Author Archive

Cavan savors night to remember

Thursday, March 21

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — This was a great day to be Ryan Cavan.

An infielder in the Giants’ Minor League system, Cavan was informed Thursday morning that he would join the group of farmhands reporting to Scottsdale Stadium to serve as potential extra players for that night’s San Francisco-Colorado Cactus League game.

Except Cavan wasn’t an extra.

Marco Scutaro’s back felt stiff, and manager Bruce Bochy urged his second baseman to take it easy. This cleared a path for Cavan to enter the lineup.

Bochy might as well have been a zookeeper letting the caged animals run free.

You see, Cavan isn’t just employed by the Giants. He loves them. Born in San Mateo and residing in Belmont, he frequently took the short ride north to Candlestick Park to watch the Will Clark-era Giants. San Francisco drafted Cavan, a graduate of Menlo School who proceeded to the University of California at Santa Barbara, in the 16th round in 2009.

“It’s been awesome to be a part of the Giants organization,” Cavan said.

Never more so than Thursday.

Told by a Giants beat reporter that he would be starting, Cavan wasted no time trying to make an impression. He singled home Francisco Peguero with the Giants’ first run in the second inning, and he accounted for their final run by launching a majestic eighth-inning homer. Reliever George Kontos alertly obtained the home-run ball for a
grateful Cavan.

It mattered not one bit to Cavan that this was just an exhibition game. As far as he was concerned, he was playing in the big leagues with the Giants. This was a dream fulfilled.

“You definitely want to display your talent, when you get an opportunity, and you want to show that you’re ready,” Cavan said. “I wanted to play as hard as I could tonight and display my ability.”

Chris Haft

Meulens speaks with versatile tongue

Wednesday, March 13

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Hensley Meulens has used his considerable language capacity to its fullest during the World Baseball Classic.

Meulens speaks five languages fluently — Dutch, English, Japanese, Papiamento and Spanish. The Giants hitting coach has used each to varying degrees in the past few weeks while managing the team representing the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Classic’s semifinals.

As Meulens explained during his Wednesday visit to Giants camp while his ballclub enjoyed a day off from practicing in the Phoenix area, the team has several players hailing from the island of Curacao, where he was born. Papiamento is the most widely spoken language there.

One of the pitchers performing for Meulens is Orlando Yntema, a native of the Dominican Republic whose father was born in Curacao. Yntema hears from Meulens in Spanish.

When the Netherlands played first-round games in Japan, Meulens felt compelled to speak to people there in their native tongue.

Of course, Meulens converses with the team’s Dutch representatives in the manner to which they’re accustomed.

Finally, English happens to be what Meulens and his squad most commonly speak. This reflects the universality of the language.

“I didn’t want guys to be speaking something they didn’t understand,” Meulens said. “So we try to speak English all the time.”

Chris Haft

CD features best of Russ and Lon

Monday, Dec. 17

SAN FRANCISCO — If you love the Giants and appreciate their rich history, an ideal holiday gift awaits you.

A CD is available featuring taped highlights from the careers of Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, the club’s popular broadcast team during its first 13 years in San Francisco (1958-70). It’s the 11th in a series of commemorative audio tributes produced, written and narrated by Chicago Cubs play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes, who also has captured the best of Red Barber, Marty Brennaman, Jack Buck, Harry Caray and Harry Kalas, among others.

Each of these projects is a labor of love for Hughes. But this one has special meaning, given Hughes’ background. He grew up in San Jose listening to Hodges and Simmons, who helped stoke his passion for the game and his career path.  “They influenced me greatly and favorably,” Hughes said. Hughes is among those — as am I — who adored Russ and Lon as much as Mays, McCovey and Marichal.

“Listening to the highlights brought back a flood of memories,” Hughes said.

The excerpts are often riveting. Of course, the CD features the spoken accounts by Hodges and Simmons of numerous memorable events, such as pivotal occurrences from the 1962 pennant-winning season and multiple Willie Mays heroics. We hear Hodges’ call of Bobby Thomson’s home run — not just “The Giants win the pennant!” segment, but also the moments before the homer, in which Hodges’ keen eye for detail is evident. We hear Simmons’ pregame show from May 11, 1972, when he spoke eloquently and emotionally about the trade that sent Mays to the New York Mets.

Hughes included unexpected treats. We learn what led Hodges and Simmons to the microphone, often in their own words. We hear an absolutely hilarious clip from a Roos-Atkins commercial that Hodges and Simmons attempted to deliver live until they dissolved in laughter. We hear Hodges calling boxing, of all things — drawing a prestigious assignment by being at ringside for the second Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston bout.

The CD can be ordered online at http://www.baseballvoices.com. Requesting the priority shipping option will assure that the CD will reach its destination by Dec. 24, if it’s intended as a Christmas present.

But, really, it’s an excellent item to give or acquire at any time.

Chris Haft

Tuesday, Dec. 4

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was a foregone conclusion that the Giants would exercise the 2014 options on the contracts of general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy. Those moves could occur as early as Tuesday afternoon, when club president and chief executive officer Larry Baer is expected to address the issue.

Given the Giants’ two World Series triumphs in the last three years, contract extensions for Sabean and Bochy would be within the realm of possibility.

Sabean, the longest-tenured GM in the Major Leagues, is entering his 17th season on the job. He has been the architect of teams that recorded a 1,392-1,199 record for a .537 winning percentage.

Bochy, who began managing the Giants in 2007 after 12 years as the skipper of the San Diego Padres, owns a 1,454-1,444 career record. He has steered teams to the postseason six times. Besides his pair of World Series appearances with the Giants, Bochy also reached the Fall Classic in 1998 with the Padres.

Together, Sabean and Bochy have helped the Giants record four consecutive winning seasons, the team’s longest such streak since 1997-2004.

Chris Haft

Scutaro tough to sign; Evans, Slaughter honored

Monday, Dec. 3

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bobby Evans, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations, hinted that competition for free-agent second baseman Marco Scutaro’s services could be more spirited than anticipated.

“He’s got versatility,” Evans said Monday, referring to Scutaro’s ability to play shortstop and third base as well, “and that gives him an additional market that some guys may not have.”

Observers assumed that Scutaro, 37, would settle for a two-year contract. But his breadth of skills, along with his .362 average in 61 games down the stretch for the Giants and that National League Championship Series MVP trophy he won, might be enough to earn him another year, or at least an option year.

“In Marco’s case, I wouldn’t rule out anything,” Evans said.

*****

At a ceremony here Monday, Evans received the Bowie Kuhn Baseball Chapel Award for his efforts to encourage spiritual efforts among the Giants. In addition, Staci Slaughter, the club’s senior vice president of communications, received the 2021 Robert O. Fishel Award for public relations excellence. She has been a member of the organization since 1996.

Chris Haft

Wilson a ‘Giant for life’; Pagan’s effect on Brown

Monday, Dec. 3

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bobby Evans, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations, used some powerful language Monday to suggest that Brian Wilson ideally will always wear a San Francisco uniform.

Of course, whether Wilson views matters the same way remains to be seen.

The Giants declined to tender Wilson a 2013 contract last Friday. They didn’t want to pay him a minimum of $6.8 million, the minimum they could have offered him under terms of the Basic Agreement. Players’ salaries cannot be cut by more than 20 percent; the $6.8 million figure represented a 20 percent reduction from the $8.5 million Wilson earned in 2012.

To listen to Evans, Wilson’s value to the Giants is priceless.

“I think Brian’s a Giant for life, and he’ll hopefully be a guy who’ll consider coming back here as he evaluates his options,” Evans said, adding that the organization respected Wilson’s right to look elsewhere.

Added Evans, “He’s a commodity that’s hard to find. It’s hard to find guys built like him that have the mentality that he has that led to a lot of his success. So that’s going to be very interesting on the open market, injury aside. His makeup is part of what makes him successful.”

Manager Bruce Bochy, who personally contacted Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro to help the Giants’ efforts to keep both players, said that he would call Wilson soon in an attempt to convince him to stay.

Whatever happens with Wilson, Bochy declared that Sergio Romo would open next season as the Giants’ closer, barring drastic roster moves. “I’ll tell you (that) right now,” Bochy said, though he indicated that he might continue the closer-by-committee strategy he employed in Wilson’s absence. Santiago Casilla saved a team-high 25 games, and Bochy mentioned Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez as others who could lend support — as they did in 2012.

*****

So if Angel Pagan remains productive for the duration of his four-year contract, what happens to Gary Brown, the 2010 first-round draft choice who was billed as the Giants’ center fielder of the future?

Evans said that Brown, 24, remains highly regarded within the organization. “I don’t doubt Gary at all,” Evans said. “The timing for him will be dictated more by him than it will be us.”

In other words, if Brown excels, the Giants will find a place for him somewhere in the outfield. He hit .279 with 33 stolen bases at Double-A Richmond this year and followed that by hitting .313 in 17 games for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League.

“I think Gary will put himself in the big leagues at the right time,” Evans said.

Chris Haft

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

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