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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Freddie Sanchez' brilliant bunt deke and other inside the game observations


The Giants' 3-2 win Saturday night over the Colorado Rockies, their second straight walk-off job, was rich in subtleties and intricacies that make baseball so delectable to fans of the inside game.

To wit:

Freddie Sanchez' single in the ninth inning was a beautiful display of gamesmanship, and every bit as critical as his game-winner a game earlier. Sanchez appeared to be in a bunt situation, after Aaron Rowand led off the ninth with a single. He showed bunt on the first pitch, but then swung at the next, drilling a single through the 5 1/2 hole. As color man Mike Krukow pointed out, Sanchez had worked the situation brilliantly.

"It's a great way to get a fastball," Krukow said. "Pitchers are always taught that the fastball high is the hardest one to bunt. You show bunt on the first pitch and a pitcher often-times will come back on a 1-0 count and he'll give you a fastball. Bruce Bochy knows this, lets him swing away and (Sanchez) finds a hole."
Mike Fontenot then inherited a similar role with runners at first and second, bunting foul on the first pitch from lefty reliever Franklin Morales. The situation demanded a bunt, but Sanchez' play appeared to have unnerved Morales, who may have been thinking Fontenot might do the same thing: look fastball and swing (after all, the left handed hitting Fontenot has pounded lefties at a 7-for-13 clip this year).

So, Morales did what an unnerved pitcher, especially a left-hander, could only be expected to do: he uncorked a wild one all the way to the screen, moving Rowand and Sanchez up nicely to second and third, effectively doing Fontenot's job.

A deep fly ball by Fontenot -- who, since being moved into the three-hole last week, has been in the middle of everything! -- would finish the job.


Reliever Ramon Ramirez' line won't stand out particularly: 1 inning, 0 runs, 0 hits, two strikeouts. It lowered his ERA a bit (from 1.26 to 1.17). But the dramatics of his performance can't be overstated.

Ramirez inherited runners on first and third with no outs in a 2-2 tie in the top of the seventh, the Rockies threatening to take control of the game.

Madison Bumgarner, after pitching so beautifully for the first six innings, had had his one-a-game implosion: with no outs and runners at first and second, he got a comebacker for what should have been a double play -- what could have been the fourth he'd elicited. But he threw it away at second, aiming his throw at Sanchez, who was backing up shortstop Fontenot. That loaded the bases for Todd Helton, who, hit a slicing drive to left for a game-tying two-run single.

Ramirez lowered the temperature immediately by getting the first hitter to ground to third. Miguel Tejada picked it cleanly ranging to his left and threw a strike to home to get Troy Tulowitski easily.

Then, Ramirez went to work. He fired three sliders by an overwhelmed Ryan Spillbourghs (who may be hitting .157 but will always be remembered for the 14th inning game-winning grand slam he hit in a painful loss for the Giants in 2009).

Ramirez then started Chris Iannetta by blowing a 93 MPH fastball by him; then a slider that broke Iannetta's swing halfway through for 0-and-2. After Iannetta fouled off another slider and took a fastball off the plate, Ramirez surprised everyone with a high curve that paralyzed Iannetta for a called third strike.

"What a performance by Ramon Ramirez to get out of the jam!" bellowed Hall of Fame PBP man Jon Miller.

An inning later, Javier Lopez was looking down a bases loaded barrel  -- of his own making -- before jamming Helton with a sinking fastball for a soft grounder he fielded and took to first himself. Perhaps not as dramatic as Ramirez' game-saving performance but good enough to keep the game tied.

Even closer Brian Wilson -- who's becoming something of a vulture, grabbing two victories in the last two games in relief -- faced his own Waterloo.

In the ninth, score still tied 2-2, Wilson got the first two -- the latter on a leaping snare of a bullet by Fontenot -- before giving up a two-strike single to Iannetta and a walk to pinch-hitter Jason Giambi.

Fleet left-handed hitter, Dexter Fowler then spanked a hard-hit grounder up the middle that had the looks of a spirit crushing go-ahead RBI single. But Fontenot, shading up the middle, grabbed it behind the bag, spun and made a strong throw in plenty of time to get Fowler to end the ninth.

Fontenot said later that he knew he would go to first rather than attempt a force at second because Sanchez was playing Fowler to pull and would have had difficulty getting to second in time.


Bumgarner, still winless and 0-5, should have sewn up a victory long before his seventh-inning collapse. But Giants hitters failed to capitalize on opportunities handed them, apparently preferring late-game heroics over sewing things up early.

-- In the first, the Giants had runners at second and third with one out but only scored one on a groundout by Posey.

-- In the fourth, Aubrey Huff got a two-out double and Pat Burrell walked, but Nate Schierholz flied out to end that threat.

-- In the fifth, they had runners at second and third with one out, a run in on Sanchez' RBI double for a 2-0 lead. "They're in position to go big," Krukow said.

But Fontenot lunged at a changeup, popping out to third base. And, after Posey walked to load the bases, Huff, befuddled by Rockies' rookie Clayton Mortensen's changeup and probably looking for it, struck out looking at a swingback sinker.

-- In the sixth, the Giants had a runner on second with one out after pinch runner Darren Ford stole second, but Tejada flew out and Bumgarner grounded out.

-- In the seventh, after Ramirez' clutch job kept the game knotted at 2-2, the Giants got a two-out double by Fontenot, who after Posey was walked intentionally, was stranded when Huff struck out again, this time on a slider from a lefty.

Bumgarner is becoming the new Matt Cain: He gets no offensive support. In his seven starts, the Giants have scored eight runs while he's in -- barely a run per outing.

Granted a couple of those games, Bumgarner was out early. But in his last three starts, Bumgarner has gone 19 innings, given up five runs -- only two earned for an 0.91 ERA -- on 13 hits, walking only four and striking out 19 -- and has had nothing to show for it. The Giants have scored two runs total in those three games.

In that time, Bumgarner's ERA dropped from 7.70 to 4.21. He has been dominant, and if he doesn't let the early disappointments shake him, could be on his way to a solid season.


Andres Torres may be returning to the Giants soon, but Rowand and Sanchez are putting together a pretty good 1-2 combination. Saturday, they were a combined 5-for-9 (6-for-10 on base); Rowand with two singles and a walk, Sanchez with a pair of singles and a double.

Twice, they paired together to spark rallies: Rowand leading off the game with a walk, followed by a Sanchez single. After the two moved up on a slow grounder, Rowand scored on Posey's groundout.

And in the ninth, Rowand again reached to lead off, on a line drive single to left. Sanchez, who showed bunt on the first pitch, lined one through the hole on the next pitch. They eventually moved up on a wild pitch, and Rowand scored the winning run on Fontenot's game-winning sacrifice fly.

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