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Saturday, June 25, 2011

A team that relies on pixie dust and catchers playing out of position

Maybe the stat that best captures the Giants' 4-3 win over the Indians Friday night: only three hits were involved in their scoring, and only one of them was a run-scoring hit (a home run). So, the moral of the story is that maybe the Giants should quit putting runners in scoring position.

It really is that kind of team. It relies on pixie dust and catchers playing out of position. It relies on a sacrifice pop up to third base for the game-winning run.

It is a team that can win a game without drawing a single walk while its own starting pitcher walks six and hits one batter in 4 2/3 innings.

Let's review the three-run sixth inning.

Here's the short view: A leadoff line drive single, an error, another line drive single, another error. Then a sacrifice fly that moved 'em in and over, and a sacrifice, er, popup. That is, as Krukow and Kuiper say,  the ground attack at its best.

Here's the longer description:

It all started with the unlikely Chris Stewart. Carlos Carrasco had worked nearly unblemished through the first five innings (Torres' solo home run the only hit), and his combination of a 96 MPH fastball, a beautiful changeup and a sharp slider had kept the Giants bats in a deep freeze. The big Venezuelan was living up to the hype, and it didn't look like the Giants would figure a way to solve him.

But Stewart, who has been an epiphone behind the plate (more on that later) but an afterthought in the lineup, somehow got around on a fastball and ripped a leadoff single to left.

It was the kind of hit that reinforces 2011 as the season of the unlikely hero. How else can this team be appraised when it continues to win while its name players remain incognito?

Nate Schierholtz then hit an unassuming ground ball to first, which under normal circumstances would have ended up as a fielder's choice. A nice, easy throw to second for a forceout, but no shot on a double play. Except that catcher-turned first baseman Carlos Santana's throw tailed to the left field side of second, handcuffing shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera. There's the pixie dust.

Torres hit a standard-issue line drive single to center, loading the bases, though there's nothing standard-issue about Torres coming up big (3-for-4 with a home run, bunt single and the other single) after such a long stretch of anguished effort at the plate. (Here I was ready to retire the guy in my most recent blog; turns out, all he needed was a couple days off).

Then, another grounder to first base, a slow roller hit by Manny Burriss. Santana flubbed it; a real Little League error. More evidence of the pixie dust: They were the first two errors of the year at first in 21 games for Santana, who has played 50 games as catcher.

Santana actually could have thrown home for the force out because Stewart had gotten a bad start off third. Instead, a run was in and the bases remained loaded.

Then, Pablo Sandoval had the kind of productive out they teach in Single A, but that the Giants have rarely delivered: A fly ball deep enough to score a run and to move the runner from second to third with no outs.

It was an out worth two runs, because Torres next scored easily on Aubrey Huff's pop fly near the bullpen up the third base line. Third baseman Jack Hannahan caught the foul ball, but couldn't get a good throw off while backpedaling toward the bullpen.

That had to be Huff's shortest sacrifice fly of his career, and it turned out to be the game-winner.


It was appropriate that Santiago Casilla got the win, his first of the year. Victories for relievers are always a matter of luck and timing. And it was fortuitous that the Giants happened to score three in the sixth while he was the last pitcher of record. But that rally wouldn't have meant much if he hadn't shut down the bases loaded mess that starter Jonathan Sanchez left him with two outs in the fifth.

A beautiful 1-2 slider put away the big, powerful, but free-swinging Austin Kearns, keeping the game from spiraling out of control (aren't you glad the Giants never pursued him? He looks very one-dimensional).

I wonder if Indians fans were second guessing Manager Manny Acta's decision to stay with Kearns in that spot. Kearns was in the lineup to provide some pop against a lefty, but once a right hander came in, there was no reason to have him in there: he's a .170 hitter with 19 strikeouts in 46 at bats. (that's a rate of more than 200 strikeouts in a regular season).

Acta could have gone with Travis Hafner in that spot, and replaced Kearns with Michael Brantley in the outfield.

I'm pretty convinced that American League managers are far less equipped to deal with strategy than their N.L. counterparts.


I never got the explanation for Aaron Rowand's presence in the lineup. Carrasco's numbers against right handed hitters were dominant (.199); not so much against left handers (.313). Rowand (.181) hasn't exactly been lighting it up against righties.

Rowand's discomfort against Carrasco was apparent: a weak jam-job pop up to first base, and a pair of  strikeouts. A real waste of space in the lineup.

He did make putouts in left and right, leading to a thought: I wonder how many times an outfielder has made putouts in all three outfield spots in a single game?

Stewart's throwing arm is a thing of beauty. His throw to first to pick off Santana (boy, after his two-run double, that poor kid just packed it in) was like a sniper shot, or an ambush. Santana never saw it coming. He makes the throw like he's a gun-slinging shortstop from deep in the hole, kind of a sidearm whipping motion.

I'll discount the replays that showed Santana may have gotten in under Huff's swipe tag. First base umpire Bob Davidson might have got swept up in the moment. More pixie dust?

When Buster Posey comes back, I wonder if the Giants would give Stewart an extra long look as the backup over Eli Whiteside, just for the defensive skills.


Justin Masterson, the big, strapping 6-foot-6, 250 pound right hander who goes up against Matt Cain today, has had a real roller coaster season.

He started out 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA in April, but has gone 0-5 since, with a 3.67 ERA. But he's been a tough-luck pitcher. Of his 10 starts since the end of April, he conceivably could have won six of them:

7 IP, 2 ER vs. Detroit (no decision)
7 IP, 1 ER vs. Los Angeles Angels (ND)
8 IP, 1 ER vs. Chicago White Sox (L)
7 IP, 2 ER vs. Boston (ND)
8 IP, 2 ER vs. Minn (ND)
6.1 IP, 2 ER vs. Detroit (L)

So, that's good news to know that he's a tough luck pitcher; bad to know that he's pitching well.


  1. NIce post. I watched that Stewart throw on the highlights. Nice throw, but it looked like Santana got back safely when Huff tagged him on his helmet. More pixie dust for the Jints.

  2. Hey, df, thanks. I agree. Replays showed he probably got his hand under the tag. But 1) Santana was so far off the bag, created so much daylight, and the throw was so good that first base umpire Bob "Son of Satch" Davidson had little choice but to call him out. 2) yes, another pixie dust moment.

    I made the adjustment in the post above.