Total Pageviews

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A flinch, a drop, and another thrilling finish

Miguel Tejada will continue to face questions over his range at shortstop and his power dropoff, but he has bought himself some early goodwill with key hits in the first week of the season, not the least of which delivered the Giants' 3-2 win Saturday night over the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was ruled a double, a charitable call that fit more easily into the narrative of magical endings than an error would have -- as if an error might somehow diminish the storyline. To be sure, it was a blast that may have cleared the fence in left center on another day. But the swirling winds coming off of McCovey Cove knocked it back, allowing center fielder Colby Rasmus to catch up to it in the gap near the warning track.

Rasmus, though, flinched at the last moment, apparently sensing left fielder Jon Jay closing in on the ball. Instead of running through the ball, Rasmus stuck his glove out basket style and fumbled it in the end zone. That moment's lapse can only otherwise be explained by pixie dust that has been sprinkled over AT&T for the first two games there.

Cardinals beat writer Joseph Strauss could barely conceal his contempt for the scorekeeper's ruling, doing everything he could to avoid describing the game-winner as a hit:

Six strong innings from Jaime Garcia followed by center fielder Colby Rasmus' seventh-inning home run and 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief weren't enough for the Cardinals Saturday night as Rasmus' two-out, ninth-inning dropped ball on the warning track allowed the San Francisco Giants to steal a 3-2 win at AT&T Park.
Rasmus and left fielder Jon Jay converged on shortstop Miguel Tejada two-strike drive. Rasmus attempted a last-minute basket catch but fumbled the ball as two runs scored.

Equally reluctant was SF Chron's Henry Schulman (whose visage, by the way, is in a large framed print I have on my wall: it's a 1990 Sports Illustrated photo of Jose Canseco being hounded by the press, and there I am, then covering the A's for the Vacaville Reporter, with what looks like an expression of utter dismay, which inspired the headline, "Whaddya Say, Jose?").

With two outs in the ninth inning, the Giants down a run and down to their last strike, Tejada took a swing that won the game
 He hit a long drive to left-center field that popped out of Colby Rasmus' glove as he tried to make a basket catch at the warning track. Two runs scored and the Giants won 3-2, beating the Cardinals after trailing in the ninth for the second straight game.

That's ok. The Giants have been accused of being more charmed than good but they're the ones who raised a World Championship flag on Friday and basked in the glow of ring ceremonies Saturday. Two straight walk-off victories added to a sense of predestination to the weekend of celebrations.

Tejada, who had to watch from the sidelines as his new teammates were presented rings, put on a determined and focused at bat in the bottom of the ninth that befits a man in search of his own brush with championship baseball.

Before his game-winning at bat, he'd contributed to the Giants' only other scoring in the fifth inning, singling sharply into left field ahead of Mark DeRosa's dunk RBI single into right field that fell in front of a late-responding Lance Berkman.

(By the way, what is it with managers going after No. 8 hitters with runners in scoring position with two outs? A day after 8-hole hitter David Freese burned Bruce Bochy with a two-out RBI single ahead of pitcher Jake Westbrook, Tony LaRussa went after DeRosa rather than face starter Matt Cain with two outs and the bases loaded).

Giants' color man Mike Krukow was thinking along the same lines in describing Yadier Molina's visit to the mound. Molina was reminding Garcia that "you do have a base open with the pitcher on deck." That went out the window on the first pitch, which DeRosa stroked so softly into right field.

Back to Tejada's night. He also made a remarkable running, sprawling catch on a pop fly into shallow center field in the top of the fourth -- covering for Andres Torres, who had been rendered immobile a play earlier on a heel injury (more on that in a moment).

In the bottom of the ninth, with Buster Posey at second and Pat Burrell on first and two outs, Tejada quickly fell behind Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin 0-and-2 on a fastball on the corner and another that he fouled back.

Tejada, who'd shown great patience in the third in drawing a walk against stellar starter Jaime Garcia, worked the count full. He'd taken two close pitches and fouled off three more -- twice just barely getting a piece of the ball to stay alive. On the ninth pitch, he hit his gapper. Tejada had the pose of a man who thought he hit it out before he realized the ball was going to stay in the park.

And then he had the dance of a man who'd been touched by fortune, leaping giddily into his teammates' arms. That was a leap representing a single step toward his ultimate goal.


Torres' injury could dramatically change the landscape for the Giants. First, it puts Rowand into the starting role Bruce Bochy had tried so hard to avoid. After Rowand's 0-for-4 performance Saturday night as a starter, I'm beginning to think that he thrives playing with a chip on his shoulder and against lowered expectations, but once the burden of hope is placed on him, he shrinks from the challenge.

Either way, it looks like Rowand will be the man in center field for some time. Here's a thought: if Rowand reverts to form for, say, three or four straight games, Bochy should give some consideration to putting Nate Schierholz in center field. He's got good speed and he played some center field in spring training.

But that stopgap solution may become untenable if it stretches into some duration. Rowand and Schierholz are role players for a reason: they've shown little reason to inspire faith as starters and taking at least one of them out of their role as a backup alters the tricky balance of the Giants' roster.

With Cody Ross still at least two weeks away from a return -- he's only now going to start jogging -- the outfield dilemma could become desperate -- just as the Giants are about to embark on a tough road segment of their schedule.

If Brandon Belt continues to fall prey to the slider down and in, it puts more pressure to bring Huff in to play first base, opening two starting spots in the outfield. Starting both Schierholz and Rowand necessarily weakens the bench, but, more important, brings the Giants' lineup down a peg or two. The Giants may have to dip into Fresno for a backup -- possibly Darren Ford, who has started out nicely for the Grizzlies (4-for-13 with a home run and stolen base), but is hardly the answer.

No comments:

Post a Comment