Author Archive

Affeldt jams left thumb in dugout mishap

Thursday, Oct. 11
CINCINNATI — The thumb on Jeremy Affeldt’s throwing hand, his left, became a mild concern for the Giants late in Thursday’s 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in Game 5 of the NL Division Series.

Affeldt fell in the dugout as he tried to avoid being hit by a foul ball in the top of the eighth inning and jammed his thumb. Otherwise, manager Bruce Bochy said that Affeldt, who pitched a scoreless seventh inning, might have begun the eighth inning, which would have eased the transition to Sergio Romo for the ninth inning.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Affeldt said of his injury. “We did X-rays. It seems to be clear. It’s just a little tight and a little stiff.”

*****

Sergio Romo often has modestly said that he can’t replace Brian Wilson as the Giants’ closer. Probably not, but even Wilson himself approved of Romo’s efforts, including his most recent outing Thursday.

Romo yielded a run but secured the final four outs, including a 12-pitch showdown with Reds slugger Jay Bruce that ended with a harmless fly to left field.

“To keep his composure shows a lot about his character,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who’s recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and missed virtually the entire season, has been around in recent weeks to offer support and counsel to teammates such as Romo. Wilson has warned Romo, who struggled in the 2010 postseason, that the air becomes tougher to breathe in October.

“I keep telling him, it’s a different beast in the playoffs,” said Wilson, who recorded six saves and didn’t allow an earned run in 10 postseason appearances in 2010. “It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season.”

*****

A few good lines:

Affeldt, on his seventh-inning confrontation against Cincinnati’s Ryan Ludwick which ended in a comebacker, thus stranding two runners: “That was probably one of the most honorable battles I’ve had all year with a guy.”

Center fielder Angel Pagan, relating how he felt as he watched Romo square off against Bruce: “I had my money on my guy.”

Cincinnati’s Ryan Ludwick on his team’s aborted comeback: “We rallied, you know? I think the main thing is we said we needed to answer, and we did. We answered with a couple of runs, but, shoot, it’s tough to beat Matt Cain four times in one year.”

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto on the same subject, including Buster Posey’s heroics: “I don’t really like saying that there are moments in games where you shift momentum, but when Buster hit that grand slam –- six runs is so difficult to come back from. That we almost came back was pretty impressive. But Buster totally broke our back with that swing.”

Chris Haft

Defining moment for Kontos

Tuesday, Oct. 2

LOS ANGELES — George Kontos became a Major League relief pitcher Tuesday night.

Admittedly, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Kontos must repeat what he did to end the seventh inning — preserving the Giants’ one-run lead by striking out the formidable Matt Kemp with Shane Victorino on third base — to establish himself further.

But this moment accelerated Kontos’ growth.

He learned to trust his stuff. He struck out Kemp on a 2-2 slider. There’s no way he was going to use a different delivery.

“My slider’s my best pitch,” he said. “I’m not going to change for anybody.”

He realized he can perform under more pressure than he faced in any of his previous 42 appearances with the Giants. Kontos spoke of his need to channel his adrenaline when facing Kemp and “just go after him like there weren’t 40,000 people yelling at me.”

He showed himself that he doesn’t necessarily have to overpower hitters. “I think one of the big things I’ve learned is not to try to do everything at 110 percent. Sometimes a little bit less is better,” he said.

If Kontos continues on this path, less definitely will be more for him and the Giants.

Chris Haft

Pagan perpetuates Mays legend; Zito throws heat

Saturday, Sept. 15

PHOENIX — Willie Mays remains an enduring natural resource for the Giants. Just ask Angel Pagan.

Pagan made a running catch of Justin Upton’s second-inning fly to center field Saturday that recalled some of the great grabs Mays made during his singular career. As Pagan revealed, this wasn’t a coincidence. He has seized upon the presence of the legendary Mays, who annually visits Spring Training and attends many Giants home games, to learn more about outfield play.

“His advice has been very encouraging,” Pagan said after the Giants’ 3-2 victory over Arizona.

Pagan began sponging up Mays’ knowledge early during the Cactus League season. As he related, he misplayed a ball in deep center. “The next morning,” Pagan said, “the first person I saw was Willie Mays. ‘Hey, I want to talk to you.’ “

Mays, who won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves (1957-68) for fielding excellence, advised Pagan to begin his pursuit of such fly balls at full speed, then decelerate. He reminded Pagan that the less his head moves while he runs, the easier it is to focus on the ball and make the catch.

As the season has unfolded, Pagan relishes being told, “Willie wants to see you,” then going to clubhouse manager Mike Murphy’s office to receive more tutelage from the master.

“I like it,” Pagan said with a gleaming, grateful smile. “I don’t consider myself a genius in baseball, so I have to learn as much as I can.”

He didn’t need to add the obvious — that Willie Mays is a baseball genius.

*****

Whether manager Bruce Bochy includes Barry Zito in the postseason starting rotation probably will depend on which team the Giants face.

If San Francisco confronts the Braves, against whom Zito excels, he’ll likely be included. Should the Giants oppose the Reds, his chances are slimmer, particularly if the vacancy for which he’s considered is a game at Cincinnati’s
Great American Ball Park. He has compiled a 6.10 ERA in six starts there.

Though Bochy refuses to discuss any postseason-related issues at this time, he did indicate that he holds Zito in higher esteem than he ever has. “He’s throwing the ball as well as anybody right now,” Bochy said after the Giants’ 3-2 victory.

Zito amplified that statement by firing an 86-mph fastball past Upton for a strikeout that ended the sixth inning. Everybody knows that Zito’s fastball travels at below-average velocity. Though 86 is still on the slower end of the fastball spectrum, that’s searing speed by Zito’s standards.

“Sometimes the adrenalin can give you an extra mile an hour or two,” he said.

Chris Haft

Crawford merits Gold Glove consideration

Wednesday, Sept. 5

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s difficult to imagine a better defensive shortstop in the National League than Brandon Crawford.

Crawford probably won’t win the Gold Glove Award, because the coaches and managers who cast ballots for the honor are likely to vote for somebody with more experience or a greater reputation.

However, Crawford might emerge as a viable candidate. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Wednesday that coaches and managers from other teams have approached him to discuss Crawford’s defense. It can be safely assumed that Bochy has good things to say.

“This kid, the last two or three months, I don’t know who’s played better at short,” Bochy said. “That is how good he’s been defensively.”

Simply put, Crawford has every attribute an elite shortstop should possess. Sure hands. Vast range to either side. A throwing arm that would make many pitchers envious. Last year’s Gold Glove winner, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, has been sidelined for most of the year, which potentially clears a path for Crawford.

Crawford compares favorably with his counterparts statistically, by traditional or modern measures. Entering Wednesday, he ranked third among NL shortstops with a .974 fielding percentage, behind Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins (.979) and Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart (.975). But his 4.70 range factor (putouts and assists divided by number of innings or games played) was superior to Rollins’ 3.93 and Cozart’s 4.30.

Curiously, Pittsburgh’s Clint Barmes, who’s generally considered solid but not stellar, was the runaway leader in  Fangraph.com’s Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which measures a fielder’s success at reaching balls determined to be in his zone of the field. Barmes had a 13.1 UZR, followed by Cozart at 6.3 and Crawford at 5.8.

Anybody seeing the double play Crawford generated in Tuesday night’s seventh inning would have handed him the Gold Glove right then and there. Crawford had to handle Ryan Wheeler’s slow bouncer, tag Miguel Montero before he could slip past and flip a quick throw to first. Displaying his wealth of skills, Crawford accomplished all that.

I’m obviously biased, since I watch Crawford virtually every day. But that’s just it: The more I see of him, the more I’m convinced that he’s a Gold Glove shortstop.

Chris Haft

Sunday’s leftovers (Giants 7, Cubs 5)

Sunday, Sept. 2

CHICAGO — Several developments in Sunday’s 7-5 Giants victory over the Chicago Cubs deserve extra attention:

Matt Cain pitched better than his line indicated (five innings, six hits, five earned runs, two walks, six strikeouts). He threw a perfect first inning that included a strikeout and two comebackers. He struck out two more batters in a scoreless second inning. Cain yielded a run in the third, but that inning might have progressed much differently had he been able to field Darwin Barney’s leadoff dribbler. Cain couldn’t make the play, which was scored a hit.

Yes, Alfonso Soriano pounded a three-run homer off Cain in the fifth inning. But Soriano does that to a lot of pitchers. He became only the 10th player to hit 25 or more homers in four or more seasons as a Cub.

“You turn around and hope the wind catches it,” Cain said. “But when he gets a hold of the ball, I don’t think it matters if the wind’s blowing. He put a good swing on that ball and got all of it.”

That put Chicago ahead, 5-3, until the Giants scored twice in the sixth after two were out with nobody on base. To prolong the inning, the Giants received a double from Xavier Nady, who broke in as a Giant with a nice pair of games (3-for-5, two doubles, two walks, two runs scored and three RBIs). Brandon Belt’s pinch-hit triple scored Nady. Nice work from a guy who was 2-for-10 as a pinch-hitter.

Belt then scored the tying run on a wild pitch that pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff, making his first plate appearance as a Giant since July 30, made possible with his tenacity. Facing reliever Manuel Corpas, Huff worked the count to 2-2 and fouled off a pair of pitches before Corpas threw one in the dirt.

Tying the score so quickly after the Cubs forged ahead gave the Giants a definite lift. “That kept the momentum back on our side, in a way,” Cain said.

Chris Haft

Hamstrings bother Posey & Pablo, but not much

Wednesday, Aug. 22

LOS ANGELES — On the 47th anniversary of the Marichal-Roseboro incident, no fights erupted between the Giants and Dodgers. Just some injuries which, fortunately for the Giants, appeared mild.

Manager Bruce Bochy said after San Francisco’s 8-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers that catcher Buster Posey, who missed the game with a tight right hamstring, could return to the lineup as soon as Thursday, when the Giants open a four-game home series against Atlanta.

“We feel pretty good that he’s going to be OK to (play) tomorrow,” Bochy said. “If he needs another day (off), he’s going to take it.”

Bochy removed Pablo Sandoval in the middle of the sixth inning when the third baseman’s left hamstring tightened as he ran the bases. But Sandoval insisted that he’ll be fit to play Thursday, a sentiment that Bochy echoed.

Chris Haft

Mijares making contributions

Wednesday, Aug. 22

LOS ANGELES — Jose Mijares could be this year’s Javier Lopez.

Just ask the real Javier Lopez.

The Giants acquired Lopez on Trade Deadline day two years ago. He recorded a 1.42 ERA in 27 appearances for the Giants through the rest of the season to help them win the National League West. In the postseason, he allowed just one earned run in 5 2/3 innings spanning nine appearances as the Giants won the World Series.

Mijares’ statistics (1-0, 4.26 ERA) aren’t as dazzling as Lopez’s were. But that’s deceiving, because Mijares coughed up all three runs and four of the six hits he has allowed as a Giant last Sunday at San Diego. Usually, he has been as effective as he was Tuesday night, when he relieved Tim Lincecum and stranded runners on the corners by striking out Andre Ethier with a 93-mph fastball.

Welcome to the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, Jose.

“We don’t have time to ease him into these situations,” Lopez said. “From here on out, these are all must-win games, especially when you’re playing divisional rivals.”

Among the Giants’ left-handed relief contingent, Mijares complements Lopez, who relies more on sinkers, and Jeremy Affeldt, who throws just as hard yet mixes in curveballs to upset hitters’ timing.

“He has a little more under the hood than I do. That’s why he was able to run that fastball up there,” Lopez said. “He’s got a pretty good arm.”

Chris Haft

An unusually peaceful plunking

Sunday, Aug. 19

SAN DIEGO — A somewhat rare event occurred Sunday: Padres left-hander Clayton Richard plunked Brandon Belt of the Giants with a fourth-inning pitch Sunday; everybody knew the act was intentional; and yet tempers didn’t fly out of control.

Richard was getting even for Ryan Vogelsong hitting Carlos Quentin with a pitch in the second inning.

“It’s part of baseball sometimes, so I wasn’t too upset about it,” said Belt, who was struck above his right hip.

Manager Bruce Bochy felt certain that Richard consciously threw at Belt. “There was no question,” Bochy said. “Obviously they thought we hit [Quentin] on purpose. But Vogelsong was laboring out there. No big deal.”

Vogelsong was the only Giant who sounded annoyed. But not because he had to settle a score with Quentin, who should be accustomed to getting hit. He has 14 HBPs this year, led the American League with 23 last year for Chicago and totaled 20 in two other seasons.

Quentin apparently glared briefly at Vogelsong after being hit. That didn’t sit well with the right-hander.

“The guy hammers balls out over the plate and then he gets [angry] when I throw him inside. It doesn’t make sense,” Vogelsong said. “I’m a sinkerball pitcher. Every once in a while the ball runs on you more than you think it’s going to. I wasn’t trying to hit him at all there. Every time you hit a guy in this game now, everybody thinks you did it on purpose. I’m frickin’ tired [of it].”

Chris Haft

Echoes of last year are faintly, ominously audible

Friday, Aug. 3

SAN FRANCISCO — Hints of 2011 have crept into this season for the Giants.

That’s not a good thing.

Consider these parallels:

Euphoria swept the visitor’s clubhouse at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park on July 28 of last year, when the Giants recorded a stirring 4-1 victory over the Phillies. Tim Lincecum looked great during six shutout innings. The acquisition of slugging outfielder Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets before the Trade Deadline fortified the Giants, psychologically and on paper. They owned a four-game lead in the National League West as they continued their trip with three games against the Reds, who had just been swept in four games by the Mets.

The Giants proceeded to lose their next five games and tumble into a first-place tie in the division race with Arizona. They clung to first place for another week, when the Diamondbacks pulled in front for good.

Fast-forward to this year. Optimism filled the Giants’ clubhouse this past Tuesday, after Lincecum worked seven strong innings in a 4-1 triumph over the Mets. That victory broke a virtual tie with Los Angeles atop the West standings and gave the Giants a one-game lead. Moreover, the Giants knew the cavalry was coming in the form of multitalented outfielder Hunter Pence, who arrived from Philadelphia in a trade that was officially announced about two hours before the Trade Deadline struck. Pence would make his Giants debut behind Matt Cain, he of the perfect
game and the All-Star Game triumph, against the disappointing Mets, who arrived in San Francisco having lost 14 of their previous 17 games.

The Giants proceeded to lose the series’ final pair of games to New York, collecting seven hits in the process. They still lead the West, with Los Angeles trailing by a half-game and the D-backs two games behind. Nevertheless, the Giants clearly are in a precarious situation. They’ve lost seven of their last eight games and must play 19 of their next 29 games on the road.

The Giants’ performance during that stretch could determine whether they’re pursuing postseason glory in September or staring enviously at the Dodgers and D-backs as they pull away from them in the standings.

It’s easy to suggest that the Giants are bound for another agonizing August and a desperate September. But perspective must be maintained. It’s entirely possible — the coming weeks will tell the story — that this is their nadir, that their offense will thrive once Pablo Sandoval returns from the disabled list (perhaps in a week) to complement Buster Posey, Melky Cabrera and a motivated Pence, and that the starting pitching, which remains the division’s best, will help San Francisco outclass their rivals.

Finally, don’t forget about that second Wild Card spot. Sure, it’s a cheap way to reach the postseason, but it opens the window of opportunity longer for legitimate contenders. Thus the intensity of this stretch drive could generate more excitement than most.

As a result, the time has arrived for teams such as the Giants to strive to summon their best each and every day. It’ll be a pleasure to watch.

– Chris Haft
e-mail: chris.haft@mlb.com
Twitter: @sfgiantsbeat

Personal list of greatest Giants-Dodgers hits

Friday, July 27

SAN FRANCISCO — The Dodgers are in town. And with the Giants leading the National League West standings by three games over Los Angeles, this three-game series bears obvious significance for the division race.

But if you’re a true fan of either team — heck, if you’re a true fan, period — it always means something when these teams clash.

Perhaps I’m romanticizing the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, or what’s left of it. The intensity their games generate seems to have steadily diminished, with the exception of occasional plateaus when both teams are in contention.

Then I guess I’m a hopeless romantic, because I’ll always believe in the potential for the energy, juice, or electricity that the Giants and Dodgers potentially can generate.

Every time I walk into the visitors’ clubhouse at Dodger Stadium — every time — I imagine what it must have been like when Mays, McCovey, Marichal and Perry dressed there, preparing for another critical game before another sellout crowd and against another outstanding pitcher.

Sometimes when I reflect on what I love about baseball, I recall the first time I listened to a Giants-Dodgers game. Searching for KSFO’s broadcast on my cheap little transistor radio, I passed over a frequency where I heard nothing but static. As it turned out, that was the broadcast, and the sound was the hubbub of crowd noise. Finally I heard either Russ Hodges or Lon Simmons say, “I don’t think that’s Alston.” Translation: All that was happening was a trip to the mound by a Dodgers coach, not manager Walter Alston, and thousands of people were hollering.

Anything generating that kind of excitement when nothing was going on was worth following.

That’s just one reason I remain a Giants-Dodgers junkie.

Here are a dozen others — a list, in chronological order, of the most memorable Giants-Dodgers games I either attended or covered. Telecasts don’t count. Sorry; I wasn’t around for the Joe Morgan game or the Brian Johnson game. And though my age begins with a “5,” I didn’t get interested in baseball early enough to see Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale pitch.

Still, I treasure this list, along with the sound and the fury it awakens internally (thanks to baseball-reference.com for the factual help).

May 15, 1971 — Giants 1, Dodgers 0. This remains a personal favorite. Juan Marichal pitched a six-hitter (shame on you for wondering whether it was a complete game), and Willie Mays scored the only run when he lined a seventh-inning double and scored on Dick Dietz’s single.

July 2, 1972 — Giants 9, Dodgers 3. Willie McCovey hit a grand slam. Enough said.

Sept. 3, 1973 — Giants 11, Dodgers 8. I was struck by how many people remembered this one when I blogged about it a while back. Los Angeles owned an 8-1 lead when the Giants scored six runs in the seventh inning. Bobby Bonds completed the Giants’ comeback with a ninth-inning grand slam. Unreal.

June 26-29, 1975 — Giants 2-10-2-5, Dodgers 0-5-1-2. The downtrodden Giants swept the elite Dodgers in a four-game series at Candlestick. An early lesson in how anything can happen in baseball. I believe I attended the first and last games of this series.

April 11, 1976 — Giants 6, Dodgers 4. I couldn’t make it for Opening Day, which amounted to a celebration of the Giants’ staying in San Francisco after they appeared bound for Toronto. After Saturday’s game was rained out, I made sure to be at Candlestick on Sunday, when the Giants overcame a 4-2 deficit with four runs in the eighth inning.

May 28, 1978 — Giants 6, Dodgers 5. Mike Ivie’s pinch-hit grand slam off Don Sutton wiped out a 3-1 Dodgers lead and sent a then-record Candlestick crowd of 56,103 into a frenzy.

June 27, 1980 — Dodgers 8, Giants 0. Jerry Reuss pitched a no-hitter. Hey, I didn’t promise these would all be stirring Giants victories. A no-hitter is a no-hitter!

June 29, 1980 — Giants 4, Dodgers 3. The venerable warrior slays the formidable enemy one final time. McCovey, who a couple of weeks earlier announced his retirement effective early July, clobbers a pinch-hit, tiebreaking double in the ninth inning to beat the Dodgers in the first game of a Candlestick doubleheader. The ovation for McCovey lasted nearly the entire between-games period.

April 16, 2006 — Giants 2, Dodgers 0. Omar Vizquel, who belongs in the Hall of Fame, proved what made him such a singular shortstop by unexpectedly throwing behind a runner (Cody Ross!) rounding third base to douse a Dodgers rally. Brilliant baseball.

July 20, 2010 — Giants 7, Dodgers 5. The Bruce Bochy game. San Francisco’s manager noticed that acting Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly doubled back on a trip to the mound, necessitating the removal of closer Jonathan Broxton (never mind that the umpires misinterpreted the rule). The Giants proceeded to hammer the next reliever, George Sherrill.

July 31, 2010 — Giants 2, Dodgers 1. The Pat Burrell game. Burrell’s two-out, two-run homer in the eighth inning erased Los Angeles’ 1-0 lead. Though the Giants still had to survive the ninth inning, Burrell’s drive had the feel of a walkoff hit.

Sept. 4, 2010 — Giants 5, Dodgers 4. Another conversation piece from the World Series season. San Francisco trailed 4-0 through six innings and looked listless. Then Buster Posey homered in the seventh, Edgar Renteria and Burrell went deep in the eighth and Juan Uribe added a two-run homer in the ninth. Just another Giants-Dodgers game.

Chris Haft

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