October 2010

Thoughts preceding World Series Game1

Wednesday, Oct. 27

If you listen to the experts, there’s no way the Giants should win the World Series.

My employers, MLB.com, polled 15 writers or analysts; nine picked the Texas Rangers to win the Fall Classic. The disparity was much greater over at ESPN. Of the 28 wise people they surveyed, 22 predicted that the next champagne-and-beer shower will occur in Texas’ clubhouse.

It makes sense. Texas appears to play better defense, certainly possesses more speed and has more offensive thump.

But, as right-hander Matt Cain said, “If that’s what they’re writing, I guess we’ll have to change it.”

Moreover, the Giants have two equalizers: Their pitching and their pluck.

The American League boasts some strong pitching staffs — Minnesota, Boston and Tampa Bay are all above average. But when the Giants’ hurlers, particularly the starters, are on their game, they’re downright dominant.

Don’t be surprised if Tim Lincecum delivers a performance tonight that approaches his two-hit, one-walk, 14-strikeout gem against Atlanta in Game 1 of the Division Series. I doubt that the Rangers have seen many pitchers like him, and pitches like his, in the American League.

Then there’s the matter of the Giants’ attitude. General manager Brian Sabean said after the Game 6 NLCS clincher at Philadelphia that this team might not always hit or pitch more effectively than its opponents, but it competes far better than most.

That resolve and spirit are what made the difference for the Giants down the stretch as they outlasted the Padres and Rockies. Their resolute approach has remained intact during the postseason, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue against the Rangers.

Finally, some personal observations: People keep reminding me to enjoy this experience, to savor it. I’m trying my best, though deadlines and commitments (thank you, Bob Seger) make it difficult to share the fans’ excitement and stop to smell the hot dogs all the time.

So today, as I approached AT&T Park, I took special care to appreciate as much as I could. I was amazed as I turned onto Third Street how many people were already surrounding the ballyard, though the first pitch was more than four hours away. I marveled at the boats beginning to fill McCovey Cove as I strolled across the Lefty O’Doul bridge. And I drank in the shouts of the vendors and the buzz of the fans, just as I did during my “formative baseball years” while attending games at Candlestick Park.

I don’t think I’ve ever sensed as much energy at a baseball venue as I did this afternoon. Anticipation is a wonderful tonic.

As I’m sure you’ll all agree, Play Ball!

– Chris Haft

Giants think of you, praise Bumgarner

ATLANTA — In case you’re wondering, the Giants hope you had fun celebrating their Division Series victory.

As long as you remained somewhat responsible.

“I hope it’s a chaos-fest on every single street you can possibly think of,” closer Brian Wilson said. “Within reason.”

Left fielder Pat Burrell sounded ready to join the party.

“The city’s been waiting a long time for something like this,” he said. “We can’t wait to get home.”

It’s worth wondering what kind of long-term effect the Giants’ success will have on the Bay Area sports landscape. After all, none of the professional teams except for the San Jose Sharks has thrived recently.

If you believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, then the Giants’ impact will be minimal, since the 49ers and Raiders are a joke and the Warriors probably will struggle to make the playoffs — though they have a loyal, rabid fan base that keeps coming back for more no matter what.

At the very least, the Giants have bolstered their already solid presence among the area’s baseball fans and, more importantly, are likely creating new fans with each postseason win.

*****

There’s no underestimating Madison Bumgarner’s toughness, poise, maturity, grace under pressure or whatever you want to call it. In short, the 21-year-old is no ordinary rookie.

Pitching on 10 days of rest before a hostile, howling Turner Field crowd, Bumgarner recorded one of San Francisco’s biggest victories of the season. Nobody was that surprised, however.

“The kid’s tough as nails,” pitching coach Dave Righetti said. “He got all the big outs and got us late in the game. For a young man who sat that many days, waiting … He held all that together and went out with a lot of poise in a foreign ballpark.”

“His composure was unbelievable,” catcher Buster Posey said. Recalling a Braves scoring threat early in the game, Posey said, “I went out to talk to him and he just kind of smiled at me and said, ‘I’m all right. I got it.’ When you get that type of response you know you’re in for a good night.”

First baseman Aubrey Huff went one step farther. Referring to the mild fuss over who should start Game 4 — Tim Lincecum, if the Giants were trailing 2-1; Bumgarner, if they led the series; or Lincecum under any circumstances — Huff declared, “I would have taken him (Bumgarner) tonight regardless of whether we had won last night.”

– Chris Haft

Upon further review, maybe Ford makes sense

Think about it: The Giants probably are going to struggle to score runs against the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series. Derek Lowe has been outstanding lately and always pitches well against the Giants. Tommy Hanson doesn’t scare me much, but Tim Hudson looked like Orel Hershiser circa 1988 the last time he faced San Francisco.

Ideally, the Giants won’t give up many runs, either. Which (duh) means a lot of low-scoring ballgames. To cope in this environment, the Giants just might need to keep the ultra-speedy Darren Ford on the postseason roster.

Lately, the Giants have relied far too much on homers while struggling to manufacture runs. It’s easy to envision scenarios in which they find themselves tied or trailing by one run late in a game. Then they get a runner on first base with nobody out or one out, putting them in a position where they absolutely have to try to generate a run.

They’ll need to advance that runner into scoring position without giving up an out. They’ll need a stolen base.

They’ll need Ford.

Ford conceivably can do what Dave Roberts did for the Red Sox in 2004 or what Chone Figgins accomplished for the Angels in 2002. It’s easy to regard Ford as a luxury, but under the circumstances, he might actually be a necessity.

Of course, keeping Ford means that a veteran position player such as Edgar Renteria or Aaron Rowand won’t make the Division Series roster. It would be a shame to see either player sidelined. Renteria and Rowand both happen to own World Series rings. Moreover, they’re solid professionals who won’t back down from tough, critical situations. They’d be ideal to have available.

But addressing what probably will be a desperate need for offense of any sort requires some extreme measures. For this reason, don’t be at all surprised if Ford joins San Francisco’s 25-man contingent for the Division Series.

– Chris Haft

A championship afternoon

Sunday, Oct. 3

SAN FRANCISCO — Images from one of the biggest days in recent Giants history:

* During the on-field celebration, when it seemed like everybody was embracing each other, manager Bruce Bochy placed his hands on Jonathan Sanchez’s shoulders and spoke to him briefly. I neglected to ask either of them what was said, but it was a fatherly-looking moment. I’m guessing that Bochy said something like, “I’m proud of you,” and for good reason.

* Pat Burrell’s leadership, which we’ve heard so much about, was in full display. Once he beckoned teammates to begin the victory lap around the warning track that gave fans a chance to hand-slap the players, they fell in line almost immediately.

* And it was fitting that the first Giant to return was the team’s fastest player, Andres Torres.

* You saw how jubilant Pablo Sandoval was on the field. It continued during the clubhouse celebration. The champagne being sprayed was Mumm, but the Kung Fu Panda evidently got a hold of a bottle of Dom Perignon, which was empty by the time I saw him. He clutched the bottle while posing for pictures with various combinations of teammates.

*****

I’ll sound like a homer for saying so, but I believe that the Giants will defeat Atlanta in the Division Series. Their pitching seems to be stronger at this juncture of the season, which makes all the difference. As for the League Championship Series, please wait. I’m taking things step-by-step.

*****

Torres’ first-inning line drive up the left-field line was so fair it wasn’t funny. It kicked up chalk, for crying out loud!

– Chris Haft

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