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Monday, June 13, 2011

Jonathan Sanchez: crazy wild, brilliant

It's just dawned on me: Jonathan Sanchez' pitching style is a perfect fit for the torturous character of the Giants. He puts you through six innings of terror, careening in and out of control, perpetually on the precipice of disaster. A true roller coaster ride, but in the end, it was thrilling, wasn't it?

Sanchez was at his beguiling best Sunday, digging himself into and out of trouble, control problems colliding with brilliance, crazy wildness countered by pinpoint touch. One moment, he looks like he's lost his bearings; the other he looks plain wily. Sunday, he did just enough to keep the Giants close for another late win, 4-2 over the Cincinnati Reds.

He was at his worst and most intriguing in the fourth inning, when he gave up two runs -- amazingly the only the Reds could score all game. But Sanchez somehow averted disaster after hitting one, walking another -- the latter on a three-ball, two-strike split finger, to which ESPN color analyst Orel Hershiser said, "I just don't get the breaking ball there" -- especially with the early evening shadows giving him an advantage over jumpy left-handed hitters. Then an RBI double, and another walk loaded the bases with no outs.

Only a few more feet on Edgar Renteria's fly ball to deep left field, and we all would be talking about Sanchez' meltdown, the Giants' pitching doldrums and the mini-funk the Giants were enduring, replete with psycho-babble about the mounting weight of the injuries they've suffered (not that talk about the devastating impact of the injuries is not merited).

Instead, it was just a long sacrifice fly ball -- nicely caught on the run at the wall by Cody Ross -- for a 2-0 Reds lead. Only two pitches later, Sanchez was walking back to the dugout on the wings of an around-the-horn double play started by Miguel Tejada that snuffed the rally.

He needed a shutdown inning after the Giants had cut the lead in half on an RBI double by Aubrey Huff (ok, is he hot now? can we say he's coming out of his funk? After his 3-for-4 night, he is 8-for-22 in his last five games).

But what does Sanchez do? He gives up a leadoff base hit to his counterpart, pitcher Edinson Volquez, and another single to Drew Stubbs.

Another disaster looming, except Sanchez strikes out Brandon Phillips on a beautiful split finger changeup.

And then, the play that drew the curtain on Sanchez as a true magician: The dangerous Votto flied out to deep left field, and then looked back horror-struck as he watched Volquez, straying too far away from second base, getting doubled up at second on a perfect throw on the fly from Ross.

Votto glared out at Volquez, yelling out to him what a clown he was, and it was understandable. He'd already hit into a more conventional double play in the first inning on a hard smash that second baseman Manny Burriss snared on a tough hop, a quick throw to second and easy pivot by Brandon Crawford.

If Burriss can turn in those plays, he can take away some of the pain of losing Freddy Sanchez.

Hey, the Giants were so good on defense Sunday that Tejada started a third-to-first double play with two outs.


Still, the Giants looked feeble when they wasted a leadoff double by catcher Chris Stewart (just after ESPN flashed the graphic of the 9-for-54 Stewart and Eli Whiteside have combined for after Buster Posey went down). Sanchez failed to get a bunt down (though the at bat was complicated when Boss Bochy took off the bunt sign and gave Sanchez the green light to swing with one strike, only to flail wildly at a pitch way out of the strike zone). Andres Torres and Tejada both grounded to end the threat.


With Pablo Sandoval returning Tuesday, it'll be interesting to see if Bochy sticks with the three-four punch of Nate Schierholtz and Aubrey Huff in the series opener in Arizona.

Nate started the Giants' first two rallies, singling ahead of Huff's RBI double, and walked ahead of Huff's hit and run single that led to the Giants second run and a 2-2 tie (on Ross' slow grounder). He also, incidentally, drove in the deciding run on a sacrifice fly. Combined, Schierholtz and Huff were 4-for-6 with two runs, three RBI, and a walk.


The Giants drew seven walks on the day, and I'm going to hazard to say that if it isn't a season high, it's close. Walks were key to two of the Giants three rallies. Stewart drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, sparking a two-run rally that held up for the win.

Another walk, of the intentional variety, was puzzling. Reds manager Dusty Baker, for the second time in the series, intentionally walked Tejada, this time to load the bases with one out. I know Tejada had four doubles in the first two games of the series, but did Baker check his numbers were with runners in scoring position? He's hitting .139! Schierholtz, on the other hand, has been one of the Giants' most consistent clutch hitter this year.

The numbers showed he's hitting a buck fifty or so against lefties this year, and the lefty Baker brought in, Bill Bray, is nails against left handed hitters. But Baker underestimated the magic that permeates this ballpark, especially with Nate at bat.

On the first pitch, Schierholtz delivered with a sacrifice fly to center, driving in the go-ahead run, followed by a thing of beauty from Huff, an off-field RBI single off the lefty Bray -- after fouling off several tough pitches.


Probably the most impressive confrontations came in the seventh, the Giants lefty specialist Javier Lopez in to face the Reds big two left handed mashers, Votto and Bruce. Lopez elicited the ugliest swings from Votto, last year's NL MVP, who struck out with his front foot in a bucket, his body falling backwards, and his swing broken down as if an amateur had taken his spot in the batters box.

Bruce swung gamely but right over, around, through another Lopez slider for another K. That is about as in tune with the universe as a pitcher can be.


Best line from ESPN's crew, courtesy of Hershiser, talking about the Giants' ability to win the close ones: "You build callouses for pressure."


ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine predicted the Reds would be running all night because of Sanchez' slowness to the plate. But, after Chris Stewart gunned down Jay Bruce attempting to steal in the third inning, all we heard from Valentine was "he's a catch-and-throw guy. That's why he's in the big leagues." Nothing later on about the Reds stillness on the basepaths the rest of the way.


Valentine said he "loved" Brandon Crawford, says he'll stick "because he has the best range of all the Giants" and he likes the "fundamentals" of his swing. Crawford's batting average has slipped to .208, hitless in his last 12 at bats.

The thin lineup has Crawford hitting sixth -- a spot that should be held up by a proven RBI man, not by a kid trying to get his bearings in the big leagues. But who else would Boss Bochy have at No. 6 hole now? Chris Stewart/Eli Whiteside? Burriss? Perhaps he should move Burriss to the No. 2 spot, and drop Tejada to No. 6.

Tejada is 11-for-34 to lift his batting average to .227, though he has only one RBI in that span.


Hershiser, the once hated Dodger who then donned the Giants jersey momentarily, called AT&T "slam dunk" the finest of the new ballparks around the major leagues.


  1. So, how do you really feel about Valentine?

  2. Wow. I really like your writing. I've been looking for some wizened baseball savvy blogs that don't just keep spitting out the same things.

    What I love in having only read two or three posts so far by accident (I was Googling who we traded for Freddy, and then was trying to find out what happened to Alderson) is that you have both the in-depth knowledge and memory of the game that makes a history buff buff like me enjoy all these interesting intricacies in baseball, and especially Giants baseball behind the scenes.

    I know I will enjoy reading back through your posts to the beginning of the season.

    Might I recommend you add an RSS link to your blog so people can add you to their feeds? i wanted to add it but didn't see anywhere for it.

    Thanks for writing!

  3. Hey- how about a post about what causes Miguel Tejada to be the double play harbinger of doom? I've watched enough of him to notice he swings at a lot of crap, but why is every ball hit short of last week's miracles pretty much a double play ball? Should we just have him bunt? Limit his damage to one out? Haha.

  4. Bill, actually, I like B. Valentine a lot. I've always felt he was ahead of his time, a unique thinker and talker. He just gets a bit glib some times.

    Caleb, hey, very nice of you. I appreciate very much that you recognize that I have an historical understanding/appreciation of the game. I played the game through high school, but I was also a fan through my childhood, listening to Lon Simmons, reading all the baseball lore books, Roger Angell, etc.

    I'm not exactly sure how to add an RSS link; this is as far as I got in researching it:


  5. Hey GiantW, got it to work thanks! I was thinking you might want to add an icon/link near the top of your blog to help facilitate people who might want to add you to their feeds. Since this is a blogger based website, I'm assuming they have some nice buttons to easily add to the top, and maybe even some social media plugins so we can Like a post and have it bounce out to facebook so more people know your blog exists.

    Keep up the great work, and thanks for the great content!!