matters worse more often than not by engaging in a seemingly endless run of futility as a Giant. There are players who deserve $60M contracts, and then there's Aaron Rowand. As one of the true "gamers" in the Show today, I doubt even he would find a reason to disagree, other than the fact that Brian Sabean and the top brass put the offer on the table in the first place. You're only as good as your next paycheck, right? Of course, in the case of Mr. Rowand, that next paycheck comes every two weeks for five long years, and for one bright, shining moment, he was worth every penny to this club. Like many of you, I'm still struggling to fathom why.

Okay, enough playa hating. Let's point out his bright spots...

Okay, enough bright spots... But seriously, it's not like the guy's been a total waste of space. None of us will soon forget his catch to preserve the penultimate out of Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter. And of course, there was his late inning shot to give the Giants a come-from-ahead-from-behind victory at Citi Field in May 2010. Without any one regular season victory, the eventual World Series Champions would have been playing golf in October. Thus, it could be said without stuttering that without Aaron Rowand, the Giants would not have claimed the Commissioner's Trophy.

We may be stuck with his ridiculous No. 2 batting stance for another two years — unless the Yankees suddenly have a need for an aging centerfielder who can't hit a slider — and his stat line may have fallen off in each of the past three. But all the while, the man has never complained or showed visible signs of frustration, even as his playing time diminished along with his stats. Whatever the damage to his pride, he kept it to himself, and there is much to be said for that level of professionalism. If class alone were enough to ensure victory, this guy could beat entire teams all by his lonesome. Unfortunately for him, there's a bit more to it than that.

Thanks, Aaron.

Countdown to Scottsdale #10: Pat Burrell, OF

I sing the song of Pat Burrell, my high school classmate (well, one year older), with whom I shared the joys of On the Road, who came to his boyhood team by a circuitous route no doubt preordained by the baseball gods, bruised, beaten, languishing, and managed to resurrect his career for the Orange and Black. Yes, he had one of the roughest World Series you're ever gonna see, but for two weeks in the dog days of summer, "Pat the Bat" could do no wrong. That was when he had game winning RBI in four of eight Giants victories and drove in runs in seven of those games, carrying his team through one of the roughest patches of their season. It began on a warm Saturday at the end of July, when Pat connected for a two-run home run off Jonathan Broxton to lift the G's to a crucial comeback win at the Cove over the Hated Ones from Los Angeles...

It was the day Pat Burrell truly became a Giant. I was there with a friend. Our season ticket neighbor had traded us a pair of seats in the 12th row of ol' 104 so a couple of her buddies could sit with her for the game. We'd enjoyed the sun and almost nonexistent offense for a few innings when a mutual friend texted us to join him on the suite level. Little did we know, we'd received a last-second invite to a fundraiser in the AT&T suite. There we were, surrounded by hot dogs and garlic fries, popcorn and taquitos, and bummed out of our minds because Casey Blake had just cracked one off an otherwise sharp Barry Zito to put the Doyers up 1-nil in the 7th. My friend and I were drowning our sorrows in Coors Light when the heart of the Giants' order came up in the 8th, the weight of another one-run defeat waiting in the wings.

Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff were dispatched rather quickly, and it was left to Buster Posey — starting at 1B that day — to keep the inning alive. Well, Gerald did as Gerald does. He kept the inning alive. He had to get hit by a pitch to do it, but it got the job done and brought up Burrell. Joe Torre responded by bringing in Broxton. Pat worked the count full before he got his pitch, and boy, he didn't miss. In point of fact, he nailed the crap out of it. It was only in the air for about 1.8 seconds, and for the first 1.7, I don't think any of the 42,000-plus in the seats (and standing room) thought it was going out. Certainly over Podsednik's head, double off the wall, probably score Posey who was running on the pitch — but gone? Well, talk to everybody's favorite bleacher bum, "Dog". Pretty sure he caught it a foot above the wall.

Delirium. Insanity. Pure, unadulterated joy. There is no other way to describe that moment, the moment I almost fell to my death from the AT&T suite. To be sure, Pat had a tremendous year after Sabean pulled him off the scrap heap in Arizona. (I can't help but think Sabes was following my tweets at the time.) And it was thrilling to watch him enjoy the Giants' epic run alongside his longtime friend and college drinking buddy, Aubrey Huff, like a couple kids who never grew up — even though they've both got me by a year. But for my money, nothing beats the afternoon of July 31, 2010. Because in that moment, I didn't care that Pat was once a jock douchebag who used to talk shit about Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. All I cared about was the uniform he wore, the name emblazoned on his chest, and the stake he drove through the heart of the blue demons.

Thanks, Pat.

07 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #11: Édgar Rentería, SS

I sing the song of Édgar Rentería, who hit the single most memorable home run in San Francisco Giants history — yeah, I said it — and decided a million bucks wasn't enough of a reward. I was prepared to laud the talents of Mr. Rentería, to speak of his career consistency and professional approach, to comment on his impressive postseason résumé, to lionize his 2010 World Series performance as one of a kind. But he's only one man, and nobody was bigger than this team, even Édgar Rentería. And as clearly as I will recall his exploits for the Orange and Black until my dying day, I can't discount the manner in which he left the club, especially because it is fresher in the mind.

Brian Sabean brought Rentería to San Francisco in 2009 to fill the void left by Omar Vizquel, who filled the void left by Rich Aurilia, who filled the void left by Royce Clayton, who filled the void left by Jose Uribe. The intervening years brought all manner of character actors to the Giants' shortstop position. But these were the household names. These were the heroes. I'd be surprised to learn that any of you thought of Édgar as a hero prior to the Fall Classic. He was overpaid, but that wasn't his fault. He spent more time on the disabled list than off, which was partly his fault. And he never seemed to regain the form he once had in the field or with the bat, which was entirely his fault — his and Father Time's. But that doesn't mean he lacked for moments of brilliance. In fact, prior to 11/1/10, Edgar was responsible for three of the most exhilarating home runs of the past two seasons:
  1. his sweep-inducing grand slam against the Rockies in late August 2009;
  2. his tying two-run jack on Opening Day 2010 at the Cove against the Braves; and
  3. his blast off C.J. Wilson to break a scoreless tie in Game 2 of the World Series.
And it doesn't mean fans should blame him for his ridiculous contract. Besides, there ain't one among us who'd turn away that kind of cheese. But it's understandable to hate on the way he brushed aside the Giants' more-than-respectful offer to close out his career with the defending World Series Champions. And the fact that the Reds were dumb enough to best their offer only proves the power of the brain trust in Cincinnati. It also serves as just another stark reminder of the realities of the game.
 
As some of you might've seen on every MLB highlight reel since the turn of the millennium, Édgar Renteria won the 1997 World Series for the upstart Florida Marlins with an RBI single. This was a couple weeks after the Fish dispatched the N.L West Champion Giants in a three-up, three-down NLDS. (Remember Brian Johnson?) 13 years later, a few more of you probably saw him win the 2010 World Series for the Giants with a three-run home run off Cliff Lee in Game 5. Life's very cyclical, and you never seem to get pristine examples of it like you do in baseball. I suppose it has something to do with the nature of the game. After all, what is it but running in circles? But sometimes, the cycles take a long time coming 'round.

Thanks, Édgar.

06 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #12: Brian Wilson, RP

I sing the song of Brian Wilson, a true character of the modern game and one of the most dominant closers in recent memory. He's been an enigma since he first arrived in the Show, from his thunderous '06 debut to his forgettable '07 spring to his triumphant '08 return. By the time he's done, he could be regarded as the franchise's finest ninth inning specialist. He took a gargantuan leap into Giants lore in 2010 by delivering the final outs of Game 162, the NLDS, the NLCS, and the World Series — almost all of them on strikeouts. There won't be a montage of Giants highlights from now until the end of time that does not include his two-armed gesture of reverence and victory. For that reason alone, it's obvious why this man has become the second face of the franchise alongside Big Time Timmy Jim. In fact, judging by the response from 43,000 strong at this year's FanFest, B-Weezy's surpassed everybody's favorite stoner as the No. 1 Fan Favorite Giant — with a bullet.

He's not perfect, but no closer ever is. There are nights when it seems as though he's deliberately nibbling around the strike zone to set up a bases-loaded, no-out situation which he then proceeds to escape with a strikeout and a double play grounder. But there are just as many days when he blows through the side on nine pitches, and the other eight guys in orange and black may as well have left their gloves in the dugout. From September to November of 2010, it seemed like every appearance went like that for Wilson. He carried the bullpen through the season's final weeks and was out-of-control good in the postseason, saving seven of his team's 11 victories without allowing a run and striking out 16 in 11.2 innings. His only blemish was the Alex Gonzalez double that tied Game 2 of the LDS against the Braves. But that mess was created by Sergio Romo.

From the time he took over the full-time closer role to begin the 2008 season, Wilson has consistently improved, and at the ripe age of 27, he's peaking as he enters the prime of his career. The 24th-round draft pick out of LSU who fought his way back from Tommy John surgery in his first professional season has bettered his numbers in every significant statistical category over the past three seasons. Of course, I'm ignoring what might be considered the "true test" of a closer's metal: saves and blown saves. But like wins and losses, sometimes these aren't within a closer's control. Often, they're more of a byproduct of timing than anything else. In 2010, Wilson had impeccably good timing. His 48 saves tied the franchise record set by "Shooter" Rod Beck. And in a display of the class that tends to get overlooked in analysis of his eccentricities, he said he was proud and humbled to share the record with a Giants legend.

There have been any number of commentaries on Weezy as a pop culture phenomenon, written by bloggers and scribes more eloquent and witty than I. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, do a Google search for "Brian Wilson, machine" or "Brian Wilson, beard" or — most enlightening — "Brian Wilson, sea captain". He's the guy who coined the phrases "Too Much Awesome" (in reference to his epic orange Nike cleats), "Nailed It" (in reference to the World Series championship), and "Delicious" (in reference to just about everything). When he returned to Twitter after a nearly two-year hiatus, he amassed 20,000 followers within 12 hours. His tweets receive a level of attention normally reserved for the likes of Barack Obama and Lady Gaga.  

Asked his thoughts as he stood on the mound in Arlington with one strike to Nelson Cruz standing between the Giants and their first World Series title in 56 years, here's what Brian Wilson said:

"I was thinking, 'San Francisco deserves this,' My final pitch is for all the legends of the game in San Francisco. I just smiled, threw the pitch, knew what was going to happen, and then I had a bunch of guys aiming for me."

Thanks, Weezy

05 February 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #13: Sergio Romo, RP

I sing the song of Sergio Romo, quickly becoming one of my favorite Giants. That he's reached such heights in my hierarchy is a testament to his gregarious nature and my immeasurable capacity to forgive — though not necessarily forget. Romo locked down the 7th inning slot in '09 and quickly slid into 8th inning work in 2010 once it was obvious that Jeremy Affeldt was not getting it done like he had the year before. When the Giants rolled into Los Angeles for a mid-April series, Sergio was working on a clean sheet.

On April 18th, I left shortly after the final gavel of the California Democratic Convention and arrived at Chavez Ravine just before first pitch. I'd seen the boys get shellacked on Friday night but missed a three-RBI day from Tim Lincecum in Saturday's 9-0 shutout. I was also working on a three-game schnide in L.A., so it's safe to say I was in need of a W. My old college buddy Barry Zito was in the midst of a perfect opening month, and he twirled a gem that day, getting us deep into the game with a 1-0 lead thanks to a Juan U-RIBE! home run. But when he walked Garrett Anderson with one out in the 8th, Bruce Bochy pointed to the bullpen and brought in Sergio Romo. Joe Torre countered by pinch hitting with Manny Ramirez. On a 1-2 pitch, Romo threw one of his signature pie dish sliders. Only it didn't slide. Instead, it ran right into the sweet spot of ManRam's bat. Game over.

That was the beginning of one of the roughest patches a reliever's ever endured. A week and a half later, Romo took the extra-inning loss in the now-infamous "Jayson Werth Bloop Double" game. Less than a week later, he surrendered a three-run, game-tying jack to Dan Uggla in Florida. Three days after that, he gave up a game-winning two-run shot to future Hall of Famer Rod Barajas at Citi Field in Queens. Two days later, he vultured a W after allowing all three of the runners he inherited from Dan Runzler to score prior to Aaron Rowand's winning home run in one of the most epic games of the season.

You wouldn't fault a guy for getting a little discouraged after a month like that. And maybe Serge was bummin' deep down inside, but he never let it show. He kept the same intensity, the same drive, the same smile beaming out from his über-friendly grill. And by the end of the year, he was back to being one of the most reliable arms in the Giants' pen. In Game 162, Sergio Romo was the penultimate link in a team relief effort that ended with Brian Wilson, as the bullpen saved the day for Jonathan Sanchez and the season for the Orange and Black.

His postseason was certainly one to forget, but not everybody's ready for the brightest of bright lights. I've got a feeling if he gets another chance this year, he'll represent the Left Coast with aplomb. Come what may, it's gonna be a big smile following the ongoing Twitter dialogue he's having with his beard. To quote Andy Baggarly: "Too much awesome."

Thanks, Sergio.