August 2010

Excruciating enough for you?

Monday, Aug. 30

SAN FRANCISCO — My main man Michael, a faithful and long-suffering (that’s redundant) Giants fan who resides in New York, informed me via e-mail that he couldn’t immediately fall asleep after Monday night’s 2-1 loss to Colorado.

Neither could I, though I’m more tired than disappointed. I’m awake because I feel compelled to share a few more game- and Giants-related items:

– It’s tough and probably unfair to second-guess manager Bruce Bochy for his timing in summoning Brian Wilson to replace Jonathan Sanchez in the ninth inning. Sanchez didn’t look good in walking Dexter Fowler to open the ninth after jumping ahead on the count, 0-2. Immediately bringing in Wilson, a two-time All-Star with 36 saves in 39 chances, was a totally defensible move — even though he threw 33 pitches over 1 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Except Carlos Gonzalez, the next batter who hit the fateful triple off Wilson, welcomed the departure of Sanchez, who struck him out twice and induced a comebacker.

“I was happy,” Gonzalez said. “[Sanchez] basically dominated the whole night.”

– Sanchez added only two walks to his National League-high total of 75 he took into the game. Too bad the second free pass he issued was the one to Fowler.

– With their fourth loss in five games, the Giants clinched a losing record in August. They’re 12-15 this month, on the heels of their glorious 20-8 July.

– The Rockies have won four of their last five games at AT&T Park.

– The Giants’ defense has been charged with 11 errors in the last five games after committing 11 errors in the previous 27 games.

No wonder Michael can’t sleep.

– Chris Haft

Defeat could pay dividends

Wednesday, Aug. 25

SAN FRANCISCO — The concept of a team winning a game that it can “build upon” is overrated. Any kind of triumph for a club needing one is significant only if it can win its next game.

But Wednesday’s crazy affair at AT&T Park was different. The Giants’ 12-11 loss to Cincinnati should have a definite residual effect: Impregnable, unshakable faith in themselves for the rest of the season.

They overcame a 10-1 deficit to take a brief 11-10 lead in the ninth inning. Never in their long, storied history had the Giants completed a comeback from a nine-run deficit, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Brian Wilson applied the “build on” phrase to the Giants’ surge.

“To be able to battle back like that, you can’t really hang your head,” he said. “You can only build on it, knowing that we can definitely score a lot of runs when we’re down.”

“Come playoff time, this whole game right here is a great experience for everybody,” first baseman Aubrey Huff said.

The Giants have been criticized for acquiring outfielders they might not necessarily need, namely Jose Guillen and Cody Ross. However, their influence has been obvious. They provide depth for the batting order (directly) and the bench (indirectly).

Suddenly, opposing pitchers have much more to think about when they confront the Giants.

“We’ve got some guys getting hot now,” Huff said.

Examples:

– Pablo Sandoval has rapped three hits or more in three consecutive games for the first time in his career. Suddenly, the Panda is batting a respectable .276 after languishing around .260 for much of the season.

– Juan Uribe has homered in back-to-back games.

– Freddy Sanchez went 9-for-11 in this series.

– Huff is batting .435 (10-for-23) during a six-game hitting streak.

That said, Thursday’s off-day appears to be well-timed for the Giants. Wednesday’s series finale against the Reds forced every reliever to pitch and surely drained the team as a whole. They can use a day to recharge, forget about baseball and return fresh on Friday for the weekend series against the Diamondbacks.

*****

Here’s a look at a day when the Giants almost wiped out a nine-run deficit. You knew I’d delve into history at some point, didn’t you?

Actually, they trailed by more than nine. Facing Pittsburgh at Seals Stadium on May 5, 1958, their first year in San Francisco, the Giants were on the short end of an 11-1 score entering the ninth inning. They proceeded to amass nine runs but left the bases loaded in an 11-10 loss.

*****

The Giants endured a scary moment in the third inning when Huff appeared to injure his left wrist. As it turned out, the pain was fleeting.

Cincinnati’s Paul Janish essentially bumped into Huff’s wrist as the San Francisco first baseman reached for pitcher Ramon Ramirez’s throw on a third-inning play. The semi-collision knocked Huff’s glove off his hand, which was fortunate. Had the mitt remained attached, Huff might have been hurt. “The best thing was that the glove went flying,” he said.

– Chris Haft

 

Watching history repeat itself

Tuesday, Aug. 24

SAN FRANCISCO — You have to trust me on this one.

During Tuesday night’s repeat rout of the Cincinnati Reds, the busy bees in the Giants’ media relations department announced the last time the team scored 11 runs in back-to-back games. That was June 27-28, 2000 at Colorado’s Coors Field. Where else?

That begged a question: When did the Giants last reach double digits in back-to-back home games? Surely it was on another pair of dates during the Barry Bonds era. Instead, it was Sept. 2-3, 1973, as the media relations folks informed us. That’s right — just after the Vietnam War ended, while “All in the Family” was revolutionizing television and as the Watergate scandal mushroomed.

Here’s the part you have to trust me about: I attended both of those ’73 games.

Obviously, I didn’t have much going on socially at that time. But I was a 14-year-old baseball addict and summer was about to end, so I needed one last Candlestick Park fix.

What follows is my recollection of both games, without checking baseball-reference.com (BR) or any other historical source. I’ll complete this entry by testing my accuracy and sharing with you what actually happened after examining the BR archives.

The Giants told us that the Sept. 2 game was the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves. Here’s what I remember: Juan Marichal started the second game and got bombed; Hank Aaron hit a home run; and Garry Maddox and Gary Matthews went nuts offensively. Bobby Bonds also homered, but I think that came in the first game. I missed it because I was somewhere getting a hot dog.

The Sept. 3 Labor Day encounter was one for the ages. It remains one of my favorite games, mainly because it reinforced that almost everything is possible in baseball’s realm.

The Giants trailed the Dodgers, 8-1. I distinctly recall seeing an older couple vacate their box seats behind home plate in the fifth or sixth inning and announce to an usher that they were done for the night, because there was no way the Giants would rally.

Shortly after they left, the Giants roused themselves to score six runs. I confess that I recall nothing about the comeback. I do remember how I felt afterward — fully certain that the Giants would win. Surely they wouldn’t squander such terrific momentum.

Nevertheless, the Dodgers took their 8-7 lead into the ninth inning with Jim Brewer pitching. But the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out. For some reason I think Jim Howarth was among the guys on base. I do know that Dave Rader attempted a sacrifice bunt. Not only did he get the bunt down, but he also reached base safely.

Then Bobby Bonds won the game with a grand slam. Pandemonium ensued. Upon returning to the bus for my ride back home, I noticed that everybody’s face was alight with joy. I’m sure that mine was, too. Until school began a few days later.

Now, the fact-checking:

Marichal pitched, but he started the first game. And he didn’t get bombed, though by his lofty standards it was a subpar outing. He allowed four runs and eight hits, including two homers, in 7 2/3 innings. I correctly remembered that Bonds homered, but I’d seem smarter if I had said that he homered twice, which he did. San Francisco won, 5-4, in 10 innings.

As for the second game, Hank Aaron not only didn’t hit a home run, he didn’t even play. But Maddox (3-for-5, three RBIs) indeed had a big game. Matthews, not so much (1-for-5, three strikeouts), though he scored twice in the Giants’ 11-3 triumph. Come on, you’ve got to believe I was there.

By contrast, my memory of the Sept. 3 game remained relatively well-preserved. If you watched a game like that, yours would be, too. The Giants indeed erased most of an 8-1 deficit with six runs in the seventh inning.

I was completely wrong about Jim Howarth. He  never batted in the ninth. And Pete Richert started the inning for the Dodgers. But I was right about Rader’s bunt and, of course, Bonds’ game-winner off Brewer, who entered the game with the bases full and nobody out.

So 37 years passed before the Giants could generate consecutive double-digit scoring outbursts at home. At that rate, the next one will occur in 2047. Somehow I doubt I’ll be a witness.

Then again, in baseball, you never know.

– Chris Haft

Plenty of leftovers from Thursday (Giants 5, Phils 2)

Thursday, Aug. 19

PHILADELPHIA — Thursday night brought mixed blessings for Pablo Sandoval.

The struggling switch-hitter finally hit his first home run of the season as a right-handed batter in his 122nd at-bat from that side of the plate. It opened the fourth inning and concluded the Giants’ scoring in their 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

But Sandoval also popped up into a double play in the ninth inning. That’s right, “popped up.” Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco dropped Sandoval’s one-out sky ball. But Sandoval loafed up the baseline, enabling Polanco to throw him out. Nate Schierholtz, pinch-running for Jose Guillen at first, strayed a little too far from the bag and was tagged out to complete the double play.

Manager Bruce Bochy fined Sandoval an undisclosed amount for not reaching first base safely. Sandoval — who was charged with grounding into his 22nd double play of the season — acknowledged the error of his ways.

“That’s my fault,” Sandoval said. “You learn. I made a big mistake. I apologized to [Bochy]. I learned I have to run hard to first base every moment.”

Sandoval homer, his ninth overall, was a more pleasant subject for him. He acknowledged that his timing, particularly as a right-handed batter, was all fouled up. “I’ve been jumping out and my hands don’t ‘load’ at the right time,” he said, admitting that he has been off-balance at the plate.

*****

Another Giants hitter who might have regained some equilibrium was Freddy Sanchez. The second baseman, who has shared playing time recently with Mike Fontenot, might have hit his way back into a regular role by singling solidly and scoring in his first two at-bats.

“Whatever my role is, the number one goal is winning. That’s all I want to do,” Sanchez said. “If that [means] playing against lefties right now, that’s just playing against lefties now. But when my name gets called, I’ll be ready.”

Sanchez pulled both of his hits to left field, contrasting with his usual opposite-field style. He indicated that he might have been concentrating too much on going to right field, particularly with runners (usually leadoff man Andres Torres) on base.

“I was talking to Boch about that,” Sanchez said. “Maybe not try so hard to get the guy over or hit a hole.”

Bochy approved of Sanchez’s handiwork.

“I thought he had some good at-bats tonight,” Bochy said. “I thought he had better balance and pulled some balls with authority. That’s the Freddy we know. It’d be nice to have him back to who he is.”

*****

Jonathan Sanchez’s success at going deep into the game proved to be essential. Bochy said that right-hander Santiago Casilla left Philadelphia before the game to be with his wife, who was in labor. This left San Francisco’s bullpen a man short. An abbreviated outing by Sanchez or an extra-inning affair might have made life tough for the Giants. Bochy sounded uncertain about Casilla’s availability for Friday night’s series opener at St. Louis.

*****

Talking to Gary Matthews, the winner of the 1973 National League Rookie of the Year Award with the Giants who threw his support behind Buster Posey (see Giants Beat), is always a pleasure. Here are some outtakes from the interview.

Matthews said that capturing the award filled him with pride, since his dressing-stall neighbor in the Giants clubhouse, the incomparable Willie McCovey, had received the honor in 1959.

“It was like carrying on tradition,” said Matthews, who relished beating out a pair of Los Angeles Dodgers rivals in the balloting, Ron Cey and Davey Lopes. They finished in a three-way tie for sixth.

The next three Giants teams Matthews played for finished below .500. “We were in a free-fall,” he said.

But, he added, surviving the competition for outfield jobs within the Giants organization made him a better player. At the time, the Giants’ farm system was still generating talented position players. And the outfield spots, thanks to Willie Mays, remained the most glamorous ones on the field.

“You took pride in trying to do the best you possibly could,” said Matthews, who proceeded to play for the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in his 16-year career. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it the same way in terms of going through an organization like the San Francisco Giants, where you learned a lot of pride and the main thing — to win.”

*****

Speaking of Posey, he’s starting another streak. He’s batting .440 (11-for-25) while hitting safely in six consecutive games.

– Chris Haft

No squaring around for Posey

Friday, Aug. 6

ATLANTA — In case you were wondering, Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn’t consider asking Buster Posey to bunt in Friday night’s 11th inning.

Many hitters would have been asked to attempt a sacrifice after Aubrey Huff walked to open the 11th against Braves reliever Peter Moylan. Not Posey, the rookie catcher who quickly has become one of San Francisco’s most prominent offensive assets.

“You could be conservative and go that route,” Bochy said. “But he’s hitting cleanup for a reason.”

After Posey walked, the next batter, Juan Uribe, tried to bunt Moylan’s first pitch and fouled it off. Bochy explained that Uribe was bunting on his own.

If Bochy were faced with the situation 99,000 more times, he’d eschew bunting on each occasion. Partly because the next sacrifice bunt Posey lays down will be his first as a professional.

“I don’t know how many times Buster as bunted in his career,” Bochy said. “And Uribe’s effort wasn’t pretty.”

*****

The bullpen again played an integral part in the Giants’ triumph, allowing two hits, walking none and striking out five in four scoreless innings.

Brian Wilson preserved the decision for Javier Lopez, who pitched the 10th to earn his first victory as a Giant. Lopez has suited up for five games and has appeared in four of them. He also has yet to give up a run for San Francisco in 3 2/3 innings.

Despite not having pitched since last Friday, Sergio Romo worked the ninth after Chris Ray handled the eighth.

The Giants, who entered the game with the National League’s third-best relief ERA, reduced that figure to 3.27.

– Chris Haft 

 

Wellemeyer in, Bautista out

Thursday, August 5

ATLANTA — The Giants activated right-hander Todd Wellemeyer from the 15-day disabled list and created roster room for him by designating right-hander Denny Bautista for assignment.

Wellemeyer, who began the season as San Francisco’s No. 5 starter and held that role until he strained his right quadriceps on June 10 at Cincinnati, likely will pitch in long relief. The Giants haven’t needed a multiple-inning reliever often, given the quality of their starting rotation, but as the summer lengthens and arms begin to tire, you never know.

Wellemeyer was 3-5 with a 5.52 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts) before he was hurt.

Bautista’s statistics actually were decent — well, most of them. He was 2-0 with a 3.74 ERA in 31 relief appearances. Opponents hit only .205 against him, and he accumulated 44 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings. But he also issued 27 walks (four intentionally) and hit three batters, which prompted his dismissal.

– Chris Haft

Giants still seeking a bat; crowds highlight weekend

Sunday, Aug. 1

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants acquired two relief pitchers before Saturday’s Trade Deadline and led the National League with 149 runs scored in July. This combination suggested that the Giants are satisfied with their offense.

Wrong.

Insiders believe that the Giants will continue to actively pursue performers who can upgrade their offense. The process becomes a little more challenging now that a player must clear waivers before he can be traded. But engineering a deal is hardly impossible.

So many players get placed on waivers at this time of year that it’ll be easy for one or two of the hitters San Francisco sought to slip through. Exactly which ones might become available to the Giants is too difficult to determine. But consider management ready to pounce.

*****

Various Giants agreed that the sellout crowds for the Dodgers series were more inspirational than usual. Perhaps because the vast majority of the spectators were Giants fans. Often, the audience is a little more divided.

“When you have over 40,000 roaring for you, it does something for the players,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “They wanted to get the sweep for the fans.”

Matt Cain was frequently the object of Sunday’s cheering. But the right-hander concentrates so intensely that the noise melts away from him.

“It’s weird. You get out there and you don’t hear it as much,” Cain said. “Sometimes maybe you hear it between pitches or in certain situations. But it’s one of those things you definitely feel but sometimes don’t hear.”

*****

Cain broke a personal trend — actually, several of them — while recording his first career victory over the Dodgers.

Five Dodgers entered the game batting .290 or higher lifetime against Cain: Rafael Furcal (.357), James Loney (.345), Casey Blake (.300), Matt Kemp (.296) and Russell Martin (.290). Andre Ethier (.514) received an excused absence to be with his wife, who was delivering their child.

Furcal, Loney, Blake, Kemp and Martin combined for two hits in 16 at-bats. Nothing to it.

*****

Cain also received ample defensive support. First baseman Aubrey Huff made a remarkable stop of Xavier Paul’s one-hop smash in the fifth inning. Center fielder Aaron Rowand dove to snare Furcal’s line drive one inning later.

Cain delivered a succinct appraisal of those plays.

“I thought if the ball stayed up enough for Rowand, that seems to be a play he makes so many times,” Cain said. “I’m hoping and praying, ‘Stay up, stay up, stay up,’ and it did.<p/>

“Now, Huffy, he’s going to brag and say that he’s a special athlete and he’s going to make that play 10 out of 10 times. I’m pretty sure it found his glove. But he did a great job of being able to pick it for us.”

*****

Javier Lopez distinguished himself in his Giants debut by inducing Scott Podsednik’s inning-ending comebacker in the eighth after Cain yielded Jamey Carroll’s two-out single. Welcome to San Francisco!

– Chris Haft

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