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

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

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