Total Pageviews

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Romo, Ross wear the goat horns in this one

In a game where both starting pitchers made clutch pitches inning after inning, it was a bit jarring to see how Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Cubs ended: Giants reliever Sergio Romo's lazy slider on an 0-2 pitch to pinch hitter Aramis Ramirez with two outs in the ninth and a runner on third.

It was fat and inexcusable. Romo had frozen Ramirez with two beauties on the corner at the knees. And then he left a floater out there for the Cubs slugger to poke one into left field for the game winner.

After a seven-game winning streak, the attitude after a loss like the Giants suffered can be one of acceptance. "Oh, well, we've just had a nice run, can't win 'em all." Except this was a game that was winnable.

They'd just come through with a series of clutch hits in the top of the ninth, once again exhibiting the flair for the dramatic: Pat Burrell's leadoff pinch hit double on a 2-2 count, ending a string of 20 straight outs for starter Ryan Dempster; a one-out Manny Burriss RBI single up the middle to drive in pinch runner Bill Hall; an intentional walk to Pablo Sandoval and a big single to right field by Aubrey Huff.

Burriss could not score from second on the hit because it wasn't clear that it would fall -- fleet center fielder Tony Campana made a dive and got his glove on it, but couldn't hold on. Those fans who believe Burriss should have read it better are the same who would be calling for his demotion if he'd been doubled off.

The true goat of the game was Cody Ross. He had an awful game coming into his 9th inning at bat, looking lost, out of balance and jumpy against Dempster. He had pitches to hit all night but his timing was way off -- though the affliction was hardly unique to Ross.

But in the ninth, Ross needed to do anything but hit a ground ball. He could strike out, like he'd done twice before already, or he could hit a pop up, like he did in the seventh -- and let the next hitter, Nate Schierholtz, have a go. Anything would have been preferable to what he did: a made-to-order 6-4-3 double play to kill the rally.

Still, the feeling of inevitability hung in the air, even as the Giants had to settle for taking a 1-1 tie into the bottom of the ninth. They'd rewarded Tim Lincecum for another gem -- seven innings, nine strikeouts -- by taking him off the hook. And, with a shutdown ninth, they could get back to spinning their late-game magic.

The Cubs' leadoff man in the bottom of the ninth would be Campana, the center fielder who had dived after Burrell's fly ball instead of simply trying to cut it off, a gamble that turned a single into a double; threw a dribbler to home on Burriss' RBI single (word gets around quickly on weak outfield arms); and couldn't quite grab Huff's soft fly ball to center that loaded the bases.

So, abiding by baseball's rule of second chances, it was inevitable that the speedy Campana would thrust himself into the action immediately: he slapped a little ground ball just past the diving third baseman Sandoval, and was well past the bag by the time Miguel Tejada got the throw to Huff at first.

A bunt and a ground ball moved Campana to third with two outs when Ramirez stepped up. Romo has been celebrated for his utter dominance against right handers: he holds them to a .124 batting average. And that's what it was looking like as he nailed two straight sliders on the outside corner, Ramirez looking on as if he had no chance.

Over the last few years, however, it has become apparent that Romo is not fit for a late-inning role. He has given up too many big hits. The only explanation I can think of is that when the spot is tight, he squeezes the ball too tight, and puts too much into the pitch. He gets away from the free-slinging arm action that does him so well in the seventh inning.

Doubt, fear or anxiety can do awful things to an athlete. For Romo, it flattened out his money pitch and a streak was ended.


Lincecum sometimes pitches as if he invented the strikeout. Take the bottom of the fifth when he gave up a leadoff double to Blake DeWitt and quickly wild pitched him to third.

With no outs, a runner on third and the infield in, Lincecum put on a clinic:

-- He fell behind Alfonso Soriano, 3-and-1 but then put him away with a split finger swing through and a slider way outside that Soriano flailed at, missing by a foot;

-- He fell behind Reed Johnson, 2-and-0, before getting back in the count with a slider that was fouled off, a 92 MPH fastball on the inside corner, a slider fouled off, and then a 93 MPH fastball on the inside corner that froze Johnson;

-- After intentionally walking No. 8 hitter Soto, he took care of his counterpart Dempster on three pitches, to strike out the side and strand DeWitt.

"It was almost good he threw that wild pitch," said Duane Kuiper.

"Yeah, he went right into the strikeout mode," said Mike Krukow.

In an earlier jam, in which he gave up a two-out double to Soriano, he fell behind Johnson 3-and-1, but got back into the count with a beautiful change up that Johnson took and then a dart of a fastball on the inside corner for a called third strike, just as he'd do three innings later.

It was vintage Timmy, and should have been enough to keep the winning streak alive.


Except, that the Giants hitters returned to form.

I couldn't get why Dempster was having his way with the Giants. He seemed hittable enough. Early doubles by Sandoval and Schierholtz could have developed into something, but awful at bats haunted the Giants.

Huff hit a first pitch roll-over grounder to second to strand Sandoval in the first inning -- the absolute curse of his season; and Tejada,with one out and Schierholtz on second in the second inning, got ahead in the count 2-0. But he then swung wildly on a slider way out of the strike zone, and later popped out weakly to second while exploding his bat with a fastball on his thumbs.

The Giants never made Dempster work: five times, he got out of innings in 10 pitches or fewer (10 in the first inning, 8 in the third, a ridiculous 6 in the fifth, 7 in the sixth, 9 in the seventh), and 11 pitches in the eighth.

It was as if they had a game plan to attack him early to avoid having to deal with him deep in counts. The problem was that they went after his pitches early in the count -- sliders out of the strike zone, fastballs on the corner, and were on the defensive all game.

This is the same guy who was mobbed for nine runs in 1 2/3 innings by the Giants last September 23. But, outside of that aberration, he's been pretty solid against the Giants in the last several years: 11 earned runs in 33 1/3 IP before last night.

But three hits over eight innings? Twenty straight batters up and out? From a team that scored 19 runs a day earlier? Perhaps a couple games of circling the bases, winning with relative ease, was too much of a departure from the norm. Kinda like me trying to water ski. You're up on the surface of the water and you begin to think, "what the hell am I doing up here?" And down you go.


  1. The inconsistency of the team's performance contributes to the "torture" nature of the Giants. Time will let us know if Barry Zito's recent performance is an indicator of a resurgence on his part.

    Good to see Tim out of his funk, even though he didn't get the win.

    Your last illustration was pretty funny.

  2. ugh. after today's game, it's hard to talk light-heartedly about torture. it was maddening. They typically bounce back, so I have to remind myself to have patience.

    the water ski incident happened 17 years ago in Michigan.