June 2009

Emotion, class distinguish ’89 reunion

SAN FRANCISCO — Saturday was one of those fabulously clear days in the Bay Area that made it possible to see the East Bay from AT&T Park in great detail.

A few Giants fans might have had their vision blurred by tears.

The Giants’ on-field tribute to the 1989 National League Championship team unfolded in predictable fashion, with players, coaches and manager Roger Craig ringing the infield and Will Clark receiving the most applause.

A couple of features, however, made this event stand out.

One spot where the players stood, just to the shortstop side of second base, remained conspicuously empty after all the players were introduced. Those who were paying attention could figure out what would happen next: A tribute to shortstop Jose Uribe, who died in December 2006. Indeed, out came Giants infielder Juan Uribe, Jose’s cousin, who escorted Uribe’s widow, Wendy, and daughter, Dasha.

Uribe’s double-play partner, the classy Robby Thompson, honored his teammate and friend in a brief address. “Jose Uribe will always be remembered and never be forgotten,” Thompson said.

After the Giants’ 5-2 victory, Juan Uribe said he felt emotional upon representing Jose, who he called a big help when he was learning baseball as a youth. Juan Uribe, who contributed an RBI single to the Giants’ seventh-inning rally, called Jose one of his heroes.

Moments later, Dave Dravecky, who needs no introduction, was at the microphone. His story is so compelling that he commands attention whenever he speaks. Paraphrasing Lou Gehrig’s famed “luckiest man” speech, Dravecky said, “Dave Dravecky feels like the most blessed man in the world to be able to play for this organization and for you, the Giants fans.”

Only a Dodger fan would fail to be at least somewhat moved by Dravecky.

Afterward, current Giants Randy Winn, Rich Aurilia, Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito distributed gifts from the club to the ’89 alumni. Then came Clark and Kevin Mitchell to throw ceremonial first pitches.

Too bad they couldn’t have taken a few swings.

– Chris Haft 

 

Frandsen optioned to Fresno as Ishikawa returns

SAN FRANCISCO — The knowledge that he had accomplished something seemed to comfort Kevin Frandsen after he learned, to no particular surprise, that he had been optioned to Triple-A Fresno. The move cleared roster room Friday for first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who was reinstated from the bereavement list.

During Frandsen’s last Giants stint in May, when infielder Juan Uribe went on the bereavement list, the San Jose native played mostly shortstop. This time, he started two of three games at second base. On both occasions, Frandsen played impressive defense, reflecting his aptitude as a potential multiple-position handyman.<p/>

“My time will come,” Frandsen said. “I’ll be patient with it. I know I’ll get a chance.”

One reporter asked Giants manager Bruce Bochy whether Frandsen might be considered as an option to play left field if Fred Lewis continues to struggle. “Right now, no,” Bochy said, though he didn’t rule out the possibility that Frandsen eventually could play some left and become a jack-of-all-trades in the manner of Ryan Freel or Chone Figgins.

“Those types of guys are invaluable,” Bochy said.

Frandsen has hit just .071 (2-for-28) in his nine games with the Giants, but that didn’t faze him or Bochy.

“It’s a small sample size,” Frandsen said, citing his robust .339 average with Fresno. “If people want to make their assumptions off of that [his big-league hitting], I don’t care.”

Said Bochy, “He’s doing what he needs to do. He’ll get his opportunity.”

– Chris Haft

Big weekend for Schierholtz

PHOENIX — Here’s Nate Schierholtz’s take on this weekend’s Giants-A’s Interleague series at AT&T Park:

“It definitely has a Bay Bridge Series meaning to me,” he said.

Obviously, Schierholtz is pumped, jazzed, stoked or whatever synonym you want to use for “excited.” This will mark the first time that he has opposed the A’s in the regular season, and it’s a series he has been anticipating for years.

Growing up in the East Bay, Schierholtz attended plenty of Giants-A’s games. Though he geographically was closer to the A’s, he left his heart … well, I don’t need to finish the sentence. “I definitely was always a Giants fan,” Schierholtz said. 

Let’s hope Schierholtz gets into a game or two. It’d be a shame if he languished on the bench, especially since he might care about these games more than anybody on the field.

– Chris Haft

 

Of Molina’s unsurpassed grace and the Unit’s tribute

PHOENIX — Among the most exasperating sights for Giants fans is watching Bengie Molina plod up the first-base line as he runs out a ground ball, force himself to stop at first base on what would be a double for any other player or put on the brakes at third base in the knowledge that he’d be thrown out at home … which was the case in Wednesday’s ninth inning, when Molina couldn’t score from first base on Pablo Sandoval’s double.

If you think Molina doesn’t care about this, you’re wrong. Making fun of Molina for being slow would be like making fun of a teenager with acne. They’re painfully aware of their flaws. In Molina’s case, his lead feet prompt him to pursue excellence in other facets of the game that much more ardently.

He addressed this eloquently after the Giants’ 6-4 victory over Arizona.

“This is what God gave me,” Molina said, referring to his ponderous pace. “I have to deal with it. If it were up to me, I’d score every time they hit. That’s why I want to do way much more than running. That’s why I want to catch, that’s why I want to block balls, that’s why I want to throw guys out, that’s why I want to call a good game for the guys, that’s why I want to hit and get RBIs. Because there’s one part of my game that I feel bad about. But I want to do so many other things to be able to overcome that.”

Lest you think that Molina was being too hard on himself, he paused and added, with a tiny grin on his face, “I think I’m doing pretty good.”

I think the Giants would agree.

*****

As promised, the Diamondbacks delivered their video tribute to Randy Johnson after the third inning. It was extremely brief, lasting about a minute. The montage of film clips included snippets from Johnson’s perfect game in 2004 and his 20-strikeout game — both of which he pitched during his first stint with Arizona (1999-2004). He also pitched for the D-backs from 2007-08.

D-backs fans, who haven’t seemed to embrace Johnson as they should, cheered as highlights of Johnson’s 300th career victory last Wednesday in Washington were shown, accompanied by Jon Miller’s call once the game ended and the Big Unit’s milestone became official.

Johnson responded by standing on the top step of the visitors’ dugout and holding his cap aloft.

– Chris Haft

 

Rowand’s unruffled; take the Big Unit test

MIAMI — Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand remained his jovial self after his personal-best, 17-game hitting streak evaporated in an 0-for-4 performance Monday as San Francisco fell to Florida, 4-0.

“It’s not like it was Ryan Zimmerman’s 30-game hitting streak or anything like that,” said Rowand, whose streak was the longest by a Giant since Randy Winn sustained a 20-gamer from April 29-May 21, 2007. “But it was fun. It was cool. I didn’t feel like it was all that big a deal, honestly. I was just trying to win ballgames, trying to go up and take good at-bats. And with the exception of one today [a sixth-inning strikeout against Sean West], I felt three out of four were good at-bats.”

Rowand hit a robust .411 (30-for-73) with three home runs, 10 doubles, 11 RBIs and 10 multi-hit games during his streak, which lifted his overall average from .246 to .309. Wary of jinxing Rowand, print reporters covering the Giants avoided interviewing him as his streak reached the teens. But the intrepid broadcasting pair of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper had no trouble quizzing Rowand on the subject during Sunday’s postgame show.

“I told them I don’t really get all that worked up about it because I know someday it’s going to end,” Rowand said.

*****

How well do you know baseball?

If you think you’re an expert, try to identify the most crucial juncture in Randy Johnson’s five-inning performance against the Marlins. A lot of folks probably would cite the 1-1 pitch that Brett Carroll socked for a three-run homer in the second inning, which accounted for all the scoring off Johnson.

But Johnson himself said that his real mistake was walking Ronny Paulino, the batter preceding Carroll. Had Johnson retired Paulino, Carroll would have batted with two outs, which probably would have changed the complexion of the inning.

“Anybody that knows a little bit about baseball would probably assume that,” Johnson said. “At least I felt it was.”

– Chris Haft

Big Unit to pitch Monday on short rest

MIAMI — It may lack the drama of his postseason relief appearances, but on Monday, Randy Johnson will start for the Giants against the Florida Marlins on three days’ rest. That’s one fewer than usual.

Johnson’s last appearance, of course, was a big one — last Thursday’s six-inning, two-hit effort at Washington that made him the 24th Major Leaguer to win 300 career games. That came in the first game of a doubleheader in which both Johnson and Matt Cain pitched, which threatened to disrupt the Giants’ starting rotation because one of the two would have had to work on short rest if the club didn’t add a Triple-A pitcher (most likely Billy Sadler) to start on Monday.

But Johnson, who happened to bruise his shoulder in a fall while making a fielding play in his final inning against Washington, volunteered to pitch after a successful throwing session Saturday.

“He knows himself better than anybody,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Johnson, 45.

Johnson has maintained since joining the Giants that he wasn’t consumed with collecting the five wins he needed to reach 300. The left-hander said last Friday in the wake of his milestone triumph that the post-300 portion of the season was what he signed for — doing as much as possible to bolster the Giants’ postseason bid. His willingness to pitch Monday proved that.

“It validates Randy saying that it’s not just 300 he’s after,” Bochy said. “He wants to help the organization and the team win ballgames. Here he is wanting the ball Monday after he could be pushed back a day or two. But he wants the ball tomorrow.”

Johnson last started on three days’ rest while pitching for the New York Yankees in 2005. He allowed two runs and seven hits while walking none and striking out eight in seven innings in a 12-3 Yankees victory over Baltimore on July 5. He was coming off absorbing the decision in a 10-2 Yankees loss to Detroit on July 1 in which he yielded seven runs and nine hits in five innings — and, significantly enough, threw only 80 pitches. Johnson threw 78 pitches last Thursday.

For what it’s worth, Johnson’s career record on three days’ rest is stellar. In nine starts, he’s 6-1 with a 2.84 ERA, 16 walks and 80 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings. He averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in those games, allowed opponents to hit just .195 off him and compiled a ridiculously low .0963 WHIP (average walks and hits per inning).

Bochy’s right. Johnson knows what he’s doing.

Many moons ago, the Big Unit cemented his legend with the aforementioned relief appearances. In the 1995 AL Division Series, he threw three innings against the Yankees to help send Seattle to the AL Championship Series. In the World Series six years later with Arizona, he won Game 6 as a starter before returning the next night to earn the decision in Game 7 while recording the final four outs.

– Chris Haft  

Pick a starter, any starter, for Monday and Tuesday

MIAMI — If you’ve looked ahead to the Giants’ probable starting pitchers for Monday series finale here and for Tuesday’s series opener at Arizona, you’ll find that the same guy is pitching both games: TBA.

Finding a starter for Tuesday isn’t the issue. Monday is the predicament for the Giants, whose rotation was jumbled by last Wednesday’s rainout at Washington. That forced them to use Randy Johnson and Matt Cain on the same day for Thursday’s doubleheader, meaning that if either one pitched Monday, he’d be working on three days’ rest, one fewer than usual.

Johnson’s bruised shoulder complicated matters somewhat. But the newest member of the 300-win club felt good Saturday as he played long toss and threw from pitching distance on flat ground.

The Big Unit said that his shoulder, which he fell on while making a fielding play in his milestone start, responded better than he thought it would. “I was encouraged,” he said. “We’ll see what they have planned and go from there.”

Manager Bruce Bochy said that the Giants’ options for Monday include:

– Johnson, who threw only 78 pitches in his last start but has that shoulder to deal with;

– Cain, who was limited to 82 pitches by the rainout in his game;

– Triple-A Fresno right-hander Billy Sadler, who pitched only one-third of an inning Friday in case the Giants decide they need him.

Though Johnson might appear to be an unlikely choice given his health status and age (45), he’s renowned for doing whatever he can to help his team. Pitching on Monday might fall into that category. Because if he’s pushed back to Tuesday, the sequence of the Giants’ rotation would consist of right-handers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, followed by three consecutive left-handers — Johnson, Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez. Currently, they have close to an alternating patten with Lincecum, Johnson, Cain, Zito and Sanchez.

Obviously, whoever doesn’t pitch Monday has a good chance of starting Tuesday.

– Chris Haft

Molina to stay at cleanup — for now

MIAMI — After collecting two hits against the New York Mets on May 17, Bengie Molina was batting .304. He entered Friday night’s series opener against the Florida Marlins hitting .247. During this slump, Molina remained in the cleanup spot in the Giants’ batting order.

This didn’t mean that manager Bruce Bochy was sitting idly by. Actually, Bochy said Friday, he considered moving Pablo Sandoval to the four-hole and even consulted Molina about it.

“Bochy’s the manager and [Brian] Sabean’s the general manager,” Molina said. “Whatever they want for this team, I don’t let that worry me.”

One can imagine that Sandoval’s two-run homer, which accounted for the sum total of the Giants’ offense in their 2-1 victory Friday over the Florida Marlins, might sway Bochy toward making a change. But Molina also stroked two singles, one of them preceding Sandoval’s homer.

Hence the slight but perceptible change in Bochy’s outlook regarding the cleanup spot …

Pregame: “We’ll see how it goes the next couple of days.” (Translation — a change is possible)

Postgame: “If I felt like [a change] would lighten the load on him … The way it went tonight, I’m going to leave it the way it is.” (Translation — Molina ain’t budging for the foreseeable future)

Meanwhile, Sandoval outdid himself with his wild hacking Friday. When he wasn’t homering, he was swinging more freely than usual — which takes a lot, in his case.

As Sandoval explained, he simply was trying to be himself: “Get my pitch, [be] the Pablo I am — aggressive at home plate. Get a pitch to hit a line drive. That [the home run] was the best swing I had in the game.”

– Chris Haft

Burriss rescues Big Unit; another Romo signs

WASHINGTON — Behind most big pitching victories lies impressive defense. This was proven again in Randy Johnson’s 300th victory on Thursday, which featured an outstanding and probably game-saving play by second baseman Emmanuel Burriss.

With runners on first and second, nobody out and the Giants clinging to a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning, Burriss made a diving stop of Ronnie Belliard’s one-hopper up the middle and shoveled the ball from his glove to shortstop Edgar Renteria to start a double play.

Johnson was appreciative, to say the least.

“That could have turned the whole game around if that was a base hit,” Johnson said.

Guzman’s smash caromed off the first-base side of the pitcher’s mound, which might have been a break for the Giants.

“I think its hitting the mound helped me get to it,” Burriss said, “because it was hit pretty hard and it took that high bounce off the mound and enabled me to gain some ground on it.”

Burriss said that Johnson’s immediate reaction was muted. But the Big Unit made sure Burriss knew how much that play meant.

“Right after the play he gave me one of those looks like, ‘atta boy,’ said Burriss, who added that Johnson was too mentally focused to gush over him or any other teammates in the dugout between innings.

After the game, Johnson gave Burriss a proper tribute.

“He came up to me and said, ‘great play.’ It was awesome,” Burriss related. “Everybody behind him wanted to do their part to help him get to that milestone.”

*****

The independent Golden Baseball League announced Thursday that the Giants have purchased the contract of right-hander Andrew Romo from the Tucson Toros, a club in that league. Romo, 21, is the younger brother of Giants reliever Sergio Romo.

Sergio Romo compared Andrew to himself, in that they both like to throw sinking fastballs, curveballs and changeups.

“I think he has potential, and potential can get you a long way in this business, as long as he puts in the work and listens to direction,” Sergio said of Andrew.

The younger Romo “sold” the Giants on Tuesday, when he yielded just an unearned run in three innings while striking out four in a Golden League game.

It was not immediately known which Minor League affiliate Romo will initially join.

– Chris Haft

Countdown (maybe) to Thursday’s first game

WASHINGTON — Regarding Thursday’s scheduled Giants-Washington Nationals doubleheader, the prevailing sense was that the teams would manage to play one game, thus giving Randy Johnson the opportunity to secure his 300th career victory.

But don’t even think about a second game, the experts believe.

Right now, you can forget about Game 1 starting on time. It’s about 30 minutes before the scheduled 4:35 p.m. first pitch, and it just began raining harder. Meteorologist — er, manager — Bruce Bochy told reporters during his daily pregame briefing that more storms were expected but that enough clear weather to play a game would follow.

Johnson appeared briefly in the Giants clubhouse in the pregame hours when reporters were allowed in. He glanced at a nearby television monitor when ESPN aired a report on the six-game suspension Yankees right-hander A.J. Burnett received. After a short while Johnson strode away, iPod headphones planted firmly in his ears.

One Giant position player I talked to expressed concern about whether Johnson would get his shot at No. 300 tonight. This indicated that while the Giants aren’t obsessing over The Big Unit’s impending milestone, it’s definitely in the backs of their minds.

*****

Some non-Johnson stuff: Right-hander Joe Martinez, he of the healed skull, continued his recovery by throwing in the bullpen before showers began falling. The Giants remain pleased with Martinez’s progress. “There’s nothing wrong with his arm,” Bochy said. “He’s going to be fine.”

– Chris Haft 

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