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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Where's the respect for the Giants?

The Giants continue to pull out close games, building on a sense of destiny with late rallies, clutch hits and dominant pitching.

Sunday's 2-1 win over the Colorado Rockies was typical: The Giants, being no-hit by right hander Jason Hammels two outs into the sixth, had the look of a team without  hope.

Except that Giants starter-cum cult hero Ryan Vogelsong knew the deal: he kept the Rockies close with an array of darts to the corners, changing speeds to keep hitters off balance in a continuation of a story line that has become quite magical and heartwarming.

When they tied the game in the sixth on Freddie Sanchez' clutch two-out RBI single, a comeback seemed to be etched in a script that had yet to be written. And when Andres Torres blooped a single to drive home pinch-runner Manny Burriss for the go-ahead run in the ninth, and Brian Wilson turned in a dominant and efficient 17th save, the Giants could claim again that no team has the flair for the drama and ability to close out a tight one as they do.

Yet, they remain dogged by a lack of respect.

On Marty Lurie's pre-game show on KNBR, he asked national baseball writer Bob Nightengale who he thought would be in the World Series, and without blinking he said the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox and mentioned the St. Louis Cardinals as another real possibility from the National League.

Lurie had to almost beg him to even consider the Giants, but Nightengale dismissively said, well we all have questions about their hitting; their power is down: in essence, forget about last year's formula for pitching and timely hitting, which the Giants have continued this year.

Lurie was near livid after the call, wondering out loud how in the world could you not even consider the Giants. It was just another example of the national press failing to even acknowledge the Giants this far along.

Nightengale's mention of the Cardinals as a team that has done "so well considering all the injuries they've had" was really rich. First, the Giants had just come away winning three of four from St. Louis in their home ballpark (after beating them two of three earlier this year in San Francisco). Second, how about the injuries the Giants have suffered?

It's not as if the Giants won the World Series and just faded away, shrunk back to the level that everyone expected out of them. They're in first place, for crying out loud, they continue to win in dramatic fashion, their pitching remains the top of the class. What more do the national press need? Or other teams around the majors?

"Scouts don't get it about the Giants," Lurie said after the game. "Is it jealousy? I'm not sure what it is. It's Rodney Dangerfield. They don't get no respect."


Lurie had a hard time seeing Vogelsong making the All-Star game over Jonathan Sanchez or Matt Cain, but conceded it would be hard to deny him if he winds up with a 9-1 mark and an ERA still under or around 2.00.

I say Boss Bochy should select him if he continues his dominance, regardless of what the others are doing. What better story is out there than a 33-year old retread asked to step in to the rotation for the World Champions -- and delivering at such an unexpected and high level? He has pitched with such precision, shown a live arm (he gets his fastball up to 93 to 94 MPH), and shown a maturity on the mound that you hope will rub off on some of his teammates.

He has been the bargain of the year, and makes it easier to stomach Barry Zito's $126 million contract. It's almost as if we're getting a $20 million per year performance, but that it's coming from a guy making the major league minimum.

I'm glad to hear that Bochy has decided to keep Vogelsong in the rotation when Zito returns.

Lurie on Zito: "I don't think they really need him. You're not going to put him in the rotation. They don't need him and they know it. It's kind of like the playoffs again. The only thing realistically you can do with him is put him in the bullpen."

But then the question might just be whether Vogelsong could yield what the Giants really need: offense. The theory is this, and I'm not sure I entirely subscribe by it: If they could get a power bat for the middle of the lineup for Vogelsong, they could tolerate Zito as the No. 5 starter. The risk: Getting rid of someone who has become a sort of cult hero to the fans would be heresy, and would make Brian Sabean the target of more hate mail than Scott Cousins if it backfired.

But from a pure baseball management perspective, one could say (and I'm on the fence here, not really convinced) Vogelsong is at a peak of marketability, and the Giants would be foolish not to entertain an offer that could bring in a big bat -- from a team like the Yankees, who can use some pitching.


Lurie had a great pre-game interview with Ken Henderson, though I have to say I was disappointed (in a small way) that he had to ask Henderson his uniform number (15) and whether he was a switch hitter. Small weaknesses, and nitpicky on my part given the overall quality of his show, and understandable given that Lurie was not a Giants fan growing up. But still. Maybe that's something you look up before asking the question.

But it was very interesting to hear Henderson on a couple points. One, when he was being signed in 1965 out of high school, George Genovese, the same scout who signed other outfield stars like Bobby Bonds, George Foster and Garry Maddox, sold him on the notion that Mays, 34 at the time, wouldn't be around forever, so he would be groomed as the Giants' next center field.

Little did he know that Mays would hang around until 1972, slowing Henderson's development, keeping him largely in harness, though Henderson did have one great year, in 1970: 17 HR, 88 RBI .294 BA, 35 doubles, 20 stolen bases and a .394 on base percentage long before Moneyball and the obsession with OBP came into popularity.

Henderson would be traded away from the Giants after the 1972 season, when he had failed to live up to his promise, even after Mays had been dealt earlier in the year to the New York Mets for Charlie Williams. It was a bitter and confusing moment for him, he said. Henderson was dealt to the Chicago White Sox with Steve Stone for Tom Bradley, another of the infamous deals under Horace Stoneham (George Foster for Frank Duffy, Gaylord Perry for Sam McDowell, Bobby Bonds for Bobby Murcer, Garry Maddox for Willie Montanez among the worst).

Henderson wound up with a couple solid years, finishing in the top 10 MVP voting in 1974 with a career-high 20 HR and 95 runs with 35 doubles while hitting .292 for the White Sox.

He also evoked a bitterness about the 1971 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that I'd never heard -- and appreciated. Henderson said that team should have gone all the way. They'd beaten the Pirates in nine of 12 games during the regular season, but found themselves having to sit Juan Marichal out until Game 3 because he'd pitched in the final game of the regular season against the San Diego Padres. And then Marichal was outdueled in a 1-0 loss by no-name Bob Johnson, who saved his best for that game, which put the Giants behind two games to one in a best-of-five series.


Who is better than Jon Miller in the ninth inning with the game on the line? (I could apply the question to  the entirety of the game, but let's narrow the focus). Miller conveyed the electricity and even a sense of surprise on every pitch from closer Brian Wilson, not just waiting for a strikeout to express his amazement of Wilson's performance, but responding to the critical import of each strike, embroidered by his description of each sinking two-seam fastball and sharp-biting slider. His delivery was with such force and emphasis that we knew he was as passionately into the moment as any fan sitting on the edge of his or her seat.


One KNBR caller raised a topic that I've been pondering: I'm a bit skeptical of rookie shortstop Brandon Crawford's throwing arm. Though it's a strong arm, he throws a bit sidearmed and his throws sail. I need to see more consistency in his throws before I'm sold. I'm predicting that he won't stick the rest of the season, though he will be heard from later.

Kudos to Lurie for mentioning that Miguel Tejada had a great game.

"He showed me why he's still a part of this," Lurie said. Tejada made some critical plays on defense. His scoop of a tough in-between two-hopper and throw to second to start a double play calmed things down in the seventh inning. And he had a beautifully-placed hit and run single through the vacated hole on the right side to send Torres to third, setting up Sanchez for his clutch game-tying RBI single to center field off Hammel, who was so tough for most of the game.

Tejada's hit-and-run play was more complicated than the face of things. It was on a 3-1 count with two outs, which can be tricky; your mind is on putting the ball in play on anything close so you don't leave the baserunner high and dry with two outs. Typically you would lay off a pitch that isn't in a specific slot on a 3-1 count, but in this situation he had to be aggressive. And he hit it in just the right spot.

It really was a big hit that should not be overlooked, despite how much anger Tejada has engendered with his season-long slump, which, I have to say, would not look so bad if say five or six of his atom-balls had found a hole; he really has been a hard-luck hitter. If six of his line drive outs had dropped in, he'd be hitting .242 -- not exactly what he signed up for, but not .217.

And his defense has been steady, if not stellar, at third base. There, I said it. I defended Tejada against all conventional wisdom.


Last thing: I'm watching closely with a bit of worry that the Giants will bring Pablo Sandoval back too early. I was glad to hear that they held Sandoval out of today's game in San Jose after he experienced soreness in his forearm after yesterday's game. But, with Buster Posey's absence, and if the Giants continue their light hitting, the pressure will be on to bring him up. They did it with Cody Ross, who took nearly three weeks before he got his swing back; and with Mark DeRosa, whose wrist was prematurely pronounced healthy.


  1. Tejada's only saving grace defensively so far is a strong arm, though often scattershot. Today he fielded well, although he couldn't get to a grounder early. His range and flexibility are very limited. As for offense, OK he got a key hit today. But, I wouldn't bet against that he took the take sign at least the first two pitches to help get to a 3 ball count where he delivered. He's had no plate discipline so far. His OPS is on the ridiculous side of low. Sorry, one game doesn't make up for 200 ABs of futility. He needs to get that stick going ASAP, or meet pine when Panda re-appears...

  2. Snarkk, it'll be interesting to see if he does get his bat going in the next couple weeks if he reclaims shortstop when Panda gets back. It'll depend, of course, in part by what Brandon Crawford does, but my betting is that it'll get increasingly harder for Crawford to hit at this level so early (tho I do like the promise of his swing), and he may make the decision easier.

    But I do agree with you -- and have written consistently on it -- that Tejada has been mostly a disaster. I suspected before the season it was a bad move, signing an aging ex-Steroids star in serious decline. And though he has shown no signs of raising his power game to anything even near last year's middling numbers, I have seen some signs that his swing is improving.

    Hey, thanks for reading and writing!

  3. Tejada and Mota were both steroids users. Sometimes I think it's a Barry Bonds curse.... how the team seems to want to forget he existed, but doesn't have a problem with others who were caught. Tejada even pled guilty to perjury.