September 2011

Final facts from 2011

September 29

SAN FRANCISCO — You knew that Madison Bumgarner has outstanding control of his pitches. You might not have known that his excellence this year reached historic proportions.

Bumgarner began the season at age 21. According to researcher Roger Schlueter of Major League Baseball Productions, Bumgarner’s 4.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio (191 Ks, 46 walks) was the second best since 1893 for any pitcher that young. The only pitcher in his age-21 season to eclipse Bumgarner in this category was Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen, who had a 4.16 ratio (158 Ks, 38 walks) in 1985. Bumgarner moved onto this list ahead of Don Sutton, who recorded a 4.02 ratio (209 Ks, 52 walks) as a Dodgers rookie in 1966. Bumgarner turned 22 on Aug. 1.

Of course, no discussion of strikeout-to-walk ratio is complete without mentioning Sergio Romo. The Giants right-hander posted a ridiculous ratio of 14 (70 Ks, five walks) in 48 innings. His figure led all Major Leaguers who pitched at least 35 innings.

Despite Bumgarner’s and Romo’s best efforts, Giants pitchers walked 559 batters, third-highest in the National League. Tim Lincecum issued a career-high 86 walks — a figure he vowed to trim. Aside from Romo, the relief corps of Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Ramon Ramirez, Dan Runzler and Brian Wilson walked 154 in 336 innings. Despite this, San Francisco’s bullpen ranked second in the league with a 3.04 ERA.

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More stats and history: The Giants’ abysmal total of 570 runs was their lowest in a non-strike-shortened season since they accumulated 556 in 1985.

You’ll remember that the ’85 club remains the only outfit in Giants history to lose 100 games.

Pablo Sandoval scored a club-high 55 runs. That’s the Giants’ lowest team-leading total, including strike-shortened years, since Heinie Smith scored either 46 runs (source: Giants media guide) or 48 runs (source: baseball-reference.com). Even in 1981, when the Giants played only 111 games, Jack Clark scored 60 runs.

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Mark DeRosa, who possesses the gift of gab in abundance, will provide commentary during the postseason for MLB Network.

“That’s something I’ve had my eye on for a little bit,” DeRosa said. “They offered me a chance to come up there and help them out. Just to see if I enjoy it.I love being around the game. I love talking baseball. I’m not a guy who goes home in the offseason and forgets about it. I religiously watch every playoff game and World Series. I’ve got a lot of friends who have been playing in the league a long time with a lot of different teams. I’ve gotten to know a lot of guys around the league. I feel like I have a feel for what makes them tick.”

Here’s a not-going-out-on-a-limb-at-all prediction: DeRosa will do a heck of a job and set up a promising future for himself in radio or TV … once he finishes playing.

Chris Haft

Labor Day ’73 lives forever

Monday,  Sept. 5

SAN DIEGO — Fully aware that this has nothing to do with the Giants’  present-day issues, I’m compelled by the calendar to share this reminiscence.

Baseball on Labor Day always shall mean one thing for me: Sept. 3, 1973. The Giants beat the Dodgers, 11-8, overcoming an 8-1 deficit. This game reinforced some basic baseball truths — how momentum can be so fickle and inexorable; why leaving a ballgame early is never a good idea; and how the improbable can become commonplace when the Giants and Dodgers meet.

Moreover, it was simply an unforgettable game.

The Dodgers, who led the National League West by one game over Cincinnati at the time, led 8-1 after five innings. This prompted an older couple to gather their blankets (I should have mentioned that the scene was Candlestick Park) and head for the parking lot. Asked by a neighbor (apparently I was sitting amid a flock of season-ticket holders) why they were leaving so soon, the departing gentleman simply shook his head in disgust.

I wonder how those two felt a few hours later.

The Giants had only three hits through six innings — OK, I looked it up on baseball-reference.com — but roused themselves to score six runs in the seventh inning. That, I recall without fact-checking. I don’t remember much about the particulars of the rally, which included two-run singles by Dave Rader and Tito Fuentes (thanks again, baseball-reference). I do remember that though the Giants still trailed, 8-7, I was absolutely convinced that they’d proceed to win.

The ninth inning validated my belief. After striking out Willie McCovey, Chris Speier and Dave Kingman in a perfect eighth, Dodgers reliever Pete Richert walked Gary Thomasson to open the ninth. Baseball-reference says that the next two hitters, Rader and Mike Sadek, recorded sacrifice bunts and reached base safely. My memory tells me that the Dodgers botched both plays, but detailing how this happened would require deeper research.

The Dodgers summoned their best reliever, left-hander Jim Brewer, to face Bobby Bonds, the Giants’ best player and quite possibly the finest in the entire NL at that  juncture. Though the bases were loaded with nobody out, the Dodgers seemed to have a decent shot of escaping the threat. Brewer’s formidable screwball made him tough on right-handed batters as well as against lefties.

But when Bonds performed at the height of his skill, nothing else mattered.

He drove a pitch to left field but hit it so high that I figured it was just a fly ball. Watching Bill Buckner stand helplessly at the fence as the ball disappeared into the seats told me otherwise. Giants fans in the relatively sparse audience of 15,279 — those who remained present, that is — were euphoric. The Giants never seriously threatened the Dodgers or Reds in the division race through the rest of the season. But, for one night, their followers felt as if the team had reached the World Series.

Bonds and the Giants thus issued an essential reminder: Never, ever give up.

Maybe this recollection isn’t so irrelevant after all.

Chris Haft

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