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Perfect-game memento available

July 23

SAN FRANCISCO — If you’re looking for a memento of Matt Cain’s perfect game, you might consider purchasing one of the 2,012 special baseballs being produced by Rawlings and officially licensed by Major League Baseball.

Each ball is decorated with a photo of Cain celebrating with teammates after the game’s final out and information about the game. A display case and a key chain from this year’s All-Star Game also are provided.

The cost for each ball is $39.98. Proceeds will benefit the Snow Scientific Research Foundation, which helps fund research for a terminal form of children’s diabetes. The Foundation is named for former Giants first baseman J.T. Snow and his late father, Jack.

Fans can order the baseballs by calling 1-800-345-2868 or visiting http://www.nikcosports.com. Each baseball comes with a numbered certificate of authenticity.

– Chris Haft

Better pull that batting helmet over your ears, Melky

Wednesday, July 18

ATLANTA — Melky Cabrera had his fun during the Giants’ 9-4, 11-inning victory over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday.

But he probably shouldn’t get too comfortable in the batter’s box Thursday.

Cabrera, who spent what’s characterized as a less-than-happy season with Atlanta in 2010, aroused the Braves and their fans with various gesticulations he made in Wednesday’s game.

He teased Turner Field patrons in left field by throwing imaginary baseballs to them. After making a catch in left field in the sixth inning, he made what observers considered to be a taunting motion toward Braves baserunner Jason Heyward, who opted not to try to advance on the play. Finally, he celebrated a little too much for the Braves’ taste after Gregor Blanco drilled his three-run homer in the 11th inning.

The Braves noticed. Everything. Their icon, third baseman Chipper Jones, spoke dismissively of Cabrera to reporters.

“That’s Melky, and that’s why he’s not here anymore,” Jones said. “He got a little happy when I think Blanco hit the home run. That won’t be forgotten.”

The Braves won’t need long memories. They’ll probably try to settle the score with Cabrera early in Thursday’s game. Atlanta’s starting pitcher is scheduled to be Tim Hudson, who’s extremely well-versed in the laws of baseball’s jungle and isn’t hesitant to uphold protocol.

Simply put, expect Hudson to drill Cabrera with a pitch during the latter’s first plate appearance Thursday.

Whether hostilities will escalate remains to be seen. But Hudson, who’ll pitch the top of the first inning, is likely to set a tone of tension. Should the Giants choose to retaliate, Madison Bumgarner, their starter on Thursday, won’t back down from the challenge.

Teams mostly succeed in controlling their emotions during situations like this. But if things get out of hand, a genuine free-for-all could ensue. Be ready for anything.

Chris Haft

All-Star snub keeps Vogelsong hungry

Friday, July 1

SAN FRANCISCO — Pablo Sandoval’s gain was Ryan Vogelsong’s loss. Madison Bumgarner’s, too. Or Santiago Casilla’s.

The ambitious get-out-the-All-Star-vote campaign launched last week by the Giants’ marketing experts worked beyond belief. Not only did it help Melky Cabrera take his rightful place in the National League’s All-Star starting outfield, but it also enabled Sandoval to ride Cabrera’s coattails into a fan-elected starting spot at third base — a spot that Sandoval entirely did not deserve, given the excellent season sustained by New York’s David Wright. Heck, even first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford combined for more than 7.5 million votes while finishing second at their respective positions.

With Cabrera, Sandoval and Buster Posey elected to the starting squad and Matt Cain a shoo-in for the pitching staff, it’s likely that no more Giants will be considered once attrition inevitably strikes and replacements are chosen. The All-Star powers that be likely consider San Francisco’s contingent to be large enough already.

Thus, it would be a surprise if Bumgarner, Vogelsong or Casilla is added to the NL squad. Vogelsong, for one, is taking it personally, though he probably shouldn’t. But as long as his perceived snub motivates him, it’s good for him and the Giants.

Asked if being omitted from the All-Star team further entrenches the self-proclaimed chip on Vogelsong’s shoulder that goads him, he said, “Absolutely.” He added that it reaffirms what he told reporters in Anaheim last month after a loss to Angels ace Jered Weaver. “People don’t take me seriously,” said Vogelsong, whose 7-3 record and 2.26 ERA make his skeptics look like idiots.

Vogelsong was named to last year’s All-Star team with a 6-1, 2.17 first half. But, as he pointed out, many observers believed that his presence at the Midsummer Classic was a favor doled out by Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the NL All-Star skipper. “Some of that is probably true,” Vogelsong said. “But some of that was, I was having a pretty good first half, too.”

Vogelsong’s more consistent this year. He has pitched at least six innings in all 15 of his starts, lasting seven  innings or more 12 times. From May 8 to June 15, the Giants won all eight games he started. His personal record during that stretch was 6-0 with a 1.76 ERA.

Vogelsong’s saga remains a compelling one, as he rose to prominence after being traded by the Giants, struggling to hold on with Pittsburgh, enduring three seasons in Japan and spending 2010 in Triple-A with the Phillies and Angels organizations. Asked if he believed that he has proven himself as a legitimate starting pitcher, he replied, “Yes and no. I feel like I still have a long way to go here. There’s a lot of season left and I think I need to do it for a whole ‘nother season to get to that point.”

If for some reason NL manager Tony La Russa feels compelled to add another starting pitcher to the All-Star squad, Vogelsong graciously said that Bumgarner (10-4, 2.85 ERA) should be selected. “If it came down between me and him, I would have wanted Bum to go, to be able to experience one since I did get to go last year.”

Vogelsong added, “I wish we could have both gone.”

Chris Haft

If you want to be in first place; Hector’s hustle

Wednesday, June 27

SAN FRANCISCO — A month ago to this day, May 27, the Giants trailed the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers by 7 1/2 games in the National League West. The Giants defeated Miami that day, and that victory launched a 19-10 binge that has tied them with Los Angeles atop the division standings.

The Giants downplayed their ascent. Constant success since 2009, including the surge to the World Series in 2010, has taught them all about season’s challenges and pitfalls. Wednesday was not a time to celebrate, despite the 3-0 victory over the Dodgers that completed a three-game sweep and rewrote, revived or revisited all kinds of shutout-related records.

Until Matt Kemp and others were sidelined with injuries, the Dodgers appeared poised to run away with the West title. Now, Giants manager Bruce Bochy expects the standings to remain bunched through the rest of the regular season.

“I’ll tell you what I expect: This is going to be a tight race,” Bochy said after Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Los Angeles. The Dodgers, Bochy said are “a good ballclub. Arizona, you see how they’re playing now. This is going to be a tight race in September with these three teams. Not that I’m forgetting the other teams. It’s going to be this way the whole way. We’re all going to have our ups and downs, including us. Hopefully [the "downs" are] short ones.”

Catcher Buster Posey repeated the “There’s a lot of baseball left” bromide. Right-hander Sergio Romo used different words to say essentially the same thing.

“Standings are standings. We’re just focused on one game at a time,” Romo said. “We’re a good team. We know we’ll be in contention at the end of September.”

Dates to circle on the calendar: The Giants and Dodgers next meet July 27-29 at AT&T Park. They’ll play at Dodger Stadium Aug. 20-22. San Francisco doesn’t confront Arizona until September. At that point, the Giants will face the Diamondbacks for three series in a seven-series stretch.

*****

Hector Sanchez looked at the bruised, scraped area near his left elbow as if it were a whisker. “That’s [what happens] when you play hard,” he said.

Sanchez indeed delivered a sincere effort on Wednesday, particularly when he raced toward the backstop and dove to snare Elian Herrera’s fourth-inning popup on a bunt attempt. Sanchez was knocked dizzy as he fell to earth, but he remained in the game.

Whether Sanchez is earning more playing time remains to be seen. Obviously, he isn’t hurting his cause. Asked if he’d have trouble separating Sanchez from Tim Lincecum, who have collaborated smoothly in the right-hander’s last two starts, Bochy said, “Could be.” Bochy repeated that Posey will continue to handle most of the catching. But Sanchez has continued to remind the Giants that there’s not much of a dropoff, if any, when he’s behind the plate.

Chris Haft

Resting Posey pays dividends now, later

Monday, April 25

SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey’s value to the Giants is obvious. He’s the team leader in home runs and RBIs. They ultimately sagged last year after the starting catcher sustained his season-ending left leg injuries.

Yet they’re 7-2 this year when Posey doesn’t appear in a game, including Monday’s 8-0 triumph over the Dodgers. Fans howled online via Twitter, and many others likely cursed manager Bruce Bochy offline, when Posey didn’t start San Francisco’s series opener against its archrival. Especially since Posey homered in each of the Giants’ previous two games.

But Bochy stuck to his convictions, including his belief in the Barry Zito-Hector Sanchez battery and the need to rest Posey occasionally, particularly after Saturday’s four-hour, 15-minute marathon at Oakland.

As important as Monday’s game might have seemed, it was only one of 162. Though it was the Giants’ first of nine consecutive games against division-leading teams, it wasn’t worth squeezing Posey’s energy dry.

The Giants rewarded Bochy by rapping 13 hits in defeating Los Angeles. Sanchez rapped a pair of run-scoring hits and ushered Zito through seven shutout innings. A performance like that, Bochy said, “makes it a little easier to give (Posey) a break, which he needs.”

Tuesday, a rejuvenated Posey will return to the lineup. The Giants stand two games behind the Dodgers in the National League West standings, but they’re one step ahead for keeping Posey fresh.

Chris Haft

Mea culpa in memory of ‘The Mule’

Friday, June 22

OAKLAND — Having crossed the baseball gods, I must seek forgiveness. Or, at the very least, I must acknowledge my error before moving on, hoping never to commit the same mistake again.

My All-Star voting update on Tuesday included the following paragraph:

Buster Posey continued to lead the balloting among catchers with 2,445,005 votes, staying ahead of St. Louis’ Yadier Molina (2,291,567). If Posey goes to Kansas City, he would become only the sixth All-Star catcher the Giants have had since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958. He would join Bob Schmidt (1958), Ed Bailey (1961, 63), Tom Haller (1966-67), Bob Brenly (1984) and Benito Santiago (2002).

The omission is a shameful one.

I failed to include Dick Dietz (1970), affectionately nicknamed “The Mule.”

Given my background — Dietz was San Francisco’s catcher as I began to worship at the temple of Mays, McCovey and Marichal — this was akin to forgetting an immediate family member’s birthday. Heck, Dietz homered off Catfish Hunter in the ninth inning of that All-Star Game to launch the National League’s three-run rally that tied the score, forced extra innings and set up Pete Rose’s fateful home-plate collision with Ray Fosse in the 12th.

This is the same Dietz who lodged himself in my memory by blurting during a radio interview after the Giants clinched the 1971 NL West, “Dodgers can go to hell!”

Even if Dietz, who passed away in 2005, hadn’t immortalized himself in my little baseball universe, all I had to do was carefully read Page 394 of the Giants’ Media Guide, which lists the franchise’s annual All-Star selections.

This mea culpa isn’t unusual. Most of the newspapers that employed me ordered reporters to write their own correction when one was necessary. So this represents an attempt to compensate for a goof.

And appease the baseball gods.

Chris Haft

Numbers favor Lincecum; in praise of Schierholtz

Saturday, June 9

SAN FRANCISCO — If you believe in statistics, then you’ll believe that Tim Lincecum holds a decided edge as he approaches Sunday’s start against the Texas Rangers.

Manolo Hernandez Douen, the fine baseball writer whose blog, Beisbol Por Gotas, is must reading, pointed out some intriguing facts to me after the Giants’ 5-2 victory over Texas on Saturday. During the Rangers’ weeklong Bay Area visit during which they’ve played the A’s and Giants, they’ve scored two earned runs in 30 2/3 innings against four right-handed starters: Oakland’s Jarrod Parker, Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy and San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong. Contrast that with the nine runs in 10 2/3 innings that the Rangers amassed off left-handed starters Travis Blackley of the A’s and Barry Zito of the Giants.

The implication is that the right-handed Lincecum should thrive against the Rangers, whom he defeated twice in the 2010 World Series. Of course, nothing is a given with Lincecum this year. But Giants manager Bruce Bochy continues to believe that Lincecum will regain his two-time Cy Young Award form sooner than later.

“We have all the confidence in the world” in Lincecum, Bochy said. “This guy’s a special talent. It’s going to be a tough game. We know it.”

Presented with the righty-lefty statistical breakdown, Bochy downplayed it. More importantly, he maintains faith in Lincecum.

“Hopefully Timmy’s on top of his game and gives us a chance,” Bochy said. “That’s all we ask.”

*****

I wish I opened my mouth earlier. Now I’ll just sound like another front-runner.

The solidifying of the Melky Cabrera-Angel Pagan-Gregor Blanco outfield threatened to make Nate Schierholtz a virtual nonentity. Entering Friday’s series opener against Texas, Schierholtz had started five of the Giants’ previous 35 games. In his previous 29 games — essentially, most of the season — Schierholtz was 8-for-56 (.143) with no extra base hits and one RBI.

Yet I continued to believe that the Giants would need an effective Schierholtz at some point. Maybe only for a few days, maybe for a week, maybe longer. But they would need him.

So when he lashed a run-scoring triple and a double Saturday, I felt smart. But not that smart, because all I seem like is a big phony.

Cabrera probably will recover from his ailing right hamstring by Tuesday, which means Schierholtz will return to the bench. But it’s good to know that Schierholtz remains capable of helping the team.

Chris Haft

Giants’ First-Year Player Draft: Rounds 2-15

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants added another arm to their farm system when they drafted Martin Agosta from St. Mary’s College with the 24th pick in the second round, 84th overall.

The junior righthander went 9-2 with a 2.18 ERA for St. Mary’s, and has a fast ball that can reach the mid-90’s, as well as a working change up and curveball. Despite having a smaller frame for a pitcher, scouts have been impressed with Agosta’s movement on his fastball and his command of his breaking ball.

The Northern California native played at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, Calif., and is originally from Sacramento.

The Giants also picked up another junior righthander on Monday when they selected Mississippi State’s Chris Stratton with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the MLB Draft.

In the next round, San Francisco selected Johnathon “Mac” Williamson with the 20th pick in the third round and 115th overall.

A redshirt junior from Wake Forest, Williamson batted .287 with 17 home runs and 52 RBI this past season, as well as a .596 slugging percentage and a .398 on-base percentage.

Williamson was drafted by the Boston Red Sox last year in the 46th round, but returned for another season at Wake Forest.

The Giants continued the college trend in the later rounds, drafting Steven Okert from Oklahoma in the fourth. The lefthander, most likely projected as a future reliever, throws a mid-to-high 90’s fastball.  In his 2012 season with the Sooners, Okert went 6-6 with a 3.26 ERA. Before that, he played at and attended Grayson County College.

In the fifth round, the Giants selected Ty Blach from Creighton, a three-year starter for the Blue Jays. The outgoing junior lefthander projects as a back-end rotation starter at the next level.

 

AT&T’s dimensions stifle Posey’s power

Thursday, May 17

SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey took his best shot at trying to deliver the power the Giants sorely lack. And it still wasn’t enough.

In Thursday’s fifth inning, Posey connected solidly with an Adam Wainwright pitch. As Duane Kuiper might have said (and probably did), Posey hit it high and hit it deep. It looked for all the world like a home run, until one noticed St. Louis center fielder Shane Robinson settling under the ball just in front of the left-center field wall to make the catch. Just another out.

Asked if he thought he was destined to savor a home run, Posey didn’t hesitate to answer. “I did,” he said. “Yeah. I sure did. It wasn’t really even close. Kind of depressing.”

Kind of depressing. I sincerely doubt that Posey ever will launch a sustained tirade against AT&T Park’s hitter-unfriendly dimensions. Yet his candor was exceedingly refreshing.

Manager Bruce Bochy knows that expecting the long ball, at least from his Giants, is a futile exercise. They’ve homered just six times at AT&T, the lowest total among all Major League clubs at home. “Home runs right now are a luxury,” Bochy said after the Giants’ 7-5 victory.

Fortunately for Posey, he’s continuing his development into a solid all-around hitter, as his 5-for-8 effort against the Cardinals reflected. Posey credited an adjustment, which he made with hitting instructor Hensley Meulens’ assistance, for his latest surge.

“Basically it’s just trying to keep my front side down,” Posey said. “I give ‘Bam Bam’ a lot of credit for recognizing the problem. We went down just a couple of days ago and hit some off the tee. It’s just a matter of keeping that front side closed and he has a couple of drills to help that.”

Chris Haft

Fear the Beard — and laugh with him, too

Wednesday, May 16

SAN FRANCISCO — Brian Wilson’s elbow needs plenty of healing, but his sense of humor remains extremely healthy.

Wilson packed numerous gags, both obvious and subtle, into his 20-minute chat with reporters Wednesday. The man should have his own television show. He’d be at home hosting his own HBO special or sitting down for a droll chat with Leno, Letterman or Conan.

Asked about the garden gnomes bearing his likeness that will be distributed to fans attending Sunday’s game, Wilson turned punster by saying, “I don’t gnome what you’re talking about.” He also mentioned that his gnome figure isn’t “really in shape.”

This won’t be the first Wilson gnome. He said that one was spawned when he was a collegian at Louisiana State University. Except he didn’t know about it right away.

“My mom bought it,” he said. “I walked into her house, I was like, ‘What is this?’ She says, ‘It’s you.’ “

He bought one on-line. He still has it. “It’s next to The Machine,” Wilson said matter-of-factly, providing a brief, fond reminder of 2010.

Wilson related that he has occupied himself by doing plenty of puzzles, including one of the jigsaw variety of the Taj Mahal. It was 2,000 pieces. Wilson probably wasn’t trying to be funny when he described tinkering with the puzzle. But he sounded amusing anyway.

“That was a long one, because the sky was all blue and you couldn’t tell where the pieces went,” said Wilson, who’s recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. “It was trial and error. That took a good day and a half to do the sky. The actual Taj Mahal took probably a week.”

Wilson also has become a part-time carpenter in his effort to “find some hobbies” due to having “a lot of time on my hands.” Specifically, he laid down some carpet. But didn’t that bother his arm?

“Not when you do it left-handed,” Wilson said. “It’s a very slow process, but we’re talking about a room that’s 8-by-8 [feet]. All I did was cut it and put it in the room. Sounds a little cooler than what I just told you.”

Asked if he ever ventures outdoors for a change of pace, Wilson said, “Yeah, I’ve taken a few walks here and there, but the weather’s kind of got a little bit colder. I did go to Muir Woods. Saw the trees.

“I was asked if I was John Muir. Twice. But that’s about as outdoorsy as I’ve been.”

In baseball matters, Wilson praised Santiago Casilla, his replacement as San Francisco’s closer, who has eight saves in nine opportunities.

“Incredible,” Wilson said. “Like I always say, every guy in the bullpen’s capable of doing it. We all have this work ethic about us. That’s the great thing about this bullpen, is we feed off each other’s strengths. There’s camaraderie. We try to pick each other up. I think he’s done a phenomenal job, just like he has since we’ve acquired him. He doesn’t complain, he works hard, and he’s able to forget the negative things and be able to move on to the next hitter, move on to the next day, and remembering what he did in the past and how he can better himself. He’s a great dude.”

Wilson said that he hasn’t needed to counsel Casilla much, “because he’s already a great pitcher.” But, Wilson added, “There’s certain times where you have to try to give a little bit of advice, when pressure situations come, like certain pitches you might want to stay away from late in the games. What I’ve had success throwing certain hitters. And when there’s a guy on second, less than one out, what is your plan? What are you gonna do when the ball’s hit to you? Just simple things. And I like to tell him he’s awesome. I like to tell him every time he does well. ‘You’re doing an amazing job, keep it up. The team needs you; the city needs you.’ He’s doing a phenomenal job, so I just like to tell him that all the time.”

If you want to hear more from Wilson, catch Sunday’s Giants-A’s telecast. He’s supposed to be a guest commentator with Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow.

Chris Haft

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