April 2011

Oh, brother: Schierholtz puts one in stratosphere for Air Force cadet

Tuesday, April 19

DENVER — As a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Vai Schierholtz knows all about flying objects. He had a surprisingly and thrillingly close encounter with one at Coors Field on Monday night.

As luck would have it, Vai was sitting in the right-field upper deck, intently watching his older brother, Nate, play for the Giants against the Colorado Rockies. Three of Vai’s friends from the Academy accompanied him.

Imagine Vai’s excitement as Nate launched a first-inning home run.

Imagine Vai’s incredulity as Nate’s drive landed about 10 feet from him.

Predictably, Nate knew nothing about what had happened when he took his position in right field. He would have left tickets for Vai and his buddies, but they bought their own seats before Nate could act.

“I ran out for the next inning and looked up and saw the four of them screaming,” Schierholtz said after the Giants’ series-opening 8-1 victory.

Nate learned of the happy coincidence in a brief postgame chat with his brother. Vai and his pals approached the man who snagged the ball and obtained it for a mere $25 and the promise of some signed memorabilia from Nate.

Contributing to this key triumph over Colorado was satisfying enough for Schierholtz, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Excelling in front of Vai, a shortstop for the Academy’s baseball team, doubled his pleasure.

“We’re like best friends. We’re really close,” Nate said. “Any time I get to see him, I get really excited for it. So it was kind of a treat tonight to put on a little bit of a display for him.”

Schierholtz said that Vai, a senior, will soon graduate from the Academy to manage part of a defense meteorological satellite program. If Vai ever needs assistance while sending objects into orbit, maybe he can call upon his big brother, whose homer traveled an estimated 467 feet and was
only the 31st batted ball to reach Coors Field’s upper deck.

– Chris Haft

Lincecum ‘grinds’ through performance

Wednesday, April 13

SAN FRANCISCO — Tim Lincecum had a no-hitter while facing the minimum nine batters through three innings. Surely, Tuesday would evolve into one of his finer nights on the mound.

Lincecum’s excellence was illusory, as the man himself pointed out.

“I feel like I didn’t give myself the best opportunity,” he said after the Giants’ 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I wasn’t exactly painting the zone. I was just grinding through it and got to a lot of three-ball counts.”

Indeed, Lincecum threw 49 pitches through three innings. He ultimately lasted 5 1/3 innings and needed a fabulous relief effort from Guillermo Mota, who struck out Rod Barajas and induced a popup from Aaron Miles with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning, to have a chance
at securing the victory. That possibility vanished with Marcus Thames’ pinch-hit home run off Jeremy Affeldt leading off the seventh.

It was an adventurous evening for Lincecum nonetheless. He received a staredown from Juan Uribe after hitting his ex-teammate, the last batter he faced. Lincecum also hit Uribe on Opening Night in Los Angeles. Lincecum insisted that he wasn’t trying to plunk Uribe.

“I throw a lot of balls up there anyway, whether it’s a lefty or righity,” Lincecum said. “I buzzed [Matt] Kemp’s tower; I came close to [Jamey] Carroll. The ball just seems to find [Uribe]. Never intentionally, obviously, in a situation like that. I’d be stupid. I’m just trying to throw a pitch in, I didn’t finish it and it held up.”

It also wasn’t the first time Lincecum backed Kemp off the plate. Lincecum indicated that Kemp’s .472 batting average had something to do with this.

“Obviously, you try to make ‘purpose’ pitches, not to hit somebody but get close to them where you make them feel uncomfortable in the box,” Lincecum said. “But lately I guess he’s felt that’s where he belongs. He’s hitting well. Whether you buzz him off, he’s staying in there. He’s definitely improved, for sure.”

Lincecum made a remarkable play for the first out of the sixth inning. Andre Ethier’s comebacker grazed the heel of Lincecum’s glove and trickled behind the pitcher for what appeared to be a sure infield hit. But Lincecum rushed after the ball, slid to grab it between the mound and second base and threw in time to first base from his knees for the out.

“If I feel like I can make the play and I get to the ball, I’ll make a decent effort at it,” Lincecum said. “I just happened to beat him on the throw.”

Told by a reporter that he looked good making the play, Lincecum said, “I hope so. Because it was stressful for me.”

Chris Haft

Torres injures left heel, leaves game

Saturday, April 9

SAN FRANCISCO — Giants center fielder Andres Torres injured his left heel during Saturday night’s fourth inning and left the game.

A prognosis for Torres was not immediately available. He walked off the field under his own power, accompanied by head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner.

Torres appeared to hurt himself as he chased a line drive to left-center field hit by St. Louis’ Lance Berkman. Torres made the catch for the inning’s first out, but departed after Colby Rasmus popped up to shallow center field, a play made by shortstop Miguel Tejada. Unable to pursue the ball, Torres called for the team’s medical staff.

In Torres’ absence, right fielder Aaron Rowand moved to center field and Nate Schierholtz came off the bench to occupy right.

Chris Haft

Leftovers from Opening Day

Early Saturday, 4/9

SAN FRANCISCO — Opening Day’s extra-inning dramatics almost obscured significant contributions by the Giants earlier in Friday’s game against St. Louis. Among them:

– Home runs by Miguel Tejada and Pat Burrell in the third and sixth innings, respectively. Tejada’s was his first as a Giant; Burrell’s was his team-leading third of the season. Burrell has only one other hit this year, explaining his batting average of .174 and on-base percentage of .240 don’t match his slugging percentage of .565.

– Excellent defense at the infield corners by first baseman Brandon Belt and third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Belt made several deft pickups of low or short-hop throws, and Sandoval handled six chances flawlessly. Sandoval also recorded his third multiple-hit game. At the plate and in the field,
Sandoval is playing with the confidence that he exuded in 2009. Can this be traced to his weight loss? Certainly.

– Jonathan Sanchez’s capable effort. The left-hander ran up a high pitch count early and therefore lasted only one batter into the sixth inning, but his seven strikeouts reflected the excellent stuff he possessed. Shades of last Oct. 3, the Giants’ previous regular-season game at AT&T Park, when Sanchez blanked the Padres while working two batters into the sixth inning in the National League West-clinching win. Sanchez also doubled into the left-field corner off Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook and came around to score. Shades of last Oct. 3, when Sanchez tripled and scored the game’s first run.

*****

With superb left-hander Jaime Garcia starting for St. Louis on Saturday, don’t be surprised to see right-handed-hitting Aaron Rowand receive a start. Manager Bruce Bochy likes playing hot hands, and no Giants batter is hotter than Rowand right now. Mark DeRosa could sneak his way into the lineup, too. Garcia absolutely dominated the Giants last Aug. 22 at St. Louis, blanking them on three hits while walking none and allowing exactly zero runners to advance past first base.

Chris Haft

Turn Friday into a slam dunk

Thursday, April 7

SAN  FRANCISCO — When I contemplate how Friday’s pregame festivities at AT&T Park might unfold, I think about the Warriors — the 1974-75 NBA champion Warriors, of course.

Forget the flag-raising. Sorry, but the World Series banner isn’t that big a deal. What interests me is the hair-raising. I want to hear Giants fans cheer like they never have before for a team that they’ve never had before. Remember, people — this is your first and only World Series-winning team. If the crowd delivers lukewarm ovations that fail to make one’s hair stand on end mingled with the goosebumps, it’ll be a wasted celebration.

I wasn’t around for any of the lovefests following the 49ers’ Super Bowl victories. But I did attend the Warriors’ home opener that followed their championship season, and my eardrums remain frayed from that experience.

Those Warriors resembled these Giants. They combined character (personified mainly in Al Attles), charisma (virtually every Warrior was worth emulating in some way, if you played hoops) and a total team concept (10 men averaged at least 11 minutes per game, which was unheard of then). Each guy had a significant fan following. So when the Warriors took the court to face the Washington Bullets, whom they defeated a little less than six months earlier in the Finals, the audience that stuffed the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena had a lot to give.

As I recall, forward Dwight Davis led off the pregame introductions. He didn’t even play for the title-winning Warriors. But he received a thunderous ovation anyway. Fans continued standing, cheering, applauding and bellowing nonstop for each player. It was almost impossible to hear the public-address announcer, so people reacted by increasing the volume of their roars as each player ran onto the floor.

When Rick Barry was introduced, the din could be heard at the Bay Bridge toll plaza.

This is your chance, Giants fans. Split each other’s ears. Transform Friday’s pregame ceremony into a microcosm of last November’s parade, as some players suggested. Make Miguel Tejada or Brandon Belt your Dwight Davis. Drive yourselves hoarse by the time Dan Runzler is introduced.

This is one of the final opportunities to hail the old year. Turn it into a memory worth savoring.

Chris Haft

Belt encounters immediate adversity

Tuesday, April 5

SAN DIEGO — Brandon Belt is receiving a Major League test immediately.

His resolve and psyche, not to mention his hitting technique, are being challenged in his first week as a Giant. Belt’s batting .118 (2-for-17) overall after enduring his third consecutive hitless game in San Francisco’s 3-1 loss Tuesday to the San Diego Padres.

Later in the season, a hitless streak of this length would command little if any attention. But Belt’s under extra scrutiny as he strives to establish himself with a World Series-winning team.

“I think it’s magnified a little bit this early in the season,” he said. “You don’t like looking up there and seeing your average down in the .100s. But all I can do is put the bat on the ball, hopefully put some good swings on the ball, have some good at-bats and the rest will take care of itself eventually.”

Belt admitted that he may have swung at pitches he should have ignored in the last couple of days. He now knows that pitchers are teasing him.

“Looking back on tape, I probably swung at a few of their pitches,” he said.”So I’ll make adjustments tomorrow.”

Belt’s not the only struggling Giant. Left fielder Pat Burrell is batting .167 (3-for-18) with six strikeouts. Meanwhile, Aaron Rowand delivered yet another pinch hit and is batting .571 (4-for-7). But manager Bruce Bochy didn’t sound like he’d alter the lineup any time soon.

“We’re not through the first week yet,” Bochy said. “We’re not going to be making any changes.”

This is the same Bochy who used 126 different lineups last season. He might not wait much longer to try something new.

– Chris Haft

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