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No-hit hangovers and memories

Tuesday, July 2

CINCINNATI — Ideally, the Giants will demonstrate their championship resilience Wednesday and recover from the no-hitter Homer Bailey dealt them by thrashing the Cincinnati Reds.

In reality, it hasn’t happened that way.

The Giants lost their previous four games on days after they were no-hit. They averaged a little more than nine hits in those games, a healthy number. But the all-around performance was missing, something with which this year’s Giants are quite familiar.

It’s worth noting that one of the Giants who excelled when they last won following a no-hit defeat will be on the premises Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. On Sept. 26, 1986, the day after Houston’s Mike Scott dominated them, they downed the Dodgers, 3-0. Mike Krukow smothered L.A. on three hits through eight innings for his 19th victory. Maybe he should perform some sort of good-luck ritual before settling into the broadcast booth.

*****

Speaking of luck, I’ve been extremely fortunate to witness five no-hitters. Of the previous four, I was a spectator at two: Ed Halicki, Aug. 24, 1975 against the Mets and Jerry Reuss, June 27, 1980 for the Dodgers over the Giants. I worked (that term “worked” is used loosely; I gladly would have paid to be at the park) the other two: Jonathan Sanchez, July 10, 2009 against San Diego and, of course, Matt Cain’s perfect game last June 13 against Houston.

I have to echo Giants manager Bruce Bochy in pronouncing Bailey’s effort the most overpowering, though Cain (14), Sanchez (11) and Halicki (10) exceeded Bailey’s total of nine strikeouts. With that 97-mph fastball, Bailey looked like a frickin’ monster.

Each one occupies a special place in my memory. Halicki’s ended with the crowd in sheer delirium, partly because the Giants weren’t very good then and we had little to cheer about. The weird thing about Reuss’ game was the unusual heat that enveloped Candlestick Park that night. The enduring images I have of Sanchez’s no-no include Aaron Rowand’s leaping catch at the center-field wall in the ninth inning and Randy Johnson, hands stuffed in his
jacket, loping toward the on-field celebration as the last Giant to leave the dugout.

I could say a lot about Cain’s perfecto, since it occurred so recently, but I’ll distill my recollections into two words: Gregor Blanco.

Chris Haft

Crawford’s defensive brilliance shines again

Thursday, May 16

DENVER — Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford displayed his Gold Glove-level skills again Thursday, making a highly difficult play on Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon to record a sixth-inning out during the Giants’ 8-6 victory over the Rockies.

Blackmon hit a low-trajectory bloop to Crawford that prompted him to break in for the ball. Suddenly he stopped and played the ball on a hop — though he had to reach for it with his bare right hand to do so. The ball very nearly skipped past him for a base hit.

Crawford grasped the ball smartly and threw out Blackmon, who has decent speed, at first base.

Asked to rank that play alongside his other examples of defensive artistry, Crawford said in his understated fashion, “It’s up there.”

He also admitted that the ball fooled him somewhat. “Off the bat I was going to catch it. I thought I was going to have time to get under it and catch it. But by the time I ‘broke down,’ [terminology for slowing up slightly to make a play -- it can be baseball, football or basketball] I had to react to it. With that spin, it was kind of typical for it to bounce off to the right.”

*****

One more Crawford tidbit, this on the Giants’ 10-game winning streak against the Rockies:
“It’s kind of weird, because they’re a good team. They have good arms and a lot of good bats, obviously. To win 10 straight on them is a pretty good accomplishment for our team.”

– Chris Haft

Giants might have to add reliever

Early Friday, May 10

SAN FRANCISCO — Forced to work the bullpen overtime due to the starters’ inability to last deep into games, the Giants might consider adding another reliever from Triple-A Fresno before Friday night’s rematch against the Atlanta Braves.

Asked about the possibility of such a move, manager Bruce Bochy said during his postgame news conference Thursday, “Right now there’s no plans, but we’ll talk about it once I’m done here.”

With right-hander Santiago Casilla nursing a sore right knee and sidelined for at least another day or two, the Giants’ bullpen contingent is essentially a man short. George Kontos and Chad Gaudin pitched two innings apiece in Thursday’s 6-3 loss to Atlanta. Jose Mijares consumed two innings on Tuesday. And Mijares came back Thursday to pitch two-thirds of an inning, throwing more pitches in his stint (23) than Gaudin did in his much longer outing (15).

If the Giants were to add a 13th pitcher, they’d likely option outfielder Francisco Peguero back to Fresno and recall right-hander Jean Machi, who sparkled in a recent big-league stint.

*****

Leftovers from Thursday:

– Marco Scutaro lengthened his hitting streak to nine games. He’s batting .515 (17-for-33) with eight runs scored in this stretch.

– Four of Buster Posey’s five home runs have come at AT&T Park. That contrasts with last year, when Posey amassed 17 of his 24 regular-season homers on the road.

– Giants pitchers matched a season-high with 14 strikeouts.

– Has anybody noticed how well Atlanta catcher Brian McCann hits at AT&T Park? In 23 games by the Bay, McCann’s batting .329 (28-for-85) with three home runs and 15 RBI.

Chris Haft

Affeldt looks smooth in tuneup outing

Wednesday, May 1

TEMPE, Ariz. — Jeremy Affeldt threw approximately 25 pitches Wednesday morning during what appeared to be a pleasantly uneventful appearance in an extended Spring Training game.

This was expected to be Affeldt’s final step in his recovery from a strained right oblique. Assuming he continues to feel comfortable after this outing — the next day is always a critical period — the left-hander likely will be activated from the disabled list before Friday’s series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park.

Assistant athletic trainer Anthony Reyes and strength and conditioning coach Carl Kochan were present to supervise Affeldt. Neither general manager Brian Sabean nor any of his top assistants appeared to be on hand, perhaps reflecting the organization’s confidence in Affeldt’s health.

Facing a squad of Los Angeles Angels farmhands, Affeldt faced seven batters and allowed two singles, neither of which was particularly hard-hit. He coaxed four ground-ball outs and recorded one strikeout.

An amusing moment occurred when Affeldt threw a curveball to the second man he faced. The batter leaned away from the pitch to avoid being hit, but the umpire called it a strike. Staring at the umpire, the hitter exclaimed “Wow” — perhaps in disdain over the ump’s call, or possibly in amazement over the movement of Affeldt’s curve.

Afterward, Affeldt met with Reyes and Kochan for an extended conversation. The topic appeared to be Affeldt’s pitching motion and how it affected his afflicted side, judging from his pantomiming of his delivery.

Chris Haft

Sandoval’s hit echoes postseason feats

Tuesday, April 30

PHOENIX — Though the Giants’ 2-1 victory Tuesday night over the Arizona Diamondbacks was merely regular-season game No. 27, it evoked indelible postseason memories.

The exchange between Pablo Sandoval, who hit the game-winning, two-run homer in the ninth, and Hunter Pence, who offered encouragement to the Kung Fu Panda, has been heard before — not verbatim, but the script sounded similar. And those previous dialogues occurred in two of the Giants’ biggest postseason triumphs.

Flashback No. 1: Game 5, 2010 World Series against the Texas Rangers. Edgar Renteria sensed that he has a big hit left in his 34-year-old body, and whispered to a teammate or two that he would hit a homer in a crucial situation. We all know what happened: Renteria hit the three-run homer that accounted for all of San Francisco’s scoring in the game that clinched the long-awaited World Series title for the Giants. “I told you he would do it!” center fielder Andres Torres shrieked after Renteria connected.

Flashback No. 2: Game 5, 1989 National League Championship Series vs. Chicago: Though the Giants owned a 3-1 Series lead, this one almost had the feeling of a Game 7. The Giants did not want to travel back to Wrigley Field for the series’ final two games. Fortunately for the Giants, they had Will Clark. As Cubs closer Mitch Williams warmed up in the eighth inning before trying to protect Chicago’s one-run lead, Kevin Mitchell said to Clark, “We have to get this done.” Clark’s reply: “It’s done.” His two-run single up the middle came next.

Chris Haft

Posey’s unruffled by struggles at plate

Saturday, April 13

CHICAGO — Buster Posey’s hitless streak lengthened to 10 at-bats after he went 0-for-2 in the Giants’ 3-2 victory Saturday over the Chicago Cubs. He’s batting .211 overall.

But the National League’s reigning Most Valuable Player exudes no panic.

Asked whether the timing of his hitting stroke is flawed, Posey replied, “I think it’s some of that. Some of it is making sure I get good pitches.”

Ah, the tried-and-true Ted Williams theory: Get a good pitch to hit.

Posey added, “I feel like I’m close. It’s just a combination of a few things.”

The Giants catcher certainly has earned the benefit of the doubt. As we have seen, Posey’s capable of prodigious outbursts that end slumps. Last year he was hitting a pedestrian .250 after seven games. Then he went 11-for-20 in five games, four of which were multiple-hit efforts, to lift his batting average to .386.

Bear in mind that Milwaukee is the Giants’ next stop. In seven career games at Miller Park, Posey’s batting .500 (12-for-24) with six home runs and 15 RBIs. Just approaching those numbers will help Posey escape his tailspin.

Chris Haft

Scutaro shows he’s a master of the game

Tuesday March 26

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Marco Scutaro again demonstrated Tuesday why he’s a thinking man’s ballplayer.

Whether he’s outsmarting pitchers or anchoring the defense, Scutaro is one of those rare performers who proves that the brain is a player’s sixth tool. He did this again in Tuesday’s third inning against the San Diego Padres, when he drew a walk and, on the same play, suddenly dashed to second base unchallenged.

Scutaro explained simply that he ran a little harder than usual to first base and noticed that San Diego’s middle infielders were paying less than full attention to him. He noted that he successfully executed this maneuver (officially, a walk plus a stolen base) in 2002 and in 2009.

Aware that reporters would eagerly spread word of his daring baserunning, Scutaro said with mock indignation, “I don’t know how many years it’s going to take me now” before he can catch another set of infielders daydreaming.

Damaso Blanco, a former Giants infielder who’s now a Venezuelan-based baseball broadcaster, said that he had seen two other players achieve this baserunning feat: Tomas Perez, a former utility infielder, and Omar Vizquel, who needs no introduction. I always considered Perez to be a handy player, whereas Vizquel’s baseball instincts are virtually unmatched. Though this was just an exhibition game, it was still a suitable venue for greatness to unfold. Because, make no mistake, this was a great play.

Chris Haft

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

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